Steve Levy hopes that New Yorkers will think of him as a profile in courage. Elected to the post of Suffolk County Executive as a Democrat, then re-elected with the endorsement of both major parties, as well as the Conservative line, he announced today that he has become a Republican for the purpose of winning that party's nomination for governor. He has received a partial blessing from the state party chairman, though an outright endorsement would be impolitic given that at least one other prominent Republican, Rick Lazio, has already announced his candidacy for the nomination. Lazio has the backing of the state Conservative party, but it's unclear whether he'd run on their line exclusively if he loses the GOP nod. Levy is unlikely to get a Conservative endorsement because he remains pro-choice on the abortion question. He hopes for a Republican endorsement on the strength of his record of fiscal conservatism, and through his defection, presumably, hopes to define the GOP as a center-right "big tent" party. He's pursuing a Gingrichite "Contract" model, offering a detailed plan to relieve the state's fiscal crisis and challenging Lazio and other potential Republican competitors to do the same. If they don't, he implies, their campaigns can be dismissed as nothing but rhetoric.
Levy's history shows that his idea of transcending partisanship is to amalgamate the major parties under the banner of fiscal conservatism. To some people, particularly those looking for a new "moderate" option, Levy's approach may be an appealing alternative to Bipolarchy as usual, but I wonder whether he isn't an ultimate product of the Bipolarchy, living proof of an essential consensus that belies the irreconcilable conflict propagated in election years. From what I could tell, he parted with the Democrats without any particular rancor, and no denunciation of his former fellows was included in the early report of his announcement cited above. He seems uninterested in waging any culture war either with the Democrats or with Lazio's supporters, to whom he recommends Ronald Reagan's "eleventh commandment" -- thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican. By bolting one major party for another, Levy presents himself as an independent politician, albeit within obvious bounds. I assume he hopes it will prove him worthy of consideration by independent voters. But before anyone concludes that he'd be just as good as a genuine independent, ask whether his candidacy really expands the political discussion in New York to include new ideas that haven't been represented adequately in government or the media. It'd be wise to let Levy work a little before drawing conclusions, but his credentials aren't necessarily cause for confidence.