29 May 2014
Rob Astorino's debatable demand
In New York, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino says that he's only willing to participate in debates if he can debate incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo in a one-on-one format. He believes that independent parties should be excluded because they have no chance of winning the election. "The only way, realistically, we're going to have an honest debate is with the two major-party candidates," Astorino says. But that depends on your definition of an honest debate. Astorino thinks only a Republican-vs.-Democrat debate is honest because only they can win. But is a debate honest if not all viewpoints are represented? Astorino's prejudice ignores the possibility that a strong debate performance might give an independent his or her best chance to win against the odds. In a way, he concedes that debates are irrelevant, if he assumes that most people will never vote independent no matter how well a candidate debates, but at the same time he sees the debate as crucial to his own success, since he wants to maximize the time he'll get to interrogate Cuomo. He complains that in the multi-party debate of 2010 the Democrat was able to "hide" behind the fringe candidates, as if only a Republican challenge is relevant. So concerned is Astorino with getting Cuomo alone in a room that he fails to see the potential advantage in exposing the governor to challengers from his left, from the certain opposition of the Green party to the possible (if unlikely) opposition of the Working Families party. No matter how highly Astorino estimates his own ability to sway the undecided, his best chance of winning a gubernatorial election in New York is is Cuomo has a credible challenge to his left, and there'd be no better way to make that challenge credible than by having a leftist candidate tackle Cuomo on statewide TV. But perhaps Astorino fears the inclusion of a Libertarian or even a Constitution party candidate to challenge him from his right, though those, too, could help him by making him look moderate by comparison. Most likely Astorino simply exemplifies a sense of entitlement typical of Bipolarchy. Republicans and Democrats act as if they are as much constituent elements of American government as are the states or the people. Each party considers itself the official and only "real" opposition to the other, all others being frivolous or fringe elements. The perceived polarization of public opinion only encourages that self-serving viewpoint. That polarization can be overcome only by thinking outside the two-party box, and that requires the inclusion of independent voices in all our political debates. But polarization will only be overcome if people actually think it's a problem, and it's clear that Rob Astorino, at least, doesn't. That only makes him part of it.