Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thoughts on Yesterday's Elections

So the GOP picks up the New Jersey and Virginia Governorships. Good for them. I hope they enjoy it. And I'm sure you'll see red meat conservatives speak about these victories as if that's what they were focusing on all the time.

But we all know better. We all know that it was New York's 23 Congressional District race that was the true litmus test for hard core conservatives, who tea bagged a moderate Republican favored by the State GOP for the more hardline conservative Constitution Party candidate. In this usually reliable conservative district, voters chose the Democrat. Why did Hoffman lose to Owens, turning yet another long-time red district blue? Two words: Palin, Beck. While the National GOP has some encouraging news to grab hold of with the phyrric victories in New Jersey over the very unpopular Corzine and in Virginia over the horrible campaign of Deeds, the rump conservatives who hoped to coopt the GOP by making NY-23 a referendum on the future of the party and the strength of the Palinite wing of the conservative movement must be a bit shocked and disheartened.

Personally, I think NY-23 is relatively meaningless in terms of predicting any national electoral trends; but I do think NY-23 will take the wind out of the sails of "rogue" conservatives. In other instances where "rogue" conservatives have made symbolic stands against the GOP establishment, principally in Florida with the primary battle between the candidacy of the Beck/Palin movement choice of Marco Rubio and the candidacy of the establishment GOP's choice of Charlie Crist, Rubio must be very worried by the NY-23 outcome. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Rubio asks Palin and Beck to stay away and keep their mouths shut. Especially Palin, since she seems to be poison for the electoral fortunes of the GOP. True die-hard conservatives will play down NY-23; but I will rest easy tonight knowing that the Beckolytes and Palinites will be more down about NY-23's loss than happy about the NJ and VA wins.

The one truly heartbreaking electoral outcome for me is the apparent defeat of the pro-marriage equality position in Maine's popular referendum on the matter. If Obama had possessed the courage simply to offer verbal support for marriage equality there, the outcome may have been different. But Obama did nothing. How disappointing. If there is a silver lining there, though, it's in the fact that the long-term trend is all uphill for the marriage equality movement. It's time will come.


Eric said...

"Personally, I think NY-23 is relatively meaningless in terms of predicting any national electoral trends; but I do think NY-23 will take the wind out of the sails of "rogue" conservatives."

I think a lot of Palin/Beck type conservatives will be emboldened by the fact that they chased a percieved RINO out of the party, even if it gave the Democrats a seat. And while I think this is the exact right attitude to have (ideology over party, even sometimes when it hurts), I am a little concerned that Scozzafava wasn't driven out of the party for being too fiscally liberal, but too socially liberal. But at the end of the day, any Republican who doesn't preach a steady and constant sermon against taxation, spending, and government intrusion into our lives is going to have a hard time with the base, and Scozzafava didn't seem to be that kind of Republican, so my worries might be unfounded.

At any rate, I wouldn't write off the influence of Palin and Beck just yet, not by a long shot. Disagree with it, warn against it, make fun of it if you must, but don't discount it. I think conservatives are coming around to the idea of having some kind of litmus test for GOP candidates, which means being willing to dump the moderates and risk loosing more seats, but also means saddling liberals with more ownership of their proposed solutions to our national problems.

Huck said...

Very reasonable assessment, Eric. And I'm not writing off the influence of Palin/Beck. I hope it persists, precisely because it does mean losing seats to the Democrats and creating a purity litmus test for conservatives that will make the GOP a minority party for a long time. But what I am saying is that the influence of Palin/Beck appears to be a losing proposition for the pragmatic goal of actually governing under conservative principles. Ideological purity is perhaps a worthwhile thing theoretically, but it's ultimately meaningless if it does long-term, and perhaps permanent, damage to its ability to influence public policy and to govern. And I will predict this: a party whose modus operandi is not finding ways to be inclusive, but promoting the shedding of the "impure" cultivates a party mentality that (1) creates momentum for a policy of exclusion and excision and (2) favors an escalating radicalism among party leadership. Frankly, I think there are worrisome traces of fascism in this mentality. Not in the populist economic sense of fascism, but in the ideological discipline and ideological purity litmus test sense of fascism.

Eric said...

I have a hard time worrying about fascism from the Tea Party branch of conservatism when one of the litmus tests requires you to have a strong desire to decentralize the federeal government and put an end to the neo-corporatist economy that the liberals have been building (and corporate welfare altogether, for that matter). No, it is not the fascist tendancies of the Palinistas keeping me up at night.

As for the political value of ideological purity within a party, I'm becoming more convinced every day that it is the bastardization of ideologies more than anything else that has gotten us into this mess. Reality is not infinitely elastic, and we can't continue to pretend it is. A coherent conservative party that is a minority party will do more good in terms of enforcing accountability than will a Republican majority made up of the same compromising twits who ran the party from 94 to 2006. What we can't afford as a nation is another reactionary political power shift that yields neutered results because the party in power is too hamstrung by moderate voters to change anything. Better to risk electoral obsolesence than to regain power and be able to do nothing with it.

Huck said...

Eric - There are strong forces in American culture that resist fascist tendencies, and I don't see the Palin/Beck movement converting conservative politics completely in that direction. But I do see worrisome traces of a kind of intolerance and open hostility undergirding that movement. When I look at how folks like Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, DeDe Scozzafava, Olympia Snowe, and even Lindsey Graham, among others, are not just critiqued but vilified (often personally) as heretical to conservatism, the movement behind this approach comes across with traces of inquisitorial fascism. Most conservatives I know are like you: principled, rational, and approachable. But the chorus of those who aren't is growing. And, in fact, these folks (the Palin/Beck/Limbaugh wing) are becoming more dominant within the conservative movement, more emboldened to inflame passions before engaging ideas, and yet more likely to be met with the quiet acquiescence of those like you who may share the principles they hold but maybe not the tactics.

For better or for worse (and I think for the better), we are a people and a country grounded in pluralism, which rests on the ability to compromise. Or, if not to compromise, at the very least to respect the legitimacy of the democratic process that produces outcomes with which we may disagree or oppose. I see the Beck/Palin/Limbaugh movement inching the foundations of principled conservatism away from respecting the legitimacy of the notions of pluralistic democracy - at least within the GOP, if not nationally (yet!!). And I find that troubling.

Eric said...

"these folks... are becoming more dominant within the conservative movement... and yet more likely to be met with the quiet acquiescence of those like you..."

Well, I think as we see the conservative strategy unfold, a lot of people like me are in the process of moving from a state of quiet acquiescence to various states of support. I am becoming more frustrated with the mushy moderates in this country than I am with the hardcore liberals, because it is ultimately the moderates who own the lion's share of influence, and obstruct BOTH ideological parties from engaging in the kinds of experimental policy engagements that will lead America out of the wilderness. This constant game of splitting the difference, reiterated in seemingly endless policy enactments, is the equivelant of two people arguing about whether to to fight the bear or run from the bear, right up until the bear shows up and mauls them both to death. And that bear is getting really really close.

I'm all for ideological plurality, what I oppose is ideological homogenization. And combating ideological homogenization requires a method to dissasociate people from your ideology if they want to claim membership without displaying basic ideological principals. Peggy Noonan is one of my favorite conservative writers because she tends to be extremely fair minded while remaining ideologically grounded, but she has no political traction at all. The kind of vilification and vindictive rhetoric people like Olympia Snowe and David Frum are recieving is not pleasant, but you tell me how else one gets them out of the party. If your argument is that we should make a place for them, my reply is that we've already gone down that road and it led us to where we are now.

"I see the Beck/Palin/Limbaugh movement inching the foundations of principled conservatism away from respecting the legitimacy of the notions of pluralistic democracy..."

I think they are certainly challenging the notion that pluralism-for-the-sake-of-getting-along is always a good thing, but that doesn't equate to delegitimizing the foundations of our democracy. Too much political plurality has pushed us too the brink of ideological relativism (or, as Charles de Gaulle famously said, "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?") Who doesn't think a little more political hegemony would be a good thing? Sure, I support a conservative hegemony and you support a liberal one, but are you telling me you wouldn't be happy with a political majority capable of enacting universal healthcare and passing a Constitutional amendment allowing gay marriage? The problem, as my friend Creede so eloquently put it, is that "political hegemony isn't attained through philosophical homogeny". And we need to address this if we want to make real political changes.

And also, mabye, just maybe, there are (and should be) issues so big that they could potentially delegitimize our democracy because a significant number of people aren't willing to live under the social rules imposed on them by their national community. Would you be willing to just accept it if a political majority decided we should do away with all our social programs (medicare, social security, public eduction)? Are we morally required to accept the legitimacy of ANY issue imposed upon us by the majority? States like California and Colorado that ignore federal drug laws (an action I support) are making the argument that we are not, where is your concernt about what they are doing?