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November 01, 2009

NY23: A Taste of Things to Come, or a Fluke?

Now that the NY23 special election is back to a two-way race, I'm wondering: Is this a template for getting conservatives on the ballot, or is it one of those "hard cases make bad law" examples that lawyers are always talking about?

Days out from the vote, polling data appears to be a mixed bag. The majority of Dede's support was Republican, BUT a small-sample poll appears to suggest that the Republicans who were supporting Dede don't view Hoffman favorably. Is this dislike strong enough to make them cross the aisle and vote for "Not Really a Democrat" Owens out of spite? Or will they just stay home like many conservative voters did last year when faced with Senator "Maverick" on the ticket?

I do feel positive about the chances for Hoffman's victory because he treated Scozzafava's exit from the race with grace. He obviously knows the value of courting her former supporters, and I hope he doubles down with gracious statements about Newt, the RNCC and other organizations which were formerly supporting the party line. There will be plenty of time for "I told you so" after he wins the election.


Ace made some great points yesterday, and I just wanted to give my two cents worth on a couple of his points. He estimates that America is divided into 40% liberal, 40% conservative and 20% moderate. I think that the moderates are MUCH larger than he stated. Historical accounts of the American Revolution say that the colonies were divided into three relatively equal camps: Separatists, Loyalists and The Indifferent. The Separatists fought against the British Army AND the Loyalists while The Indifferent tried to stay out of the way. I think that a portion of those who self-identify as "conservative" or "liberal" are ultimately "moderates" who just want to be left alone to get on with their lives*. These "moderates" are not wedded to either party structure and make choices based on the message offered by individual candidates.

(DISCLAIMER: Now I'm going to talk about "revolution". Please, please, please, please, please don't take this as a Call To Arms. I'm using examples of two bloody armed rebellions to make my point, but I still think that we have yet to pass the Point of No Return where blood must be spilled before changes can be made. I think that the following paragraphs will speak for themselves, but I just wanted to get this disclaimer out there ahead of the examples to reinforce my optimism.)

Now that I've invoked The American Revolution, lets cut to the main point of my post: The current state of Conservative & Republican politics is untenable, but which sort of a "revolution" do we want to use to redirect the ship of state? Shall we choose the American Revolution model, where leaders made a reasoned case for a change and then proceeded to form a new Republic without bloody reprisals against their former opponents who stuck around after the war was completed?** Or do we want to have a French Revolution? The Guillotine is a particularly effective way to quell dissent, and there IS a perverse sort of justice in seeing those who exploited the working man carried to the public square by a mob of said workers for a Carnival of Blood & Decapitation.

I have heard Glenn Beck talk about wanting to have an American Revolution and not a French Revolution, but its never a bad idea to reinforce this point: The American Revolution created a Nation that has existed in a relatively stable state, despite its flaws, for over 200 years. The French Revolution created a bloody mess that ultimately produced Napoleonic France. Victor Davis Hansen calls the leaders who take advantage of these sorts of muddles "A Man on a Horse", and I think the term is spot on accurate. Revolutions that are based on "payback" give birth to dysfunctional states. Napoleonic France and Haiti are the best modern examples of this concept.

How can modern "tea party" conservatives keep their revolution on track? I've got a few ideas:

1. Be gracious winners. Realize that the moderates will most likely remain moderates no matter how persuasive your argument, and accept their support. The old "80/20 Rule" (someone who's with me on 80% of the agenda and only opposed to 20% is an ally, not the enemy) is still valid. The only problem is that its been modified to be the "60/40 Rule" at best, with "50/50" or even "40/60" being used in the modern Republican party. Political coalitions are like marriages: A union where the less-strident participant is constantly being reminded of their Divergence from Conservative Purity is not going to make it to a 50th Anniversary Party. Hell, it will be lucky to survive to a FIRST anniversary. Forgive Newt and his ilk for their mistakes and accept them into the fold, because forgiveness isn't the same as forgetfullness.

2. Don't moderate your views to win support from moderates. Encourage moderates to come up with solutions that will implement conservative principles in a way that will ultimately get you to a conservative state. Learn to communicate your views in a way that will reinforce your ties to conservative-leaning moderates. "The Stick" is always needed to get people moving in the right direction, but use it as a last resort after all "The Carrots" have been used up. Is this hard work? You bet your ass it is, but this hard work is the only way to fix the problems we've gotten ourselves into.

3. Take the long view, and don't rest on your laurels. One of my friends is a "Take Off & Nuke It From Orbit" Conservative. He likes to point to the political awakening of Conservative Christians in the late 70's and 80's that resulted in success for Republicans but ultimately no forward progress for the causes the "Moral Majority" were fighting for (abortion, traditional marriage, etc.). He believes that ANY compromise with the Republican Party will result in social cons getting screwed, so he's hellbent on buring down the Big Tent and letting two new political parties emerge from the ashes. I think that this sort of thinking absolves the leaders of the Social Conservative movement from any responsibility for their lackadasical performance in power and misses the ultimate point. Getting your foot in the door is only the FIRST step to changing society. Once you get to the top, you've got to work just as hard to stay there as you worked to get there in the first place. There's a verse in the Bible that says "the poor will always be with you", and I've always believed that this means that people of faith will always have one more job to do. Its the nature of mortal existence - flaws are built into the system, and it will always need repairs. If you can find the Bible verse that says "Get thyself into power, and its all downhill from there", I'd love to know about it. Apparently my Bible is missing a few pages and tells me that life will be frustrating.

4. Set a place at the table for those without religious faith. I'm a Christian, but I have no problem accepting an agnostic or an atheist as an ally in Conservatism. It all falls back to the "80/20" rule referenced earlier. Glenn Beck has included a belief in a higher power in his "9/12" movement, but I doubt that he would forego changing the direction of American politics if it meant standing on stage with a few people who have unsure or nonexistent relationships with The Big Guy In The Sky. There's nothing wrong with graciously evangelizing among these people while they're standing up for Conservatism, but excluding them from the movement because they're not perfectly in line with your beliefs is political suicide. And while we're at it, lets set a place for conservative homosexuals at the table as well. I may be a Christian, but there are conservative homosexuals that I would support for leadership positions before I'd get in line for a "Christian Leader" like Mike Huckabee. Lets find common ground on the issues we agree on, while we make reasoned arguments for the issues that we don't agree on (gay marriage & adoption, for example).

Anyway, this piece is predicated on Hoffman winning over Owens next week. If Owens pulls it out, I fully expect both sides of the Conservatives vs. Pragmatists to keep their knives out & continue slashing. And maybe that's what's needed. I don't know. All I know is that there is a better way.

* - Some might argue that those in the middle who "just want to get along with their lives" are libertarians, and therefore lean towards conservatism. I would respond that the Modern Libertarian party is about as useful as tits on a boar. Unless your "make or break" issues are fiat currency, pot legalization & isolationist foreign policy, the Libertarian Party is not the place for you.

** - Yes, I realize that American Tories suffered reprisals after the conclusion of the American Revolution; however, these were NOT "top down" policies. The leaders of the American Revolution were more concerned with winning their freedom than they were in punishing those who stayed loyal to the King. Some Tories who took zealously active roles in trying to put down the rebellion were charged with crimes after the war, but there was no declared campaign against American Tories. Except for Tori Spelling, who was roundly denounced in Federalist Paper #27.

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posted by Russ from Winterset at 09:45 AM

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