Well, the amazingly-entertaining race for New York’s 23rd Congressional District ends today, and it has brought out some truly enlightening facts. The most important one, to me, is how the two major parties deal with apostates.
OK, some don’t like that term. It has too religious a connotation. They prefer “mavericks” or “rogues,” but they’ve gotten too associated with specific individuals — more specifically, the Republican ticket from last November. The “maverick” was the approving term for John McCain whenever he swerved left, and “rogue” was the epithet for Sarah Palin for when she stuck to her conservative guns (in several senses of the term). But I think ‘apostasy” applies here — there are some issues where there is very little margin for deviation.
In upstate New York, a seat opened in the House when the Republican incumbent accepted President Obama’s appointment to Secretary of the Army. And instead of a primary, the local Republican party officials chose their nominee: state assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.
Scozzafava, however, was not well beloved of many of the rank and file. They had problems with too many of her positions.
On abortion, she was pro-choice. “Pro-life” has been a tenet of the Republican party for years. And Scozzafava isn’t just “squishily” pro-choice like I am; she’s so fierce that she was given an award in the name of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.
On unions, Scozzafava favors the abomination known as “card-check” in the Orwellian-named “Employee Free Choice Act.” This would allow unions to bypass the secret ballot process in organizing a work force. In a twist that Orwell would love, the notion that depriving workers of this most fundamental right is championed by the Democratic party.
Plus her husband’s a major union official, and that certainly couldn’t help matters.
On health care reform, Scozzafava had come out solidly behind ObamaCare — before, I believe, Obama himself released the plan.
Finally, during her time in the state legislature, Scozzafava had run up quite a record of voting for tax hikes.
For all this, Scozzafava was still the choice of the GOP machinery. Those that picked her stood by their choice, and several national Republican leaders — including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — all flew to upstate New York to help her out.
But a lot of other people remembered the words of wisdom of Harry S Truman. “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time.” And they knew that the converse was true.
And even if Scozzafava won, what would be the difference? Her votes on so many major issues would be in lockstep with the Democrats. Which would guarantee her prominence among the mainstream media, who love nothing more than a Republican flipping the bird to their own party.
So those who saw little difference between Scozzafava and the Democratic nominee found a third choice: they got this accountant who’d never even run for dog catcher — but who seemed to espouse some significant conservative beliefs — and put him up for the Conservative party, New York’s equivalent of a GOP “farm team.”
And he drove Scozzafava right out of the race. At which point she repaid all that the GOP mainstream had done for her by endorsing her Democratic rival. And to make her point absolutely unmistakable, she did so through an announcement on her husband’s union’s web site.
Let’s make it clear: Scozzafava was not a “maverick,” not a “rogue,” but an apostate. She willfully and cheerfully violated quite a few principles that many Republicans hold dear. Most people can overlook one or two, but Scozzafava, it was clear, was a RINO (Republican In Name Only), or a donkey in elephant’s clothing.
The Republican leadership had no real problems with that. They saw the (R) after her name, and figured she’d go off on her own for the most part, but every now and then could be trusted to vote with the party — and that was good enough. So they invested a great deal in her.
It was the outsiders, the leaders that the RNC prefers to deal with at arms’ length, the figures that have absolutely no obligation to the RNC, and the common people who saw virtually no difference between Scozzafava and the admitted Democrat who chose to “punish” her.
And what was her punishment? “No, you’re not winning this election.” She retains — for now — her state assembly seat. And if she loses it, it will be in large part because of what she did after she withdrew.
On the other hand, let’s look at the Democrats’ most famous apostate: Joe Lieberman.
In 2000, Lieberman was acceptable enough to serve as the party’s vice-presidential nominee. I recall at the time (remember, this was pre-9/11) thinking that he was probably the most decent of the four men, and we’d be a hell of a lot better off if we dumped the two bozos at the top of the ticket and just let Lieberman and Cheney run the country for four years. (They’d toss a coin to see who got to be president for the first two years, and who would be president for the latter two years.)
But in 2006, Lieberman was up for re-election for his Senate seat. But while he had toed the party line on nearly every issue, he was a staunch, unapologetic supporter of the war in Iraq. And for that one offense, he was cast out. The national party arranged for a challenger in his primary ,and threw all their weight behind Ned Lamont. the Nutroots went all in for Lamont, who beat Lieberman in the primary.
And then Lieberman ran as an independent and demolished Lamont in the general election, returning to the Senate unencumbered by any loyalty or obligation to the Democrats — who suddenly found they needed him after all.
To his credit, Lieberman has tried several times to reconcile with the party with whom he shares so many ideals and principles. But he has always been rebuffed. He is treated with scorn and contempt — until they remember that they need his vote fairly often, and then they go, hat in hand, to ask for his help.
Oddly enough, I’m reminded of Shylock from “The Merchant Of Venice,” who I always thought got a raw deal. The Antonios of the Democratic party have no problems running down Lieberman at every opportunity — until they need him.
Lieberman, wisely, has avoided demanding his pound of flesh in exchange for his votes. But he remains a sterling example of how the Democrats treat those who stray too far from the party line.