Upstate New York Again

Monday, October 26, 2009

Six months ago, I wrote of a special election in New York's Twentieth Congressional District:

If [Jim] Tedisco is any indication, the GOP has learned exactly the wrong lesson from its resounding defeat in November, and has begun me-tooing the Democrats. This is why Tedisco is not exactly trouncing his Democratic opponent. What does he offer to voters genuinely opposed to Obama? More of the same, at least to the ones who are paying attention. And what about voters who are impatient with Obama for not having already nationalized everything? Tedisco is a good protest vote because, if he wins, he'll probably squeak by, he won't have anything of substance to say against Obama, it's just one vote, anyway, and other GOP candidates fundamentally opposed to big business will be emboldened.
That was then. What about now?

Again, there's an election coming for a conservative district in upstate New York, the Twenty-Third this time. The Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, is atypical for her party, although at least equally offensive at first glance to theocrats as to advocates of individual rights. (As a "social liberal," she supports protecting a woman's right to have an abortion and gay marriage, but she may be inconsistent with this in her economic views: She appears to be in bed with the labor unions.) And, of course, the Obama Administration is stinking up the joint with its blatant statism so badly that one might think that such an election would be a cakewalk for any non-Democrat.

But this time, the Republican leadership does not appear to have all boarded the Me-Too Train. (Predictably, that didn't work too well for them last time.) Several prominent party members are campaigning against Scozzafava by supporting Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. So there's finally substantive debate going on in the Republican Party, right? Maybe, maybe not.

The most prominent Republicans to back Hoffman are Dick Armey and Sarah Palin. The latter correctly notes that, "Political parties must stand for something." But what is that something, and is Palin standing for it, or something else? Let's take a look.

Palin continues. "When Republicans were in the wilderness in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan knew that the doctrine of 'blurring the lines' between parties was not an appropriate way to win elections." So far, so good, but recall that Ronald Reagan did some blurring of his own -- between economic freedom and religion, which is not the intellectual basis of freedom and which has proven no better than leftism when implemented as public policy by the Republicans.

One might be inclined to give Armey, best-known as a fiscal conservative, and Palin, a relative newcomer to the national scene, passes here. Not having thought deeply myself about whether religion and individual rights were compatible at the time, I, too was taken in by Reagan back then. Or maybe Armey and Palin aren't even really thinking about religion at all. To answer that question, we have to consider exactly what the kind of backing they are giving to the Conservative.

In many districts, simply endorsing Hoffman would have decent odds of splitting the vote against Bill Owens and handing the seat over to the Democrats, which is about the extent of what an advocate of individual rights ought to do, if he does not want to endorse the Democrat, assuming Scozzafava's views on economic issues are really that far to the left. I say this because the Conservative Party of New York is not really a "small government" party: It is a religious party, as Ayn Rand has noted on several occasions. At most, one could actively campaign, but properly, only for the Democrat. (The district is so heavily Republican that Armey and Palin might easily cause Hoffman to win.)

Unfortunately, Palin, who has strong grass-roots support and is an excellent fund-raiser, has stated that Hoffman "stands for the principles that all Republicans should share," and Armey plans to campaign for him in New York.

It would be, as Rand indicated ages ago, a major mistake to go along with this:
Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies. (For a discussion of the reasons, see "The Anatomy of Compromise" in my book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.) ("What Can One Do?" in Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 202)
I never though I'd see the day that I'd agree with Mary Matalin, but that day has arrived: "[L]osing seats to articulate, conservative Democrats has proved to be the best defensive line holding back Obama's expansive ambitions." Conversely, me-tooing socialists (a la Gingrich) or bringing false friends of freedom to power (a la Palin) will not succeed, and runs the risk of prematurely ending a long-overdue debate within the Republican Party and preempting one from ever starting within the Democratic Party.

It is interesting that Gingrich warns renegade conservatives that, "if you seek to be a perfect minority, you'll remain a minority," while others advise "small government" types to avoid "picking a fight" within the GOP for similar reasons. Those are fool's prescriptions, as the eventual abolition of slavery -- due in large part to the efforts of principled Americans who refused to join or form a party -- shows.

Furthermore, we see that neither Gingrich nor Palin has learned to appeal for the votes of individualists by standing up for individual rights. Appearances to the contrary, there is not yet a full-fledged coming-to-grips among either faction of the Republican leadership with the grievances of the so-called tea-partiers.

If you value your freedom, never put yourself in the back pocket of a politician. He'll forget about you soon enough and sit on you. Learn how to defend freedom in an argument. Win the minds of your countrymen. In the meantime, play the politicians off against each other to buy time until there are enough advocates of individual rights that even the politicians understand that if they do not move America substantially back towards greater freedom, their name is mud.

-- CAV


Mike N said...

Good post. I've been thinking along the same lines recently. My congressman Sander Levin, D-Mi. an old left liberal and big spender is up for reelection next year. Another Democrat Mickey Switalski, a fiscal conservative is running against him. He's been getting flak from his party for it. He doesn't seem to care. He makes good practical arguments. I wrote to him urging that he develop some moral arguments because as the election draws near, the press and Levin's camp will attack him on moral grounds mercilessly. Judging by his response, he plans on staying with the practical arguments. If he does, he'll lose. However, even if he loses, if he has a strong showing, it may help in the long run.

In any event I will be watching Switalski closely and may even campaign for him to defeat the 25+ year incumbent Levin who has during that time overseen the destruction of the auto industry and the entire economy of the state. We'll see.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's too bad about Switalski. Michigan is long overdue for a politician who understands the importance of economic freedom.