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The fate of the Yankee Republicans

31 October, 2009 Leave a comment

People such as myself whose political views are moderate or liberal on issues of social and personal freedom while seeing the merits of capitalism see the large voice unions have within the Democratic Party and the considerable left-wing support there and like to imagine that there are still some chance that the more liberal forces within the Republican Party that would bring it back to its old ways of being very much the party of freedom, which Michael Steele likes to pretend it still is. I might hope that the lack of a lasting success after President George W. Bush’s presidency could convince them against such a focus on social conservatism. Ultimately, I’d like to imagine them to be a party where Arnold Vinick could be a leading figure and a possible presidential candidate.

The campaign for the special election to New York’s 23rd Congressional District, scheduled after Republican John McHugh resigned to become Secretary of the Navy is another blow to this illusion. The local Republican Party chose State Assembly member Dierdre Scozzafava, who favours marriage equality and the right to abortion, while the Democrats chose Bill Owens, who believes that New York’s current law on civil unions for gay couples are adequate. This is one issue where it would have been beneficial to have a Republican on-side, both as an influence within the Republicans, and so to put pressure on the Democrats who would feel less that they could rely on gay voters.

The the Conservative Party of New York, normally a minor player in New York politics, nominated Doug Hoffman. Hoffman had sought the nomination for the Republicans, but had trailed at all of the nominating party meetings. He received the support of the Club for Growth, the same pressure group that forced Sen. Arlen Specter out of the Pennsylvanian Republican Party earlier this year, leading to the Democrats reaching their 60-seat supermajority in the Senate.

Hoffman also received the support of many leading Republican politicians, including Sarah Palin, current governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty and former candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination former Sen. Fred Thompson, and the most partisan of media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

As polls showed that this formerly safe GOP seat would be lost to either the Democrats or the Conservatives, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Clinton’s chief political sparring partner (and on whom Jeff Haffley is loosely based), appealed for party unity, endorsing Scozzafava as the official Republican candidate, calling for a respect for the claimed tradition of local independence.

This was ultimately to no avail, as tonight Dede Scozzafava announced the suspension of her campaign. If Doug Hoffman is elected, he will be taken in by the Republican House Caucus.

If this tells us anything about the grassroots within the Republican Party and who their current leaders are willing to support in future, which it might not, President Obama should have little trouble when the time comes for his reelection campaign. Considering his approval rate in the current economic circumstances, despite the justified criticism of his leadership at times, he appears to be still convincing the public that he is doing what seems best. Those remaining within the Republican Party seem committed to ideological purity and compliance a wholesale endorsement of their party platform by party candidates wherever possible.

It’s difficult to see where this will lead them, how many presidential cycles will it take for them to nominate a candidate with a wider appeal than this. And how long will they hold the remaining moderates such as Sen. Olympia Snowe, who would be very unlikely to leave, but has publicly expressed her disappointment that the party has failed to recognize the mistakes of recent years and risks becoming very much a minority party.

For my part, had I a vote in NY-23, I would go ahead and waste my vote and cast it for Scozzafava.

Quoting Mao

19 October, 2009 1 comment

I’m following up here on a story I initially posted on Facebook. Last week I posted a video which Glen Beck showed on Fox News of Anita Dunn, President Obama’s Communications Director, his Toby Ziegler, in which she quoted Mother Teresa and Mao Tse-Tung, calling them her favourite philosophers.

Ms Dunn has responded, saying that she got the quote from Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist in the 1980s.

Her response is not good enough. In the discussion following my Facebook posting, someone commented that people often quote historical figures, such as Caesar or Oliver Cromwell. Yes, Joan Burton, Labour Spokesperson on Finance, did quote Cromwell addressing the government a few months ago, saying “In the name of God, go!” But from that simple statement, no one claim that Cromwell was one of her favourite political thinkers. Ms Dunn does use that expression.

Her statement, presumably written after she quickly searched for any reference of Republicans and Mao, also makes reference to the fact that President Bush recommended a book on Mao to Karl Rove. Whatever about quoting someone, reading a book a biography does not make one an enthusiast. Indeed, if it was Mao: The Untold Story by Jung Chang, it might have been where Glenn Beck got his figure of 70 million deaths attributed to Mao.

Further, Lee Atwater, whom she quotes was party for one of the most insidious electoral strategies of twentieth-century American politics, the Southern strategy of the Republican Party, the effort to secure the votes of racists whose votes had previously been sought by the Democrats. Mr Atwater was an advisor to Sen. Storm Thurmond, a Democrat who left the party to run on a segregationist ticket in the 1948 presidential election, winning four states. Sen. Thurmond became a Republican in 1964, in what was to become the most shameful period in that party’s history.

Over the weekend, I also had occasion to listen to an episode of D.J. Grothe’s excellent podcast, Point of Inquiry. In it, Jeff Sharlett discussed his new book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. The Family is a religious political group which preaches biblical capitalism and celebrates power, even to the extent that despite claiming to be a conservative group, they praised the methods of dictators such as Mao. Sen. Thurmond was himself a member of The Family. Ms Dunn says, “The Mao quote is one I picked up from the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater from something I read in the late 1980s, so I hope I don’t get my progressive friends mad at me”. They would clearly be justified in being so.

I don’t mean to praise the methods of Fox News, or to cast general aspersions on President Obama’s administration. My point here is that it is no defence on Ms Dunn’s part to point to some of the most despicable campaigners who also thought that we should “Fight our own fight” as Mao did, and she should be held to account her statement. She is either incredibly naïve and misguided, or truly has no problem praising the ideals of one of the worst tyrants in recorded history.

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