Monday, November 2, 2009

What Mr. Chafee Just Said...And Why It Matters

In a piece in the Globe today, Susan Milligan reports on potential Congressional races in which the GOP is hoping to reclaim some lost ground here in New England.

The article focuses mainly on GOP moderates and also addresses the problem some may have winning primaries -- a rabid Republican *base* may not let it happen. This, in turn, will create problems for the party in even-numbered Novembers, because the "vast middle" of New England voters frankly does not identify with Republican party extremists, particularly on so-called *wedge* social issues.

What stood out for me most was a quote at the very end from Lincoln Chafee, a moderate who is running in the 2010 gubernatorial contest in Rhode Island as an Independent. He essentially advised other candidates to do the same, which probably makes a ton of sense for anyone who is esssentially conservative on things like foreign policy and taxation, doesn't want to get *wedged out* in a primary on issues like abortion or gay rights, but still wants to see his or her name on a ballot in November.

When I got back home, I saw a post on Right-Side-of-Lowell, inspired by an article forwarded by the author of Choosing a Soundtrack, which talked about the increasing legitimacy of Indepedent candidacies in major races in New York and New Jersey. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Frustration with so-called "politics as usual" is NOTHING new. We could open any newspaper or any circulation level at virtually ANY point in American history and see that type of rhetoric. So I'm loathe to buy the idea that frustration with the status quo is at some type of boiling point that's in any way historically unique. What I DO believe, however, is that the Internet is changing the system that used to place tremendous heft in the hands of party/machine power brokers. Candidates are finding new ways to spread the word about themselves in rapid-fire, cost-effective ways. TV and print media ads are slowly losing relevance.

This will continue to happen. Whether you see actual third parties form here from the center (New Whigs? Bull Moosers?) remains to be seen. What you will see, however, are mainstream moderates who, whether because they can't fit neatly into any party label (i.e. Lincoln Chafee), or, out of the naked opportunism that comes with someone who sees the futility of his prospects in an intra-party matchup (i.e. Tim Cahill) strike out on their own as Independents.

Good for them, I say.

Real democracy should be about real choice between different candidates, not about a small number of people in a smoke-filled room (I don't care if it's Tammany or Bohemian Grove) trying to dictate what the huddled masses will or won't be able to do.


kad barma said...

Amen. Party politicians by definition put their allegiance to their party first. Independents put their allegiance to the voters first. There's something to be considered in that.

I don't believe the answer is a third or a fourth party. I believe the answer is candidates who respect the electorate, and serve THEM, not parties.

I'm voting on Tuesday against the kind of system where a sitting city councilor can abuse the power of his office, and then leverage the backing of other party politicians to endorse his malfeasance.

C R Krieger said...

One of the things that strikes me, and having listened to Chris Matthews and Keith Obermann this evening for the fun of it, I think is being missed is that the numbers in the polls tell a new story. Henry Fineman picked up on it, but I think Chris Matthews' mind was already made up.  When I get a break I will blog on it, but for now, only 20% of the electorate calls itself Republican.  40% of the electorate calls itself "conservative," whatever that means.  Thus, all this talk about "Republicans" purging moderates seems strange to me.  Dede, by her actions, suggests that the moderates are not being purged but are leaving on their own accord.

Tuesday could be interesting and that would not necessarily be a bad thing.

And, like Kad, on Tuesday I will be voting for change that will encourage our City Councilors to be clear on their responsibilities and will encourage politicians at other levels of Government to properly exercise their responsibilities.

Regards  —  Cliff

Jon and Kate said...

GP -- Great points. As I've commented before, one of the hardest things about being the minority party is the extra attention the media pays to the lunatic base. If I were a reasonable Republican (I'm not -- in fact, 2008 was the first time I voted for a major party candidate) all this tea-bagging nonsense would drive me nuts, because no matter what happens in NY-23 or two gubernatorial races, the amplification of the fringe is death for a national party -- see John Kerry in 2004, when constant media reports of the "loony left" was a constant problem for him.

Cliff -- those poll numbers are interesting. Though I'm skeptical of any poll that asks any other question than "what candidate do you plan on voting for." For example, an overwhelming majority of Americans constantly disapprove of the job Congress is doing, yet the Congressional incumbency rate is in the 90s. That said, if the Palin/conservative wing of the part can win a few seats, they might be able to the be the Blue Dog Democrats of the right.

The New Englander said...

..thanks to everyone for adding those thoughts into the discussion. And as it turns out, the Indy didn't fare so well in NJ -- maybe because people felt there was too much at stake in that election to vote for a candidate they didn't think would win. David Brooks had a piece today about the importance of Indies, but he was definitely referring to self-described Indy voters, and NOT to Indy candidates..