Two stories are unfolding out in the 23rd Congressional District of New York. In the foreground, we have the three-way contest between hapless Republican Dede Scozzafava, upstart Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, and some generic Democrat whose name no one can remember. This race is a microcosm of our strange politics, which have become like a speeding car with jammed door locks, cut brake lines, a dead steering wheel, and air vents that pump nitrous oxide. Everyone is dimly aware the country is heading for the edge of a cliff, but no one can muster the energy to search for alternatives.
The President took time away from his losing wars against Fox News, the Taliban, and economic reality to endorse the Democrat, who would doubtless prove a useful ally in the only war Obama is winning: the war on the American middle class. He probably should have endorsed Scozzafava instead. She’d only be marginally less useful to him – does anyone see her leaping to the well of Congress and declaring her iron-willed opposition to ObamaCare in all its forms? Does anyone have difficulty imagining her sudden decision to support a bill that will address her “concerns” while guaranteeing “affordable access to insurance” for the twenty, thirty, or forty-seven million Americans, legal and otherwise, who will surely die without a government health plan?
At least Obama would have been doing something interesting and unpredictable by endorsing Scozzafava. She clearly shares his views on the use of state power to suppress annoying journalists. Instead, he flew into the district to cough up some more empty rhetoric nobody will remember tomorrow, on behalf of a candidate no one cares about, but who stands a good chance of winning by default.
The other story, playing out in the background, is the second act of one political saga beginning, even as another draws to a close. The rising star of Sarah Palin passes over the melancholy ruins of Newt Gingrich, who spent the last of his credibility endorsing Scozzafava. The Republican Party of Gingrich dies, unloved and irrelevant. Something else is replacing it. The new opposition party is not guaranteed of victory – such guarantees are issued to no one. Palin may never choose to campaign for an office beneath its banner, but she’s an integral part of its identity. She’ll certainly never be a governor, or anyone’s vice presidential candidate, again. For the Republicans, it will never be 1996 or 2006 again. There’s no more room for school-lunch debacles, government shutdown miscalculations, Trent Lott, George Allen, Mark Foley… or Newt Gingrich.
It pains me to say this about Gingrich. He accomplished some amazing things, in the mid-90s. He’s a smart man who has offered some interesting ideas, in his second life as a conservative intellectual. The problem is that Newt is a political tactician, and in the final stages of a losing war against collectivist ruin, the time has come to focus on grand strategy, rather than tactics. The second decade of this century will be an existential war for the American soul, not a police action.
Gingrich is always thinking about the tactics of the moment, trying to win on points that will never be awarded fairly. He spent far too much of his time as Speaker of the House shouting in vain for media referees to throw penalty flags that remained stuffed in their pockets. Meanwhile, the political battlefront has shifted into the fatal terrain of essential liberties and economic freedom. This is the time for courage, conviction, and bold action… not whining about “big tents,” while pushing a product of the Pataki machine with a Margaret Sanger award dangling around her neck. A Republican party that embraces Scozzafava over Hoffman isn’t a “tent.” It’s not even a lean-to.
The most urgent task for conservatives is building a logical, consistent vision to place before the voters. They’re looking for a comprehensive explanation of why Democrat policies are wrong. They can see Obama’s failures all around them, but in the absence of a compelling narrative from the opposition party, they’re likely to conclude those failures were inevitable, and learn to accept them. If no one presents a coherent alternative to socialism, it wins by default, because too much of the political and media culture desires it. We’ve already tumbled far past the point where anyone views the Constitution as even a speed bump, let alone a barrier to socialist ambition. The principles embodied in that incredible document will perish, if they are not respected, explained, and defended.
A party that supports Scozzafava over Hoffman cannot mount that defense. They can’t run candidates to the left of the Democrats, then expect a spellbound audience when they explain why the Democrats are wrong. This is not a question of rigid idealism, or remaining a “perfect minority.” The voters, including the fabled “moderates,” need to be persuaded, not pandered to. Running a liberal squish in a largely conservative district will not cause moderate voters to squeal with excitement over the billowing expanse of the GOP’s enormous tent, and rush to see what other wonders might be hidden inside.
In her endorsement of Doug Hoffman, Sarah Palin said:
Our nation is at a crossroads, and this is once again a “time for choosing.”
The federal government borrows, spends, and prints too much money, while our national debt hits a record high. Government is growing while the private sector is shrinking, and unemployment is on the rise. Doug Hoffman is committed to ending the reckless spending in Washington, D.C. and the massive increase in the size and scope of the federal government. He is also fully committed to supporting our men and women in uniform as they seek to honorably complete their missions overseas.
And best of all, Doug Hoffman has not been anointed by any political machine.
Doug Hoffman stands for the principles that all Republicans should share: smaller government, lower taxes, strong national defense, and a commitment to individual liberty.
She’s clever to throw in that jab at political machines. Dede Scozzafava rolled off the conveyor belt of such a machine, to stand blinking in confusion outside Hoffman’s headquarters, drowning in a sea of his campaign posters as she babbled about how she finally wanted to debate him. Voters impressed by political machines will be unable to tear their eyes from the stupendous contraption of media wiring and corrupt money that grows from Barack Obama. Those who are still capable of independent thought need to hear Palin battle cries, not Gingrich apologies.
The GOP is doomed if it holds the course Newt Gingrich set for it, in the waning days of his troubled tenure as Speaker of the House. It should set a new course, following the rogue stars rising to starboard. Palin and Hoffman are among the first of those stars. She’s taking a risk by endorsing him, since her detractors would savor his defeat. That’s good. America needs risk-takers, not undertakers. Newt Gingrich conceded far too many defeats before the race in New York-23 had even begun, by settling for a candidate he could live with, instead of backing the one New York – and America – really needs.