Monday, November 2, 2009

A Hard Right to the Middle

I've been watching the NY 23 House race with a certain degree of sadness. I would certainly have to agree that Scozzafava deserved the RINO label more than most Republicans do. Owens seems to be a run-of-the mill moderate Democrat. If I had to vote in that election, I wouldn't be overjoyed with either of them, but I would have wound up deciding on the issues, not on their party affiliations.

Enter Hoffmann, who appears to be pretty much a down-the-line conservative. Nothing particularly wrong with that, and he has had the luxury of only having to espouse a conservative orthodoxy without doing extreme religious pandering to get to where he is today, which appears to be somewhat ahead of Owens. So, could be worse.

But there is something very, very wrong here, and it has to do with that conservative orthodoxy. We have Ross Douthat cheering Hoffmann as an entrant:
Hoffmann has irritated liberals. Scozzafava was their kind of Republican, and by derailing her candidacy — which she suspended over the weekend after polls showed her slipping to third place — he’s turned a sleepy contest between two left-of-center politicians into an ideologically-charged election.

But both men [Hoffmann and the NJ independent candidate for governor Chris Daggett] deserve the public’s gratitude. They’ve injected real substance into their races, and they’ve given voters a much more interesting choice than they would have otherwise enjoyed.
Interesting? Of course. And Douthat is of course a newspaper columnist--interesting sells copy. But choice? And substance? No way. Hoffmann's ascendancy turns the race into a cartoon. Scozzafava and Owens were pretty close to each other, so they presumably would have to have debated real issues. But with Hoffmann, there's no need to debate any more. Hoffmann is a "conservative," so a big chunk of the electorate either loves or loathes the label and is relieved of thinking any more.

This is the problem with these bi-polar orthodoxies; they're so entrenched that debating the issues is worthless, since they've been carefully engineered to agree on nothing. When you hate everything about the other guy's position, you're never going to look for areas where compromise is possible or, even better, where you can parlay the agreements into a genuinely new policy position.

The worst thing about Hoffmann has nothing to do with him as a candidate. It's that, in a close race where two relative moderates had to convince voters that they were subtly better that each other, we're now left with the usual vacuum in the center, where the bulk of the electorate can only choose which ideology they find slightly less offensive.

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