Sunday, November 08, 2009

Expect the inquisition!

Anyone reading this article is probably familiar with Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch. In this sketch, an ordinary scene is interrupted by the arrival of Michael Palin, playing a Catholic Cardinal, who proceeds to tie an old woman to a chair and inform her, "you are accused of heresy on three counts -- heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed, and heresy by action -- *four* counts."

Something very like this happened this fall in the special election for New York's 23rd congressional district. The Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, was an experienced legislator who had no trouble winning the endorsement of Republican luminaries such as Newt Gingrich. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: GOP activists decided that Scozzafava just wasn't conservative enough. "Tea-bagging" conservatives abandoned Scozzafava and began supporting third-party candidate and right-wing ideologue Doug Hoffman, eventually forcing Scozzafava to drop out of the race. Result: Democrat Bill Owens carried the day, winning in a district parts of which had not voted Democratic since before the Civil War.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Republican "small tent" strategy, espoused by GOP Senator Jim DeMint, who feels that he, "would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs." Interestingly, the Hoffman debacle in New York doesn't seem to have phased DeMint one bit. DeMint criticized National Republican Senate Committee John Cornyn's efforts to find moderate candidates who can appeal to a broad spectrum of the public this week saying, "He’s trying to find candidates who can win. I’m trying to find people who can help me change the Senate...To think we can grow the party by picking people who are more liberal and don’t share our core values doesn’t make any sense."

I'm unclear how as to how DeMint thinks he can grow his party with the strategy "pass our litmus test on every issue or be kicked out of the Party." Well, Kentuckian Henry Clay used to say, "I'd rather be right than President." Clearly, DeMint would rather be right than have a majority in Congress.

I stress this point because the DeMint strategy is such a sharp contrast with how the Democratic Party functions. Democrats are only too glad to support conservative "Blue Dog" candidates in conservative areas that are unlikely to elect very progressive candidates. For example, here's the Act Blue web page to raise money for the Senate campaign of Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, a candidate who agrees with progressive Democrats on precious few issues.

Electing the Blue Dogs has its pros and cons. Pro: it allows Democrats to hold large majorities in Congress and to pass important legislation. Case in point: last night's landmark passage of the Health Care Reform bill in the House by a narrow 220-215 vote. Con: it also allows conservative Democrats to throw their weight around and insert the odious Stupak Amendment that takes away women's reproductive rights into the Health Care bill.

The benefits of having the majority and being able to pass the laws we need are worth having a few conservatives in the Party. And there's another advantage as well. There's always going to be debate on Capitol Hill. I'd rather have the debate on legislation be between liberal and moderate Democrats than between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Until the GOP comes up with some real answers to American problems, they deserve to be marginalized.

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