Monday, November 02, 2009

NY-23: My Life on the "Radical Left"

I've been reading quite a bit on the Internet about the race in NY state's 23rd district. For the record, I am still allowed to vote in the state, but in another district. I haven't lived there in six years, but I do still have to pay taxes, so I guess it's okay that they let me vote. Anyway, in NY-23 there was an Assemblywoman, named Dede Scozzafava, who was running as the Republican Congressional candidate until she was forced out by a campaign from "Conservative Party" candidate Doug Hoffman, who ran against her with the ad line, "It's a lot easier to spell my name."

I'm not actually sure why I'm supposed to care about NY-23, all politics being local after all. However, it seems that so many internauts care because, if Hoffman wins in NY-23, the model of his race will be applied elsewhere in the country. Essentially, he ousted a moderate Republican with the enthusiastic support of Republicans across the country who felt that he was a stronger supporter of their particular orthodoxy. Not to give away too much here, but he will win and the people who like him will try to get similar candidates elected elsewhere, with future successes depending on the region in question.

If you've ever been to that part of upstate New York, you'll note that it is very rural, sparsely populated, somewhat poor, and culturally very traditional. They always vote Republican, in other words. Democrats will sometimes complain that small, rural communities where there's not a lot of money "vote against their interests" because they don't vote for the Democrats who promise to deliver social programs. However, if you've lived in these communities, what you realize is that the Democrats never actually deliver those social programs, nor do the Republicans, so the promises are incidental. I now live in a blue-collar, somewhat poor, and very Catholic town in Canada, in which all my neighbors vote for the NDP - basically the Socialist Party; you couldn't imagine that happening in a blue-collar, religiously-traditional community in the United States. The thing is though that they vote NDP because the NDP actually delivers the social programs our community needs to survive. In the US, if you live in a small, rural community, the parties do not care what happens to you. At all.

And so, instead of focusing on social programs that will never come, people vote for the candidate who shares their values, or at least, who can pretend to share their values. They would rather vote for the guy who pretends to hunt and race ATVs and goes to church every week over the guy who doesn't because they figure the guy who shares their values will, maybe, deliver the things their region needs. He won't, but it's understandable why people hedge their bets this way. And Hoffman's shtick is being more Republican than the Republicans, so he's a shoo-in for NY-23.

What I find odd about the race is that the bloganderthals decided that Scozzafava is part of the "radical left", in spite of the fact that she is basically to the right in NY state politics. New York State politics are notoriously dysfunctional and corrupt anyway, but I'm always amazed by the fact that I'm considered the radical left in the US. In Canada, I'm not sure that I wouldn't be considered a "red Tory"- or just what we call "conservative". In the US, I'm only fit for sharing a cold water flat with Noam Chomsky while working on mimeographed anarchist manifestos and vegan chili.

I recently discussed the differences between ideas and creeds- ideas you adapt to fit your own needs, while you have to adapt yourself to fit creeds. This is what comes to mind when I hear about the "radical leftism" ofScozzafava- she didn't adapt herself to the right creeds.

Here, as far as I can tell, are the reasons she is now considered a part of the "radical left":

1. She is "pro-choice" in terms of abortion. This is a strange requirement for a Congresswoman, to be pro-life. My own take on abortion is that every human being is unique and unrepeatable, a belief that corresponds with basic biology. Therefore, there is something quite tragic about abortion; this individual life was not allowed to take place. I understand why people are pro-life.

However, I also know enough about history to know that abortion, or even infanticide, is something of a constant throughout history. The laws make little difference. When abortion was legalized, the rate of abortions did not rise dramatically, and it doesn't drop greatly when abortion is outlawed- women just get them illegally, and unsafely. What does, however, make a
very real difference is the economic level. In times of great poverty, abortion rates rise, for seemingly obvious reasons. When people are desperately poor, they have greater incentive to abort because they don't think they can safely carry to term or raise a child. Therefore, if you really want to shrink the number of abortions, you need to focus on securing a relatively high level of income, education and access to contraceptives across the society. I realize that's considered "socialist" talk in the US, but it's also common sense.

In terms of the laws, I fail to understand why people who talk ad nauseum about "keeping the government out of our lives" want to greatly expand the powers of the state over reproductive choices. Nevertheless, a Congressperson from NY-23 would be in no position to change the law, or really to do anything about the issue. When these "pro-life" candidates get elected, they never do anything about it, mostly because they really can't. I find it weird, therefore, that people feel a need to have their elected officials pretend to be pro-life. We have a woman in our department who refuses to vote for politicians who aren't pro-life, even if they can't do anything about abortion once elected. They just have to believe the same thing as her, in their hearts. In this case, it really is a creed, just one that's totally irrelevant for the office.

2. She supports gay marriage. Whoops! Me too, although again, I am part of the radical left. My belief is that marriage should be encouraged because it makes for stable relationships and is the bedrock of social stability- oh, there I go again, talking like Jerry Rubin! Another radical idea I have is that the state should not be the arbiter of which relationships are acceptable in the eyes of God and should let people make their own decisions about these things.

Again, though, I live in a country in which the Conservatives don't generally run on being pro-life or anti-gay marriage, outside of a few parts of Alberta. There is a live and let live attitude in Canada that seems to work against politicians running on social issues. We want them to run the government, not the culture.

3. She supported stimulus spending. Again, this just seems weird to me- the idea that, in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in 60 years, the state pumping money into the economy is the de facto wrong decision. I can accept that it has been done badly. If you have an hour, I can suggest why the stimulus spending has been way too haphazard and why it would have been better to spend that money from the bottom up instead of the top-down. Nevertheless, being opposed to any stimulus spending whatsoever is an easy stance to take- it's so totally at odds with the majority of economic thinking that no democratic state will do it, and thus one never has to account for the total collapse of the economy that would most likely have resulted from it. I can say that the key tochild rearing is to stop feeding infants so they can learn to forage and rest assured that no parent will ever prove me right or wrong.

4. She does not believe in tax cuts. I think that's the right word- "believe". It's an article of faith among certain "conservatives" that every economic problem can be solved through tax cuts. Even now, when interest rates have been cut back to nothing, there is the hope that a few tax cuts here and there will end the recession. It's totally unlikely, but it's interesting that, in the absence of a Plan B, the Plan A becomes something akin to a creed. In the late 70s, tax cuts were desperately needed in the United States, particularly for small businesses; that doesn't mean that they're the right answer in every single economic crisis. Every job can be performed with a hammer, if you only have a hammer in your toolbox.

To me, fiscal conservatism means telling people that, if they want their government to provide a specific service, it will cost a specific amount that will have to come from the revenue raised by taxes. This seems to be obvious, but American politicians do not say this. Instead, the Democrats say, "You can have whatever you want and we'll figure out how to save money somewhere in the future," while the Republicans say, "You can have whatever you want and we'll cut taxes now, in the hopes that someone in the future will yank the entitlements you've demanded." Again, the Conservative Party in Canada- the Tories- are actual fiscal conservatives in that they recognize that people will demand certain services from the state and therefore they see the role of conservatives to be to ensure that the state does not spend money unless it can afford to.

When I hear about people like Scozzafava basically being purged from the GOP for holding "radical leftist" positions that just sound like common sense, it suggests to me that maybe I really am too far to the left for American politics. It's a bit cliquish, isn't it? I would venture to guess that there are plenty of conservatives who aren't Republican enough to vote Republican. I always joke that I can't be that far to the left since I would have voted for Eisenhower. But it's hard for me to believe that Eisenhower could even get nominated today.

Update: Who can tell, but as of 11:57, it looks like I called this one way wrong and the idiots haven't taken over after all.

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