Monday, November 2, 2009

NY Congressional race indicative of changing nation

A congressional race in upstate New York has political aficionados salivating at the drama it has created, with the outcome potentially changing the course of the Republican Party in future elections.

In what should have been an easy win for any Republican running, Dierdre Scozzafava, the GOP's candidate, has stepped aside due to endorsements made by several key party leaders for one of her opponents. The Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, has received support from conservative Republicans like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, both contenders in 2012 for the GOP nomination for president, as well as other prominent party heads. Even House Minority Leader John Boehner said earlier this week that he regretted supporting Scozzafava.

The schism allowed for the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, to gain some ground and actually have a chance in this race. With the two right-leaning candidates splitting the vote, Owens could have won as a Democrat in this conservative district, a feat that has never been accomplished.

With failing polling numbers, though, Scozzafava dropped out of the race, leaving the Conservative Party candidate Hoffman to claim most of the right-of-center voters. However, in a bitter twist, Scozzafava added even more drama when she cast her endorsement -- to Democrat Bill Owens.


In all likelihood, Owens won't win this race. But that he even has a chance at it, that a moderate Republican would endorse him over his conservative opponent, speaks volumes about the fragile makeup of the Republican Party today, as well as the political balance we see among all Americans.

It seems that moderates have no place within the party of Lincoln these days, that only hardliner-conservatives can make a difference or have a voice within the GOP. When conservative commentators harass Colin Powell for his moderate views, or when politicians must bend over backwards to appease their "party leader" Rush Limbaugh, it's clear that moderates aren't wanted anymore, are seen as undeserving of a place at the table within the Republican Party's proverbial dining room.

What happens then? The Democrats reap the benefits, gain more moderates and independents towards their cause, and become seen as the party of reason and common sense. Americans begin to realize that the unwarranted fears of a public option are not valid; they start to understand that thinking about foreign policy matters is better than investing in a potential quagmire, or that diplomacy doesn't necessarily equate appeasement as conservatives maintain it does.

Yes, the schism between moderate and hardliner Republicans is indicative of something: America is changing. We were never fighting a left-vs.-right battle, but rather it was a "who can win the moderates?" fight. Right now, the conservative-driven Republican Party is losing that battle -- Democrats are winning, are more in-tune with the American people (indeed, one in three Americans now consider themselves Democrats, with only one in five calling themselves Republicans).

America is turning left, albeit at a snail's pace. Don't believe me? Nearly three-quarters of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy. Nearly three out of five support higher taxes if it means everyone can have health insurance.

America is moving left on social issues, too: earlier this year, in a CBS poll, 42 percent of Americans thought that gay and lesbian couples deserved marriage rights, while 25 percent preferred they only receive legal rights that married couples get, without the title (e.g. civil unions); only 28 percent thought that they deserved no recognition at all. The very fact that the American public elected an African American as president -- with more votes cast for him than any other president in history -- is also surely a sign of change in the politics of this nation.


Perhaps it is a bit much to draw all this out from a simple (yet very complicated) Congressional race in upstate New York. But the parallels of that race and this nation's changing attitudes are too much to ignore. We are seeing this across country: what should be a straight forward, Republican vs. Democratic race is amounting to something more, something deeper.

The mainstream Republican, thwarted by her once-trusted allies, is beginning to question her loyalty to that party. The Democratic majority is beginning to welcome that questioning spirit, to become more inclusive in its ranks. And the die-hard conservative Republicans? Though a vocal group, their presence in the discourse of this country is shrinking. We still hear them, but as time passes, more of us -- mainstream left and right -- are starting to ignore their calls.

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