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Biden, absolutists, and irony

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Vice President Joe Biden was in upstate New York today stumping for Bill Owens in the heated NY-23 Congressional special election. You know, the one that doesn’t matter and has no national portent whatsoever, except if Owens wins, of course. In any event, Biden had a few words to say about Scozzafava’s departure and the GOP:

We aren’t asking you to switch your party. We are just saying join us in teaching a lesson to those absolutists who say no dissent is permitted within your own party … This is a different ideology. This is different than anything I’ve known in my 45 years of being familiar with this district. You know, they may not have any room for moderate views in the Republican Party upstate anymore, but let me assure you, we have room, we have room.

What’s ironic about Biden’s statement about “absolutists” is that it ignores his own party’s attempts at minimizing the effects of Blue Dogs and moderates on a variety of issues including health care reform. Concerns about the public option and potential costs are to be swept aside and steamrolled under the weight of an ideologically driven liberal agenda, moderate Dems be damned if need be (Pelosi has said as much in saying she’s willing to lose Blue Dog districts as long as her agenda gets through). Indeed, Mr. Biden, your own voters didn’t seem to have room for Joe Lieberman, who was primaried by the liberal faithful and still found victory as an independent. The threat of primary races still hangs over many moderate Democrats who don’t toe the liberal line well enough, and indeed, hangs over Arlen Specter, who the Democrats initially championed as a great moderate before working to ensure he will receive a challenge from a more liberal Democrat next year.

And let’s get a few things straight. Scozzafava got a lot of monetary support from the national party, and she was only forced out when her poll numbers dropped so low that it was obvious the voters of NY-23 didn’t see her as a viable option in the race. And about Scozzafava’s “moderate” status -  it isn’t as though she’s a mostly solid Republican that had some pro-choice leanings. Her record is solidly liberal, with an award from Planned Parenthood for her abortion stance, her support of gay marriage, her support for card check, her support for the economic stimulus plan, her ties to unions, and her ties to ACORN and the Working Families Party. Those who have worn the “moderate” moniker like Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani, or John McCain are easily to the right of Scozzafava, so let’s be honest about what she is: a liberal, not a moderate.

That’s fine for her to hold those views, but it doesn’t take an “absolutist” to have issues with a Scozzafava candidacy. Disagreement on one or two or several issues is perfectly fine and quite healthy within a political party, as long as there are fundamental areas of agreement. But with a constellation of policy stands that are hard to accept, it becomes less of an ideological purity test and more of a practical argument along the lines of, “What will really be the difference in Congress if this liberal Republican candidate wins over the liberal Democrat?”

It’s a point I was trying to make yesterday, and a point I’ve been trying to make over the last year throughout the rhetorical fluctuations about Colin Powell and Arlen Specter. No one is trying to force moderates out of the party (or they shouldn’t be anyway), but at some point a fundamental question must be asked: what does it mean to be a Republican? If it means nothing besides being a “not-Democrat”, then the entire reason for the party’s existence is obliterated. This is why the GOP, if it is to have any success, must not simply hope for Democratic failure, but must create and articulate a series of core principles and positive plans for action if it is to have any chance at regaining the national electorate.

Democrats and liberals are hoping to forestall that examination by playing up the tension between factions of the Republican party, suggesting that the GOP is becoming too “extreme” or “too right-wing,” or that litmus tests of ideological purity are being administered and destroying the GOP’s inclusiveness. The truth is that the tension is originating not from factions within the party, but between a party leadership that is focused solely on statistical pandering for mathematically based victory and a Republican and conservative base that is yearning for its representatives to stand for something more than “not-Democrat.”

Cross-posted at Wellsy’s World.

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