I feel kind of bad for Dede Scozzafava. Not too long ago, it looked like this moderate Republican would sail to an easy victory against her Democratic challenger in today’s special election for the vacant congressional seat in New York’s 23rd district. Scozzafava is the kind of Republican that barely exists anymore – Northeastern, ethnic, and fairly liberal on both social and economic issues. She is a supporter of abortion rights, economic stimulus spending, and strengthening workers’ rights to union organization and collective bargaining. It’s good for the left that at least some moderates remain within the Republican party, otherwise most of them will flock to the Democrats and marginalize that party’s left wing even further. Then why am I also kind of heartened by the fact that she’s been forced to bow out of the race by a bunch of crazy right-wing teabaggers?
Simply put, I wish we had more people with the tenacity, ideological fervor, and organizational acumen (and yes, money) of the teabaggers on the left. Those guys are indeed crazy and potentially dangerous, but unlike so many on our side (broadly speaking) they’re willing to take chances and buck the constraints of the two-party system when the opportunity presents itself. They actually organize for what they believe in and don’t care if the Republican leadership doesn’t like it. It’s kind of admirable, and their example should be followed (to a certain extent) by those of us on the other side of the spectrum.
A recent article on Politico.com gives us some insight into the mindset of the kinds of folks that rallied around the campaign of Conservative Party challenger Doug Hoffman and provide leadership for the broad tendency they represent. “I don’t give a crap about party…Grass-roots activists don’t care about party,” says one activist. Another says that “we are not going to allow our [movement] to be stolen by the GOP or by any political party.” Another rails against GOP leadership: their “level of disingenuousness… is disgusting.”
How many people within the main organizations of the broad liberal-left would even think about making similar comments about the Democrats publicly, or begin the work of building a broad movement outside the two party system? Probably not many. Ned Lamont’s 2006 primary challenge to Joe Lieberman notwithstanding, most liberals and even many leftists are too scared by the specter of the benighted Republican hordes overrunning the country to mount a serious challenge to the Democratic party establishment. Every election, we dutifully line up at the polls to support whichever horrible candidate the party leadership throws out there. And each time, we get less and less in return, except for contempt and condescension from the Democratic establishment. Here’s Nancy Pelosi on the progressive activists who work to return her and the rest of her crew to Congress every election: “Privately, she was getting frustrated with the progressives and their whining and carping. ‘There they are, posing for holy pictures,’ she likes to say. ‘Oh, they want to be sainted.’” Talk about disingenuousness. If anyone deserves to be Scozzafavaed, it’s probably her.
Yes, the teabaggers are nuts. Yes, it’s bad that another incompetent right-wing windbag could win a Congressional seat instead of a Republican who’s probably more liberal than many Congressional Democrats. But let’s give them credit where credit is due, and not be afraid of following their example where appropriate.
Update: The New Republic (of all places) recently ran an article on their website on the fate of Organizing for America, the "grassroots" outgrowth of the Obama election campaign. It neatly illustrates what happens when movements get tied too closely to parties, especially party leaderships. Worth a read.