(2nd in an occasional series documenting the exploits of one of New York's most eclectic political dynasties)
If they are really serious about inflicting damage upon the national Democratic Party, there's one New York congressional race, currrently appearing on neither party's list of targetted seats, to which Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman should be directing massive Republican resources. That is New York's 10th Congressional District, currently held by Democrat Edolphus "ET" Towns. And, already there is evidence that "The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" has figured this out.
ET's seat is prohibitively Democratic, and there's no conceivable sceanario under which it will change partisan hands. In fact, last time out, for no apparently reason, the local Republican Party did everything it could to successfully put an end to the candidacy of the one person committed to taking the Republican line and trying to run an actual race, prefering to run a placeholder name on its line (not that nominating the lunatic who actually wanted to run would have had any impact upon anything).
There is a good case to be made that ET is the preferable choice for Republicans. ET is a man of no fixed allegience beyond personal expedience, who supported Bush on CAFTA and recently took a walk on a close and important budget vote. In 1997, his eclectic politics of convieniance were nicely illustrated when his endorsement of Al Sharpton in the Democratic mayoral primary served as political foreplay for his general election endorsement of Republican Rudolph Giuliani (rumor has it that ET nearly had a heart attack, and was forced to cancel a previously scheduled day-after-the-primary Rudy endorsement press conference, when it appeared that Sharpton had unexpectedly forced a runoff). The next year, ET did the dirty deed again, this time on behalf of Al D'Amato. ET is well known for his willingness to trade his vote for pork (or, in the case of his Satmar constituents, pastrami) regardless of the issue and notwithstanding his prior record. In a district as prohibitively Democratic as the 10th, ET is as close as the Republican are going to get to a dream come true. But this year, Republicans can do even better with ET's strongest likely primary opponent, City Councilman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther who has been quoted to the effect that he would like to slap a few white people around for mental health reasons (Chuck, have you considered Prozac instead?)
There may actually be a few issues on which the Bush administration might find Barron preferable to ET. Barron is on record favoring the teaching of "intelligent design theory" in the public schools. And, given that pro-Israel groups were wary of granting control of our ports to the United Arab Emirates, Barron would probably have supported the President in his efforts to do so. Barron's black nationalist ideology offers further promise, given the long history record of black militants migrating to the far right (e.g., Eldridge Cleaver and Roy Innes) without ever stopping at liberalism. Certainly, Lewis Farrakhan, a Barron buddy, has almost no problem with the agenda of the Religious Right, although Farrakhan's homophobia is a bit more pronounced. But, the limited possibilty of getting Barron's support on a few issues has virtually nothing to do with why the Republicans should be excited about having Barron in Congress.
There is almost no chance that, beyond an enterprise zone here or there, Barron will support any of the Bush administration's economic agenda (unless Barron can be persuaded that the acturarials render Social Security a conspiracy against people of color; and, this is not impossible). Like many former Panthers, Barron has not been sold on the idea that Karl Marx is as much of a "Dead White European Male" as Adam Smith. In actuality, this suits the Republican Party just fine, for Charles Barron's face is exactly what they want the American people to envision when they form a picture in their mind's eye of a liberal Democrat.
Some of "The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" has already figured this out. Just this week on Fox, Sean Hannity took delight in displaying Barron in all his glory, while Barron's name flashed on the screen with a (D) next to it. Because Barron is currently little more than a local curiosity, the impact of such appearances is currently limited, in the same way that it was when klansman and former Louisiana legislator David Duke's name used to appear on television with an (R). But, Barron's election to Congress will convert him from a local curiosity to a national embarassment.
Republican direct mail fundraising would no longer include a picture of Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennnedy or Barney Frank, or inflamatory quotes from Jim McDermott, Jim Moran or Christine McKinney. Barron would become the Republican Party's new Democratic poster boy of choice; moreover, Barron has a treasure trove of quotations Republican strategists will find more useful than "Bartlett's", and he is constantly at work creating new ones every day. Imagine Karl Rove's delight, when Democrats running in marginal districts are confronted on camera with the Hobson's choice of either disavowing a Barron quote and alienating African-American voters (and the Republicans will pay for ads on black radio rebroadcasting any such disavowels) or not disavowing him and alienating middle-of-the-road swing voters. And, just wait for the moment in the next presidential race when the Democratic nominee is similarly confronted with the opportunity to comment upon Barron's antics. Republicans will be so delighted by the possibilties Barron's election presents that he'll probably be invited to Fox News nearly every night to give the Democratic viewpoint. Hell, they'll probably give him his own show. And, did I mention the Jews?
In all candor, I have to admit that Barron is a man of considerable wit and charm; but so is Pat Buchanan. And, I'll also admit that some of Barron's more controversial remarks do not bother me in the least. He doesn't like Thomas Jefferson? Neither does Conor Cruise O'Brien. And, what's so wrong with pointing out that while Jefferson was creating some of the most beautiful prose poems ever written in praise of human liberty, he was singing those words to the tune of "Lay Down Sally"? Nonetheless, I would rather hear such things discussed on television by Henry Louis Gates (or if absolutely necessary, Cornell West) than by a Democractic Congressman with a predeliction for publicly fantasizing about interacial S&M.
Almost as a footnote, I must add that I'm also displeased with Barron for putting people of intelligence and good taste into a position where they are forced into voting for ET. Although, I support CAFTA, it's hard for me to picture ET settling down with the collected works of Thomas Friedman before deciding how he was going to vote (Can anyone pictue ET reading Thomas Friedman? Can anyone picture ET reading anything?). More likely, Karl Rove called him up and ET traded his vore for a couple of SBA loans in his district (one to an African-American, the other to a Satmar Hasid). I could go on for pages about ET's transgressions, and promise I will find the time to do so in the near future. But, voting for Barron because you prefer his position on CAFTA or Atlantic Yards is like voting for Mussolini because you prefer his position on mass transit (you know, the thing about train schedules). The prospect of Barron in Congress brings us back to the subject of David Duke. During the runoff election in Duke's nearly successful campaign for Louisiana Governor against the criminally inclined incumbent, Edward Edwards, some reluctant Edwards supporters, mostly reform minded liberals and sane Republicans, came up with a slogan which summed up both the distasteful task ahead and why it was so necessary; today I paraphrase it on behalf of ET: VOTE FOR THE HACK; IT'S IMPORTANT!