Is Pragmatism Enough for the Ideologically-Minded?
I’m burnt out on this year’s elections, so it was by pure chance that I happened upon the tail end of the last debate between Senator Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse last night. It’s really become an election by and for syllogistic simpletons, hasn’t it? Like most other Democrats, Whitehouse is running against BUSH. Like many Republicans, Chafee is running away from BUSH. That is really what their messages have become. Plus, both are bluebloods and to hear each tell it, the other is either corrupt and wishy-washy or inept and wishy-washy. You decide who is speaking about whom. I can’t tell the difference anymore. Truth be told, I never could. What a choice…
But there is a difference between them, I suppose.
You see, if I were to take off my ideological lense and go all pragmatic on your a**es, I’d have to say that the “average Rhode Island voter” (whover she may be) would probably benefit more by sending Senator Chafee back to Washington. Tenured incumbents really do deliver for their constituents, after all. As much as fiscal conservative’s hate to admit it, one persons “pork” is another’s “special project” and multi-term incumbents are the most effective purveyors of pork. And most of their constituents won’t take them to task for directing millions of dollars their way. In fact, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what many folks think a politician’s job is: to get other people’s money to help improve our backyard.
Another related argument, and one made by Senator Chafee, is that having at least one Republican in our otherwise Democrat-dominated national political delegation is smart politics. That way, Rhode Island will always have at least one elected official who will be in the party in power in Washington, D.C. Hard to argue with the technical logic, though what benefit can be accrued is directly related to the ability of said politician to “deliver” the goods when his party is in power.
Based largely upon the aforementioned pragmatic reasons, I’ve narrowed my decision down to “No-voting” in the Senate race or voting for Senator Chafee. But is pragmatism enough? Aren’t there any ideologically conservative justifications that can be summoned to legitmize supporting either Chafee or Whitehouse?
I’ve come to believe that, regardless of how this election turns out, any hope held by RI conservatives that we can somehow move the ideological ball toward us by electing or not electing either of these two candidates is unfounded. I believe that if Senator Chafee were to emerge victorious, he would be so politically tempered that it will be well-nigh impossible for anyone to beat him, whether in a primary or general election. That is bad news for conservatives.
By the same token, I believe that should Sheldon Whitehouse take the seat, the power of incumbency would serve him well and Rhode Islanders would get used to the idea of having an all Democrat delegation. Then there would be no turning back. Now, I suppose Mayor Laffey or even Governor Carcieri might have a shot in beating Whitehouse 6 years on, so maybe I’m being overly-pessimistic, but given the “navy blue” of the RI electorate (H/T: Maureen Moakley on the last Lively Experiment), I think my pessimism is justified.
Thus, electing either Chafee or Whitehouse will do nothing to help the conservative cause in RI in either the short or long term. Basically, we’re screwed on this front, kids, and will be better served to look elsewhere for any conservative movement opportunities.
But back to the reality of the senate race. Like it or not, conservatives simply can’t apply the standard set of ideological benchmarks to this race. If we’re going to vote, we need to put ideology aside and vote based on other factors. For me, right now, I still don’t know whether I’m going to swallow hard and vote for a liberal blueblood Republican or “check out” of the process and let the rest of the electorate decide who their (my) Senator is going to be. It will come down to me standing in the booth looking at that ballot and which decision will allow me to live with my conscience.