Reading over the tea

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November 8, 2001 12:58 p.m.

Reading over the tea leaves of Tuesday’s elections, the one thing that drives me crazy or perhaps just makes me laugh are the pundits who say, “Well, sure Mark Warner won the Virginia governor’s race. But only because he didn’t run as a traditional liberal Democrat!”

Well, no &$#*! And more to the point, who cares? That’s like saying George Pataki could never have won reelection in New York state if he ran on Tom DeLay’s legislative program. Yeah, no kidding. And, again, who cares? If he did that he’d be … well, he’d be Bret Shundler, the affable and appealing right-winger who got bulldozed by the anemic but able Jim McGreevey in the New Jersey governor’s race.

The larger point here is that these pundits buy in to the fallacious notion — propagated on the right and the left (and particularly by some unreconstructed liberals) — that the Democratic party was born immaculate and liberal, and that any deviation from that course is just so much betrayal, backsliding, hedging and so forth.

The key to a party’s strength is seldom its purity. The Schundler debacle is revealing about New Jersey precisely because it’s not an anomaly. It’s not enough to say that if a more moderate Republican had gotten the nod, he or she would have done better. The reason Schundler got the nomination in the first place is that New Jersey Republicans have become so mangled and eviscerated that regulars and the moderates couldn’t get it together enough to nominate someone. And that left it to the freaks with the intensity to push through Schundler.

If you want the real run-down on the election results see John Judis’ characteristically magisterial squib in the New Republic.

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