2010-02-26 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Game Changers
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

With Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration on the ropes over their recent health care overreach and ongoing fiscal indiscipline, the Republican Party smells blood as it looks for its own restoration in this year’s elections. The GOP needs to curb its hubris.

While it’s not too early for Republicans to start feeling optimistic, they need to realize that this kind of resurgent mood isn’t unlike the ebullience of markets bouncing off a bottom. As market pundits like to say, even a dead cat will bounce when it’s tossed from a great height. After having fallen so low in public esteem during the last days of the Bush administration, it only makes sense Republicans’ spirits would surge at an im-pending reversal of fortune.

But Democrats haven’t given up as they look for new ways to enact policy prescriptions a majority of Americans are clearly uncomfortable with. The health care summit, called by the president at least partly in answer to accusations that he and his party have been high-handed, partisan and secretive over the past year, already looks like the first salvo in a new front to bring Republicans and reluctant moderate Democrats to heel.

If it succeeds, or at least succeeds at dispelling the charges of partisanship and closed-door deal making that have recently had Democrats reeling, the administration and Democratic leaders could well reclaim their lost aura of inevitability, even getting their much embattled agenda enacted into law. Republicans, of course, understand they’re being put on the spot but they have little choice except to play. To do otherwise would reinforce the Democratic narrative of GOP obstructionism, even if participating puts them in the cross-hairs of an Obama-led Democratic effort to co-opt them for a mostly Democratic package that’s anathema to their base. How they navigate between this Scylla of perceived capitulation and the Charybdis of obstructionism will greatly influence how they fare in the upcoming 2010 elections. But others are waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces if Republicans stumble.

The national Tea Party movement, initiated as a grassroots reaction to overspending in Washington, has gathered supporters disgusted with both sides. While you might think these folks would naturally be more sympathetic to Republicans because of historic Republican calls for fiscal conservatism and smaller government, that’s not enough anymore given how Republican politicians have so often fallen off the wagon of fiscal and moral probity. Nor are Tea Partiers the only ones in open revolt.

According to David Bodamer, a 37 year old high school history teacher and football coach from upstate New York, president of the New York State branch of the recently founded Conservative Party U.S.A. (www.conser vativepartyusa.com) his group “doesn’t feel the Republican Party is ever going to return to a Conservative position.” That’s the reason, he explains, that they decided to found a party of their own, despite the sorry record of third party movements in this country historically (with the exception of the Republicans themselves, of course, who began as just such a movement).

“We’re challenging the Republican Party status quo,” says Bodamer, “because the Republicans have left Conservatives out in the cold. . .People are sick and tired of the status quo and are looking for something else . . . People are telling us this through Tea Parties, Town Halls and in other ways. We’re not a small insignificant group of ‘wackos’ as the mainstream media portrays us.”

Besides his role at the state level of the new group, Bodamer is also national party treasurer and a board member of the new organization which has affiliates in at least eighteen states across the nation (up from ten only a few months ago).

Mr. Bodamer identifies himself with a kind of Glenn Beck conservatism though he doesn’t endorse Beck across the board. “Per-sonally I’m comfortable with that comparison,” he says, “(but) I don’t know him well enough to say we’re on the same page 100% of the time . . . overall we agree on many key positions, especially about the improper size of the Federal Government.”

Cutting government back down to size and a return to a stricter understanding of the Constitution are the cornerstone issues of Bodamer’s new national Conservative Party. How does it differ from New York State’s own, long-established Conservative Party (since the two groups share a name)?

Bodamer notes that New York State Conservative Party leader Mike Long recently indicated “that he was looking to attract Conservative Republicans to win some congressional seats for New York but,” Bodamer stresses “we’re looking to establish a Conservative Party that has Conservatives in office, not conservative Republicans. . . . I understand it will take time for Conservative politicians to leave the comfort of the RNC but that’s our direction.” According to Bodamer, the new party isn’t focused on pushing the existing New York Republican Party to the right as the Mike Long Conservatives are.

They want to replace it.

Can they succeed?

Bodamer again: “It only took the Republicans six years to win their first presidential election in 1860 (with Abraham Lincoln). I’m not saying that we’re trying to accomplish this now . . . In today’s world it’s not possible at this stage. However, we can begin to make a difference. . . We’ll start locally and grow from there. The Republicans are split . . . even the Democrats are splintering and there’s an outcry for Conservative leadership . . . a void that needs filling . . .” He adds: “our leadership understands what’s ahead and we’re not attempting too much too soon. That’s where many 3rd parties have failed (but) a group of men in the 1770’s faced obstacles, too. What if they had said ‘it looks too difficult, let’s just stay home’?”

Bodamer says his group is very comfortable with the Tea Party movement and believes the two organizations are moving in the same direction. “We have a lot in common with those who follow this movement and we’re letting them know about us as they have let us know about them. There’s a lot we can accomplish together.” The new nationwide Conservative Party, says Bodamer, aims to replace Republicans state by state, starting at the most local levels to build a new national party organization that will finally represent the longtime conservative principles of small government, individual freedom and lower taxation and spending.

His call to arms, pretty much the same as the Tea Party’s, is also the longtime battle cry of American conservatives of the late twentieth century – a cry that has been reinvigorated by the apparent abandonment of these very principles by politicians and government officials in both major parties and which has been given a final push over the edge of public perception by the recently elected Democratic majority’s increasingly unpopular left-leaning agenda.

If such views really are reflective of how the majority of Americans feel, the Democrats’ current control of Washington may ultimately be recognized, in hindsight, as having been little more than a temporary aberration, the result of a perfect storm of past Republican fiscal imprudence, a weakened Republican administration going into the ‘09 elections and a record shattering financial crisis that is now, hopefully, behind us. But as Republicans in Congress wrestle with President Obama and the Democratic leadership, in hopes of having a real impact on pending legislation and of reining in the worst excesses of the political left, they’d better be glancing over their shoulders at those who once identified with them. The GOP, for all its vaunted history and longtime appeal to modern conservatives, could well wake up one morning to discover that it’s no longer the only conservative game in town.

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