The cosmic significance of the congressional race in New York’s 23rd district has, I think, been wildly overblown by a conservative movement that seems obsessively focused on extremely narrow tactical issues (Van Jones, anyone?). However, the arguments over party discipline and ideological are pretty interesting and worth commenting on.
My litmus test for a heterodox conservative candidate is twofold. If you’re a genuinely original thinker who encourages intramural debate, chances are you’re better suited for office than some slavish devotee of party orthodoxy. A political movement can’t consist entirely of politicians who buck the party line, but in general, these figures are comparatively rare and worth preserving (think McCain at his maverick-y best).
The second condition has to do with the realities of national coalition-building. If, for example, you’re running in a traditionally liberal district, the logic of moderating your ideological outlook is pretty ironclad.
As best I can tell, however, Dede Scozzafava didn’t fall into either category. However sincere, her breaks with party orthodoxy aren’t going to be remembered as vital contributions to the debate over conservative renewal. And her district, despite its location in the heart of the Northeast, is known far and wide as a conservative stronghold.
I can’t say I’m particularly pleased by her conservative replacement, Doug Hoffman, who seems embarassingly clueless about issues that actually matter to his constituents. But the general principle of electing conservative candidates in conservative districts strikes me as pretty unobjectionable.