I do not live in New York's 23rd Congressional District, and I've never hiked the Adirondacks, which run through it. I've never met Doug Hoffman, who is running for Congress there, and hadn't heard his name until fairly recently. But he's my guy this November. Along with a few other elections I'm following closely this coming Election Day, I will be rooting for a Hoffman victory. I'm not a constituent; my support is about integrity.
Doug Hoffman is the Conservative Party candidate running for the seat vacated by John McHugh, a Republican who left to become secretary of the Army in the Obama administration. Hoffman, a CPA and newbie to electoral politics, worries about runaway spending and the bailout culture in Washington, both of which Republicans have been a willing party to. His message: "Washington is stifling businesses and individuals with taxes. It is the 'tea party' people and the 9/12 people that are standing up and saying, 'we're fed up and it's time to do something about this.' We need to take this country back from career politicians."
Hoffman is challenging Dede Scozzafava, the Republican in the race. She is an advocate for legal abortion. She is a supporter of redefining marriage to include homosexuals. She approved of the president's stimulus plan.
Her boosters, as well as her causes, are suspect. She is supported by the way-left Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas. She is supported by Big Labor and Big Education, as some of us are prone to call the lefty union politicos.
Anyone used to siding with Republicans is supposed to be encouraged by her spokesman's assurance that she will "vote for (Republican Congressman) John Boehner to be speaker of the House of Representatives" in 2010. That's a whole year in office with no reason for a conservative to have voted for her.
Apparently the GOP thinks that, since the right may be numb after too much disappointment from the Republican Party on the stump and in office, we have gone dumb, too. Think again — and this is a message for the likes of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which endorsed the moderate, ineffectual Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate next year instead of letting the primary play out and giving an actual, exciting conservative candidate, Marco Rubio, a chance. Honestly, with the GOP putting forth candidates like Scozzafava, don't count on a speaker with a 'R' after his name anytime in the near future.
That the push for Hoffman on talk radio and conservative publications centers on integrity eludes some, because Newt Gingrich and other prominent GOP voices have made a different call. The former Republican speaker of the House supports Scozzafava, arguing, "If you seek to be a perfect minority, you'll remain a minority."
But this is very far from perfection — politics always is. What is currently going on with the right is something older than the tea-party movement, older than Dick Armey's political career. It's what Ronald Reagan was talking about in his famous "Time for Choosing" speech, supporting Barry Goldwater for president. Back in 1964, Reagan declared: "This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves."
"But, Kathryn, Barry Goldwater lost!" you may be yelling at your paper or screen. (Though I suspect you're not shouting: "You want to lose a vote for Boehner, you fool!?") Is Newt right? Is a vote for Hoffman a throwaway vote?
Not necessarily. As I write, public polls show Scozzafava "fading." Democrat Bill Owens is in the lead, but not by much. Internal campaign polls show odds even better for Hoffman. Hoffman could lose. But there's also a substantial chance that he could win. And what a game-changer that would be!
And if conservatism doesn't move you, how about another c-word: Competence. A conservative reporter asked Scozzafava some questions at a campaign event recently. And Scozzafava's staff called the cops! As my colleague Mark Steyn put it recently: "At this stage in the nation's affairs, Washington doesn't need another incoherent buffoon insulated by a phalanx of thin-skinned twerps already guarding her like a 30-year incumbent for whom routine questions are an outrageous form of lese-majeste. By any reasonable measure, this candidate is unworthy of a seat in the national legislature."
Now that's an ideology-free matter we can all believe in.
A lot of these tea-party gatherings, a lot of the sudden popularity of the likes of Glenn Beck — who is more of a frustrated populist than an articulator of conservative principles — has to do with incompetence fatigue. Hoffman has earned the right to prove that he is capable of righting a sinking ship. And I wish him well. And you should consider looking beyond the D and R's, too. Because after you pull that lever, whatever the race is, you're stuck for a bit. And then the nation gets stuck. All politics, ultimately, are all local for someone.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.