The New York senate race is shaping up to be another high point in the saga of democracy.
The Democratic candidate is the incumbent, Hillary Clinton. For reasons that elude the Egg, she makes conservative blood boil like nobody's business. This despite the fact -- or perhaps because of it -- that she has proven to be a pretty good senator.
So you might think the Republicans would throw their heavy artillery at her: Pataki. Giuliani. Well, not those guys of course -- they both want to run for President. But somebody like that.
Instead, the first challenger was Westchester DA Jeannine Pirro. She's a pretty good DA. She wasn't much of a candidate, though. She made a fool of herself in her first press conference, and things went downhill from there. And her husband seems to be a crook, which is generally not the way to atttract "law & order" votes. They pulled her before the embarrassment could get much worse.
So now comes John Spencer -- not the late lamented actor who played Leo McGarry, but a former mayor of Yonkers. Lovely town, Yonkers, if you can just get past the town. Spencer's a soi-disant "Reagan Republican," which doesn't necessarily mean he's a low-IQ ideologue who switched parties, divorced his wife, advertised cigarettes as a health aid, and told "personal stories" that were really plots from old movies. It does mean he takes the standard hard-right positions: anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, pro-gun.
He also comes up with gems like this: that Sen. Clinton "aids and abets" America's enemies with her criticism of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war. (That despite Bush's own statement that "it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my ... conduct of the war.")
Spencer's primary opponent, as of recently, is a Kathleen Troia McFarland, a more traditional New York Republican -- Park Avenue blue-blood with liberal social views. (Never forget: this combination brought us Nelson A. Rockefeller, of blessed memory).
So here's where the fun starts. The Post quotes McFarland's self-description in a pre-campaign memorandum: "I believe in a woman's right to choose, stem-cell research and full civil rights for gays. Our family worships in the Episcopal Church, but we are not evangelical."
Well. To hear the Rev. Duane Motley tell it, she has -- by simply describing herself -- issued a fatwa against all "Evangelicals." (The word has been misappropriated, but never mind...) Per Motley, "She's saying, 'I'm a Rockefeller Republican, I'm not one of those religious wackos over there on the right . . . she's insinuating that evangelicals are the religious right and they're controlling things in the country. Well, evangelicals are not running the country, I wish they were, but they're not."
Defensive much, Duane? She's saying no such thing, obviously -- however much one might wish it were true. But Motley doesn't hear what she's actually saying; he hears an entirely different speech, one directed against him. This is what family-systems therapists call a reaction against self-differentiation. In other words, simply by saying "Here's who I am," McFarland has earned the sputtering rage of Duane Motley, who can't live with the fact she is different from himself. This is scary stuff. It is a sleazy kind of religious bigotry. Put bluntly, in the new world of American politics, candidates no longer have the right to announce their religious views, whatever those may be -- they are required to claim at least token allegiance to the militant Christianists.
Meanwhile, Spencer is calling McFarland "a Clinton pawn," and so forth. Sure she is, John. Because I'm sure she'd prefer to fight a long, hard battle against a classic made-for-New York Republican who shares many of her social views but (a) is aligned with the ruling party and (b) lacks her many negatives. Rather, that is, than crush you like a bug, and Duane Motley with you.
But here, for my money, is the kicker: McFarland was a Pentagon official during the Reagan era. Unlike Spencer, who claims the mantle, she actually worked for President Reagan. On defense and security issues. So if you're a knee-jerk right winger, ask yourself: Who in this primary combines authentic Gipper bona fides with a legitimate chance of winning? And if you're not, then ask yourself: Who in this race combines traditional New York Republican values and genuine Defense Department national-security experience?
And who's just blowing demagogue smoke?