A Pox on Both Your Houses

18 May

Is it any wonder that Jack Davis is running a close third at 24% in recent NY-26 polling. Or, to be more exact, Not Jane Corwin is running at 24%. The strength of third party candidates is a direct reflection of the general opinion of the electorate on the two main nominees. Democrats are thus seemingly content with the choice of Kathy Hochul, as is reflected in the 2% draw of Ian Murphy. It may help that Ian Murphy can’t has balance between humor and serious policy position. Incidentaly, he can’t has mandatory FEC filings either, as far as I can tell. In any case, having learned their Kryzan/Powers/Davis lesson of two and half years ago, Democrats sorted themselves out in time for a special election this year.

Republicans, on the other hand, are unhappy with their party’s choice. This bodes well for the future, though not the immediate present.

Jane Corwin is the least desirable of the three main archetypes Republicans have rolled out to voters since the election of President Obama. The Congressional midterms were dominated by tax cutting, true believer Tea Party types, who managed to swing to the right of (former) Senator Bob Bennett of Utah, for instance, and in disowning President Bush’s over-spending, convinced voters that they really, finally, were going to be the one’s to cut the budget. So far they have bandied about with side issues, enjoyed modest though real success (converting President Obama from a Stimulator to a Budget Cutter is no small feat) , and are meeting the wall of reality in the opposition to Paul Ryan’s Medicare Plan.

Archetype #2 is the distinctly Southern brand of social conservative, which believes opposition to the teaching of evolution in school is a matter of such public import that it leads as a major policy plank of their election platform. I may disagree with their policy substance and priority both, but at least they often fairly represent their districts.

New York seems saddled with Archetype #3 – the Empty Vessel. The special election for NY-23 proved true Tea Partiers don’t do well enough up here. Likewise, the evangelical appeal is not broadly culturally appropriate. So we are left with the hollow opposition. In Chris Lee, Jane Corwin, and Chris Collins, one is encouraged to find whatever one is looking for. Safe Republican platitudes about lowering taxes and fiscal responsibility. A business-veneer meant to denote trust and competence: “If [insert-Empty-Vessel-name-here] can build a business in New York under our onerous tax and regulation climate, they must be good!”

But underneath, there lies only the forgotten wisp of a shadow of policy positions. Chris Collins has the most going for him, but struggles to succeed beyond only the lowest of low-hanging fruit (note: cell phones and picnic shelters are a start, not the end). Chris Lee had the instinct to attach himself to Brian Higgins, but not much else. Jane Corwin is the emptiest yet, and her failures reveal a national Republican flaw.

Articulate defense is required when approaching a third rail of American politics. Paul Ryan’s Medicare Plan is not for the faint of heart and vacuous of policy background, and unfortunately, the large number of social conservatives, true believers and Empty Vessels recently elected do not have the nimbleness to do the fight justice. By using the buzzzword “voucher,” Ryan excites the Right and opens countless openings for opponents to fearmonger a Democratic version of Deathpanels. Paul Ryan hates your poor old grandma and wants her dead – that’s why he’s gutting Medicare.

Of course, Medicare already is a voucher system without the voucher. The government provides the money (i.e. voucher), you go see a private doctor, and the government pays. You never see the voucher, but one can think of age and citizenship as the invisible substitute for one. Healthcare conglomerates certainly understand this, and already see Medicare patients as walking cash registers. Introducing the actual voucher into the mix adheres to a basic economic theory that when someone knows the cost of a service, they will seek a best value. When costs are unknown to the purchaser, its easy to end up with the highest end product full of features you would never have purchased yourself. At its basic level, Paul Ryan’s plan is about introducing economics into healthcare, a controversial opinion and a realm that only the uninsured currently occupy. The current economics-free Medicare System will be broke in an ever-shrinking 13 years. The choice is not between the current system and vouchers. The choice is between vouchers, and something yet to be articulated, as Democrats still bury their head in the sand, searching for votes.

Defending, discussing and advocating for an stark ideological position like this takes policy understanding and rhetorical faculties either Jan Corwin does not have, or is unwilling to learn. Paul Ryan’s Plan is not a policy position that defends itself. Corwin is only now understanding this. Her solution is to play video games. Tom Reed’s solution is to talk to voters.

Congressman Tom Reed took over for (faux?) cancer victim and tickle-fight extraordinaire Eric Massa, representing the Southern Tier in the 29th District. While Corwin cancels campaign events, Reed is holding a remarkable series of town hall meetings and forums with constituents to discuss the budget deficit and what to do about it. He has ideas and he talks about them, with voters. It sounds positively revolutionary, and that’s sad.

How far metro-Buffalo Republicans have fallen. Tom Reynolds was the last of a line that included Jack Kemp and Bill Paxon – representatives of Buffalo with national standing and influence. I’d even take moderate and dependable Jack Quinn at this point; he is head and shoulders above what passes for the party’s candidates now. In retrospect, last Autumn’s crowning of the Erie County GOP machine as the state leader was a bit premature. Paladino’s defeat of Rick Lazio now looks more like a hyper-surreal sign-of-the-times than a true indicator of the future. There is no second flash in this pan.

Buffalo does not seem destined to find another of Tom Reynolds’ stature any time soon. My colleague Alan Bedenko dismisses Reynolds in his endorsement piece of Kathy Hochul:

Chris Lee and Tom Reynolds were basically placeholder Republibots. Reynolds came from a background where he had to work for a living, so his main function in congress was to grow his own political clout and power, which has since enabled him to go to work as a lobbyist. He was always more interested in the Beltway game than western New York, except when Jack Davis’ campaign spooked him in 2006 . . .

I disagree, and would not lump Reynolds in with what has come later. It may be that Reynolds grew to care less about WNY, but in one important respect, Tom Reynolds embodied the WNY culture. He was our native son grown up, moved away, and done good. We followed his newspaper clippings intently. When he appeared on national television, so did Buffalo. Like the Bills, he made us nationally relevant. He fulfilled our desire to still matter.

It is perhaps also befitting of Buffalo that I would be nostalgic for our political past instead of promoting the future. Oh well.

Not too long ago, but before the Fonz and the Amherst Bear competed for shark jumping headlines, I predicted Corwin would win, based purely on registration. Chris Smith predicted the opposite. In the last several days, the odds seem to be tipping in his favor. The Rothenberg Political Report gives the edge of Hochul because of the Democrats have the edge in the enthusiasm gap. I would agree, though the enthusiasm in question seems to be for a Democrat winning, and not for Hochul personally.

No matter who wins, the new Congressman or woman will join a shrinking WNY delegation consisting of Buffalo-First and National-Unknown Brian Higgins, Failed Parliamentary Trick Promoter Louise Slaughter (who lately excels mostly at getting high speed rail funds for NY districts other than her own), and the aforementioned Reed. The Obscure, the Tired and the Diligent. Which luminary will we add to this constellation?

26 Responses to “A Pox on Both Your Houses”

  1. Alan Bedenko May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    Reynolds didn’t give a rat’s ass about his district until Davis spooked him and the October Storm gave him an opening to bring FEMA funds into town. 

    Fascinating how small-government, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”-hating Republicans tend to win elections when they actually use the power of their government office to help people. 

  2. Brian Castner May 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    Yes, everyone loves pork – it is a universal favorite. I noticed the same when living in Red State South Dakota – everyone hated the government, except when Tim Johnson or Tom Daschle built a $100M water pipe to a town in the middle of nowhere.

    That being said, my point was about how the district felt about Reynolds, not how Reynolds felt about the district. That’s why I wouldn’t lump him in with the others.

    • Alan Bedenko May 18, 2011 at 6:22 am #

      Well, we’ve found time and time again that the voters in this area will keep re-electing the same dummies.

  3. Tom Dolina May 18, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    We need all new dummies!

  4. Tom Dolina May 18, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Wait…sorry..the bloggers are talking amongst themselves. This will drive Joe Illuzzi wild

  5. Jesse May 18, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Look at this, a blog post about politics at WNYMedia that isn’t a bunch of demagoguery and snarky crap.

    Spot on, too, by the way.

  6. Alan Bedenko May 18, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    There’s no snark there? Hm. 

  7. Eric Saldanha May 18, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    Wonderful…another self-anointed WNYMedia ombudsman

  8. STEEL May 18, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    The biggest medicare savings will occur when the Republicans are successful in getting rid of Obama’s preexisting conditions clause in conjunctions with the old people voucher. the result will be that 90% of the elderly will not be insurable in the vaunted private market. The government’s $8000 voucher will be useless to them.

    By the way under our oh so perfect private insurance program I do not see the cost of anything either so you whole thesis has a giant hole in it. I read someplace that the cost of private insurance is rising faster than the cost of medicare

  9. Eric Saldanha May 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

    The Congressional midterms were dominated by tax cutting, true believer Tea Party types…so far they have bandied about with side issues, enjoyed modest though real success

    Oh, was there a jobs bill passed recently? Any legislation to strengthen Medicare and ensure its solvency that isn’t a Randian wet dream total replacement? Avoiding federal default by raising the debt ceiling? Where is this “real” success of which you speak?

  10. Brian Castner May 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    @ Jesse – Amazingly enough, each of us do write about what we wish, and there is no vast, left wing conspiracy. But no snark? I must do better if your snark-o-meter didn’t go off at my descriptions of Massa and Slaughter.

    @ Eric – the modest but real success I mention immediately following where you quote. Let me be helpful and find it for you: “converting President Obama from a Stimulator to a Budget Cutter is no small feat.” I applaud President Obama for being so Clintonian in changing from an advocate for stimulating deficit spending to taking credit for cutting $40ish Billion from the deficit in mere weeks.

    @ STEEL: Its not my healthcare economics theory – its Paul Krugman’s and The Economist’s. This would be the link you failed to follow from above.

  11. STEEL May 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Who cares who thought it up. You are regurgitating it here as if it is the greatest thing ever and the lame brain Republicans have voted for it without thinking through its real meaning and result.

  12. Starbuck May 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    Collins has the most going for him, but struggles to succeed beyond only the lowest of low-hanging fruit

    Mostly low-hanging fruit, yes – but considering mandates and labor laws, do county governments in NY even control much higher fruit?

    Lee had the instinct to attach himself to Brian Higgins, but not much else

    I don’t know if that’s a fair critique of Lee’s very short time in DC.  Wasn’t some of his work on industrial/trade legislation getting props from Doug Turner and even Jack Davis?  I’m not a fan of either of those two, but it makes me think Lee probably had at least some substance other than Higgins latching.  (aside: What domestic impacts is Higgins making other than bringing pork?  The only non-Buffalo issues I’ve heard of Higgins being involved with are related to foreign policy.)

    Corwin is the emptiest yet, and her failures reveal a national Republican flaw.

    National R’s can be blamed for a lot of course, but what flaw of theirs can be blamed for local R’s making a lousy choice in Corwin?  If the locals chose better (Ray Walter, for example?), would the national flaw you mention be an issue?

  13. Brian Castner May 18, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    @ Starbuck – Yes, Collins’ hands are awfully tied. But it seems like there must be a way to do what he did at the East Side County run clinics (get the county out of the business of providing services directly, and instead fund and oversee it) on other examples across the county. He picked a fight by starting in the city, but if there are county workers maintaining parks and golf courses, he should go there next.

    On Lee, I know his reputation was increasing, but I can’t point to any distinct accomplishments besides things like getting a Passport office in Buffalo (with Higgins’ help).

    And finally, on Corwin, the national Republican flaw is thinking Empty Vessels and True Believers will be able to successfully advocate for and defend challenging policy like Medicare reform. Promising to be a reliable, unthinking vote is not enough when taking on actual problems. I don’t know that National R’s didn’t pick Corwin – the local party settled it all behind closed doors, and I don’t know who called in from Washington to say what, if anything. But I look forward to the day when Republicans look for brains and mastery of public policy as credentials for running for Congress, not just party discipline and the ability to self-finance. Ray Walter would be a great addition – a smart guy, and one would hope a national trend of people like him (and fewer Corwins).

  14. jimd May 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    Didn’t Higgins get us a better deal from the power authority a few years ago? Still might be a shit deal, I don’t know, but at least he did something. Also hasn’t he been in there swinging for Peace Bridge funds and Canalside funds? I’m not in his district but he doesn’t strike me as an inveterate liar like Lee was.

  15. Brian Castner May 18, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    @ Starbuck and jimd – I would describe Higgins as “mostly harmless.” If he has an interest outside of the NYPA/Peace Bridge/Canalside sphere, I haven’t found it. But Buffalo could do worse.

  16. jimd May 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    I think I’d take “mostly harmless” about now.

  17. Mike In WNY May 18, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Introducing the actual voucher into the mix adheres to a basic economic theory that when someone knows the cost of a service, they will seek a best value. When costs are unknown to the purchaser, its easy to end up with the highest end product full of features you would never have purchased yourself.

    If more people understood this concept we wouldn’t have the economy-strangling deficits. Not only does this affect government health care programs, but also private insurance.

  18. jimd May 19, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Mike, doesn’t the voucher tell you how much you are going to spend rather than what things cost? I’m asking because I don’t know. I remember as a kid these viewing boxes in stores that you put a nickel or penny in and a black and white movie would play for a time and then suddenly black out. To continue the movie you put in another coin. Not the scenario I’d be looking for if I’m laying on the operating table.

  19. peteherr May 19, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    You can fix these things without dismantling the program. There is no political will to do the right thing because that doesn’t score political points.

  20. Brian Castner May 19, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    @ Pete – there is a deadline for political will (13 years), so Medicare will either be changed or default. Those two choices will stiffen the spine for some action, if nothing else.

  21. Mike In WNY May 19, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    jimd, I supposed there are a number of ways a voucher program could be set up. If done properly, cost controlling parameters will be built in.

  22. Mike In WNY May 19, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    Pete, the government has been “fixing things” for years, yet the results get worse.

  23. Starbuck May 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    @Brian  Yes, privatizing work at county parks & golf courses sounds good. However, can it happen without legislature approval?  I thought shifting services to Catholic Charities and Sheehan were able to happen without the leg.  I agree Collins should next try for more and wider privatizing even if the leg ends up refusing.  
    Considering seniority, comparing Lee to Higgins for bringing stuff to the district doesn’t sound like apples-to-apples. BH already served two terms before CL was elected.  And CL’s one and only term was in the minority.  BH’s pork talents might also have been helped by him being a career legislator before entering Congress, while CL was a rookie.
    It was very dumb if national Rs pushed Corwin instead of a better alternative. But if locals first did, I don’t know how practical it would be for nationals to Just Say No about her.  Another factor might be if locals discouraged better candidates from trying.  I’m skeptical that Bellavia would be a good choice.  Who else tried for the R line?  Jack Davis? The nutty WBEN woman?  In hindsight, Maziarz would be less of a mess than Corwin – although he had liabilities from votes for Albany spending growth and WFP backing. I wonder if Ray W. wanted to run. For sure he’d be a great step up over any of those.

  24. Brian Castner May 20, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    @ Starbuck – I guess my point on the Corwin choice is that whether Collins really picked her, or whether there was national party influence (to find someone that could pay for themselves as the first priority, above all else, leaving few choices), Corwin is not uniquely bad to Buffalo. There are Corwins in the House now, and Corwins who lost in 2010. It could be coincidence that we ended up with another Empty Vessel Republican, or it could be the unintentional outcome of a national policy that places personal wealth front and center. In any case, the accumulated effect is a bunch of candidates and Congressmen and women who can’t advocate for policy, only reliably vote for it after putting a lot of ads on teevee to win. I’m hoping that if/when Corwin loses, the national party may begin to realize their mistake.

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  1. NY 26 Special Election Links 05/19/2011 (a.m.) | GLOW Democrats - May 19, 2011

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