Pageviews last month

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Berean Believers: Men, Women, or Jews?

Inasmuch as this blog's posts on the TNIV continue to be of interest to Zondervan and even the CBT itself, I feel compelled to complete as many posts on it as I can in time for consideration before the Newer and Improveder NIV comes out in 2011.

I've been reading the NIV again after having set it aside for a couple of decades, and of course one thing that frequently comes to mind as I go through it is, "I wonder how the TNIV changes this?" Such was the case this morning while reading Acts 17. And what do you know--when I went online to check the TNIV, I found a change from the NIV that actually appears to be for the better. Don't get too excited about it, though, until you've heard me out.

Acts 17:10-12 NIV
As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Now, the common English text just had "these" as the subject of 'were' in v. 11, but in replacing it with a proper noun for the NIV, the CBT looked all the way to the sentence before the previous one to find an antecedent for the Greek pronoun outoi. But in looking the passage over again to update the gender reference, it appears that someone on the CBT noticed that the actual referent was probably the Jews who met at the synagogue; it's actually the noun just previous to the pronoun in the Greek text. Thus the following change in the TNIV, which, I will agree, corrects the overgeneralisation of the NIV:

Acts 17:10-12 TNIV
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Okay, so of course 'brothers' had to become 'believers', a change from the specific to the general, consisting at least implicitly of an elevation of women to an influential position of leadership in the Thessalonian church which is in no wise implied in the Greek text itself. "The Berean Jews" as a change from the general to the specific is warranted, however, but only because the previous change from the specific to the general wasn't. I will grant, though, that the TNIV makes the identity of those noble Bereans more explicit than did the KJV and most of its revisions.

It was no innovation, however, for Zondervan had pinned the same label on the noble Bereans in its Amplified New Testament back before it had even taken over sponsorship of the NIV. In other words, the NIV was a step backward in translation excellence, and all the TNIV did was bring it forward to a previous standard of several decades earlier--a time span during which the English language had supposedly changed so much that a new rendition was warranted.

Looking further in the NIV, we find the missing 'Jews' in v. 12, where they are in contrast to the Greeks who believed along with them. The TNIV was able to dispense with the label here, having put it back where it belonged--although even there it is only implicit, not explicit, in the Greek text. But that's fine, as it fits the CBT translation philosophy.

What isn't fine, though, is that the decades-old gender-insensitive reading at the end of v. 12 was left uncorrected. Of course the CBT in the TNIV never tampered with explicit references to women, only with masculine references that they felt should explicitly include women. So "a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men" was just fine as-is. Or was it?

What the Greek literally reads is:

many therefore of them believed and of the hellenic women the honorable ones and of the men not a few

If I had no knowledge of Greek beyond what a lexicon would supply, I would probably assume that there were three classes of new believers mentioned here:

1. Many of the Berean Jews who had searched the Scriptures
2. The honorable ones among the Berean Greek women
3. Not a few Berean men

But really, I doubt this is how any translator actually understood it. The genitive phrases link three groups to the verb 'believed': 'them', 'the Greek women', and 'the men'. Thus the verse should be punctuated to read:

Many therefore of them believed, also of the Hellenic women (the honorable ones), as well as of the men--not a few.

This is the most likely reading of the KJV rendition:
Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

But translators have generally understood this to refer to the following three classes of new believers:

1. Many of the Berean Jews who had searched the Scriptures (implicitly just the men)
2. Many of the prominent Berean Greek women (mentioned in a place of emphasis)
3. Many of the prominent Berean Greek men

You can read a lot into this understanding of the passage; for instance, among the nobility the women were the first to respond to the gospel, and then went on to lead their husbands to Christ. But this isn't how the CBT saw the situation. Despite the above three classes being explicit in the Amplified Bible, Zondervan went on to sponsor a rendition which has yet to be revised, and yields the following classes of new believers:

1. Many Berean Jews (gender left unspecified as per TNIV philosophy)
2. A number of prominent Greek women
3. Many Greek men (these last two classes, by implication at least, also being Bereans)

The problem again is one of referent. The Greek plural adjectives (which in the genitive case are gender-neutral) ellhnidwn (Greek) and euschmonwn (honorable) are only found once in the passage, but the TNIV does not apply both of them to men and women equally. This, even though they take just two mentions of 'numerous' and apply them to all three classes.

In other words, the CBT translations--like a straightforward reading of the KJV, implicitly depriving the Berean men of their prominence--nonetheless grant them an explicit Greek identity. This they do differently than the KJV, which allows the possibility of the Berean men being honorable, but not being Greeks. While I wouldn't want to encourage one approach or the other, either is allowed in the complex world of Greek-to-English translation, and most revisions of the KJV up to the present decade have retained its ambiguity. One of the most recent of these, however, the NRSV, while attempting to make more explicit the honor due the men, practically went the other way with the women. In trying not to mention the women in their usual grammatical place (after the men), the NRSV comes to within a single comma of implying to the English reader that they weren't prominent, even though that is explicit in the Greek:

Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing.

This revision also perpetuates the NIV's overgeneralisation of including Greeks in the class of Scripture-searching Bereans--even though it calls them 'Jews' in the previous verse!

If I might add one more dig here, consider the refusal of the CBT to include a woman named Damaris in a class called 'men' in light of The Message's take on this passage, which, like the NRSV, includes Greeks in a class called 'Jews' (something not entirely impossible in biblical English, but certainly not understandable as such to Today's Young Person):

The Jews received Paul's message . . . . A lot of them became believers, including many Greeks who were prominent in the community, women and men of influence.

In Acts 6, Eugene Peterson referred to the two classes of Jewish believers as "Greek-speaking believers--'Hellenists'" and "Hebrew-speaking believers." I don't believe he actually intended to equate the two here; had he consulted the NIV instead of the RSV in preparing this paraphrase, he probably would have caught the inconsistency.

Now in conclusion, I have to say that the CBT may very well have made a conscious decision not to include 'men' in the class of honorable Bereans--at least not in verse 12, that is. And it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility to translate the text thus--the NLT did it as well, though not as explicitly. But there are actually two levels of inconsistency here, at least one of which is inexcusable.

First of all, the TNIV identifies the men as Greek, but not as honorable--although their honorable status is fully as implicit in the text as their Greek identity. This perpetuates a grammatical inconsistency in the RSV, which was apparently a favorite version of quite a few of the original members of the CBT. But at least the RSV, unlike the revision that replaced it, was able to keep the Jews straight from the Greeks.

Secondly, the TNIV, again like the now-defunct RSV, restricts the application of the adjective 'honorable' to just the Greek women of Berea. While this may be an acceptable translation, it shows a glaring inconsistency in the CBT's translation philosophy as it comes through in the TNIV. In the TNIV, the CBT has bent over backward to include the women in every possible explicit reference to men, but has made no such effort not to overlook the men whenever women are explicitly mentioned.

In the process of fixing a grammatical inconsistency of racial identification in the supposedly gender-insensitive NIV, the CBT has perpetuated the very philosophical inconsistency that made it insensitive to gender identification--but couldn't seem to see it through their pink-colored glasses. Is this not always what happens when, in an attempt to forcibly eliminate entrenched discrimination, those who tamper with societal norms must needs send the one class down in order to bring the other up?

Friday, 20 November 2009

America's first Muslim President

Someone has put together a ten-minute video (you can skip the last 3 minutes) of actual footage of Barack Hussein Obama talking about Islam, speaking to Muslims, quoting from the "Holy Qur'an," paying homage to the Protector of the Two Holy Sites, and visiting a cathedral that had been confiscated and turned into a mosque (that's most of the last 3 minutes).

It suffers from the typical out-of-context truncation of sound bites, but it's very clear that President Obama considers Islam to have at least an equal claim on America as Christianity does. Actually more of a claim, because he just appointed a federal judge who ruled that praying in the name of Allah is okay, but not in the name of Jesus.

President Obama also says that Islam has been a part of America since its founding. Unfortunately, this is true, because the very first war of aggression that the fledgling nation of America was forced to defend itself against was waged by Islamic pirates who took over American ships on the high seas and held them for ransom in Islamic-controlled ports. Alas, little has changed in 200 years. Even then, debate raged in the halls of government whether the US should give in to the pirates' demands, or fight back. Even then, there were those who asserted that since the US was "not a Christian Nation," the pirates shouldn't feel such a need for animosity against us. But then as now, when carefully applied force met greedy cowardice, the pirates were easily thwarted.

As if 'being a Christian nation' has anything to do with it. Did the emir of Kuwait rush to assure Saddam Hussein that "they weren't a Christian nation" before his forces crossed their mutual border? When Muslim nations stop attacking each other, only then will it be time to suspect that their imperialistic tendencies might be checked by claiming not to be a Christian nation. Muslims don't have a special animosity towards Christian nations; they hate all infidels more or less equally, with a special hatred for infidel Jews and those who try to protect them from Islamic genocide. It's the poor nations they leave alone, other than to plunder their populations for the slave trade.

This was the response of the Islamic ambassador to the American envoys sent by Congress in 1785 in an attempt to pay off the pirates:

"It was written in [ou]r Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every Muslim who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise."

After Congress had spent all its money in dane-geld (a whopping 20 per cent of the federal budget for 15 years) and still not gotten rid of the dane, after envoy after envoy had returned with empty assurances, Congress finally dropped the diplomatic approach and sent in the Marines. Their landing on "the shores of Tripoli" should have decided the matter, but those hell-bent on appeasement had the last word: Sixty Thousand Dollars were handed over to the losers to induce them to give up their prisoners.

And guess what. Less than ten years later, having spent their loot and greedy for more, the pirates went back to their old habits. This time Europe stepped in and saved America from having to play the victim again.

President Obama, by his continued reassurances of good will toward America's enemies, is only serving to prolong the war on America that has been waged by Islam on and off since America's very beginning as a nation-state. In seeking to appease the enemy, he has only guaranteed their continued animosity. Unless some other nation steps in to rescue us from ourselves, America is doomed to perpetual victimhood as long as men like John Jay, John Adams, and Barack Obama are calling the shots--or calling them off, as the case may be.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A German's View on Islam

I received this thought-provoking email, which has been making the rounds of the internet for a couple of years. It reminded me of a National Geographic article written under the heavy censorship of World War Two. Penned by a Navy Admiral, it was a report on the progress of the war at sea. Almost nothing whatsoever to do with world geography, but something to fill the pages when not much of anything else could be reported on. The article included a number of color photographs, provided by the US Navy of course, depicting 'our boys in action'. One of these was rather chilling. Taken from a plane bombing a U-boat, it showed a young white man, probably still a teenager, manning the deck gun on a submarine that was about to be sent to the bottom. The caption identified him as a Nazi.

Come on. Being in the German Navy in 1943 no more made one a Nazi than being in the American Army in 2002 made one a Republican. But this boy was fighting a Nazi war, defending a Nazi government. He may have never lived as a Nazi, but he certainly died as one.

Consider this as you read the article.


A man, whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II, owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism.

"Very few people were true Nazis," he said, "but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen.

Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories."

We are told again and again by "experts" and "talking heads" that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant.

It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectra of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.

The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder or honor-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.

The hard quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the "silent majority," is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority was irrelevant.

China's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a war mongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel and bayonet.

And who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were "peace loving"?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late.

As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts: the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Lastly, anyone who doubts that the issue is serious and just deletes this email without sending it on is contributing to the passivity that allows the problems to expand. So, extend yourself a bit and send this on and on and on! Let us hope that thousands, world wide, read this and think about it, and send it on before it's too late.

And remember, the first thing the fanatics will do to the silent majority, is to disarm them.

Gerhard Grünewald Franzensbader
Str.19 14193 Berlin

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Mrs. A. J. Wilder on Women Voting

Laura wrote this in April 1916:

"I see by the papers that one of the suffrage leaders of the state will tour the Ozarks this spring in the interest of women suffrage, bringing light into the dark places, as it were.

"A great many seem to regard the securing of the ballot as the supreme attainment and think that with women allowed to vote, everything good will follow as a matter of course. To my mind the ballot is incidental, only a small thing in the work that is before the women of the nation. If politics are not what they should be, if there is graft in places of trust and if there are any unjust laws, the men who are responsible made them and their wives usually have finished the job. Perhaps that sounds as if I were claiming for the women a great deal of influence, but trace out a few instances for yourself, without being deceived by appearances, and see if you do not agree with me."

It appears that she was always ambivalent about women having the vote, but once they received it, she resolved to make the best of the situation and support the issues she cared about by faithful attendance at the polls.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ingalls and Wilder on women voting

I don't have the book with me today, but near the beginning of Little Town on the Prairie there's a dialog at the Ingalls home on the scandal of alcohol and the negative influence of DeSmet's two saloons. Catherine remarks that if women just had the vote, they'd outlaw such things. Interestingly enough, by the time she penned these words, Laura had already seen women get the vote, and--in at least one case--vote to make their city even wetter than before. Even without women voting, though, Dakota Territory was able to outlaw the retail sale of alcohol--and it was one of the first laws passed in South Dakota, the new state of which DeSmet, with its two holders of $400 retail liquor licenses, formed a part.

In her Little-House takeoff Free Land, Rose Wilder Lane gives us the following conversation involving Eliza Wilder, Almanzo's bossy big sister, as they travel an inconveniently long distance to file their respective claims for free land:

"Well, I must say!" said Eliza. "It comes with a pretty grace from you men, finding fault with what you do yourselves." If women had the vote, she stated, things would be done differently.
"That shows how much you know," David retorted. Somebody in Washington decided where to put the land offices. [sic] "If you think voting has anything to do with it, you've got a bee in your bonnet."

Finally, another opinion along these lines was put in the mouth of Mrs. McKee in These Happy Golden Years:

"I don't know why the law makes us do this," she said. "What earthly good it does, to make a woman stay on a claim all summer."
"It's a bet, Pa says," Laura answered. "The government bets a man a quarter-section of land, that he can't stay on if for five years without starving to death.
"Nobody could," said Mrs. McKee. "Whoever makes these laws ought to know that a man that's got enough money to farm, has got enough to buy a farm. . . . All it means is, his wife and family have got to sit idle on it, seven months of the year. I could be earning something, dressmaking, to help buy tools and seeds, if somebody didn't have to sit on this claim. I declare to goodness, I don't know but sometimes I believe in women's rights. If women were voting and making laws, I believe they'd have better sense."

Alas, good sense is not the prerogative of either sex, and whatever sense people have tends to leave them once they get behind the reins of power. The problem here was one of the government giving away something that wasn't theirs to take, and yet the recipients of the government's largesse must grumble and complain about how much work it is to grab it before somebody else does, and then to hang on to it long enough to keep anyone else from being able to take it away.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The TNIV and The Leading Men of the City

I really do intend to get back to Laura at the end of this post--but for now, I need to say one more thing about the TNIV.

One of the main arguments the TNIV supporters give for translating 'men' as 'people' (where the YNIV had not already dropped the word entirely) is based on the use of andres in Acts 17:34, in which a named woman is included in a class that is labeled 'men':

Acts 17:34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The CBT translates andres in such cases as 'people'--never as 'men and women'. But the implication is clearly that women are meant to be included. In literature supporting the TNIV, scholars have defended the idea that Damaris was one of the leading citizens of Athens who heard Paul's address on Mars Hill. But 'people' is, in my opinion, a very poor translation. Other scholars have shown that andres can carry the idea of a 'citizen' of either sex, and I think this is clearly its meaning here. The idea is that this class of andres, of which Damaris is a member, are leading citizens of Athens. Andres in Acts 17:22&34 could be translated 'citizens'. [UPDATE 7/7/2010: Upon further reflection--this being a census year and all--I believe an even better translation of andres into modern American usage would be 'heads of households.']

But what happens when Luke makes mention of some leading citizens of a city, and doesn't use the word andres? Then it would be okay to call them 'people', wouldn't it? Oops, the TNIV calls them "men":

Acts 13:50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city.

There is no word for 'people' in this verse, much less 'men'! A much more sensible--and sensitive--translation would be:

But the Jews incited the religious women of high standing and the leaders of the city.

By translating 'leaders' as 'leading men', the CBT has categorically denied to the women of Pisidian Antioch the very role they assert for the women of Athens four chapters later.

Would Laura Ingalls Wilder have approved?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Rose Wilder Lane on the Right to Vote

The White Man is on a Laura Ingalls Wilder kick right now, so the next few posts will probably be on that general topic. I wrote earlier on Laura's views on voting as of 1919. I'll get back to her later, but for now, here's what her daughter Rose wrote in the early 1940's, in her epic work The Discovery of Freedom, p. 202ff (emphasis mine):

WHEN American politicians took the election of the President of the United States into their hands, they had no idea that this would be the result. No one then imagined that everyone should vote, or ever would vote. In all the States, voting was restricted.

Today, voting is an American superstition. Hardly anyone ever thinks about it. Americans take it for granted that every human being has a natural right to vote. Of course this is not true. No one has a natural right to vote. Everyone is born with inalienable liberty, but nobody is born with an inalienable ballot. . . .
Then what is the actual value of an American's legal right to vote? The Constitutions restrict this Government. Voting can restrict it further, but only when voters elect delegates to conventions to make their Constitutions stronger. Or, when voters have an opportunity to elect men who will repeal laws and reduce Government's area of activities.

Voting for Congressmen can not repeal laws. Voting can never control Government. Men in public office are individuals, and nothing outside an individual can control him. The Constitutions limit the time that a man may stay in office, but during that time he controls himself. At the end of that time, a majority of voters can put him out of office. So an American's legal right to vote can be used as a threat to office-holders who want to be re-elected. 

But a majority of voters can never use that threat. A majority can not even know what their Congressmen are doing. Human beings must use their energies in productive work, and they want to, and they do. The more freely they can act, the more energetically they improve their living conditions, and the less attention they give to anything else. The fact is that Americans pay no attention to Government so long as it does not interfere with them. Normally they never think of it except at election time. Americans are busy; not half of them even know the names of their Congressmen. Ask the next forty persons you meet, if you doubt it.

So the threat of the vote does not operate to restrict Government and protect human rights. The fact is that pressure groups use it to increase Government and restrict the use of natural human rights.
Every American politician is constantly assailed by small groups fiercely determined to make the men in this Government exceed the Constitutional limits of their use of force. Stupid men believe that force can improve other men's morals; they want force to stop men's drinking, or smoking, or gambling. Superstition clouds their minds; they imagine that force can produce economic results; they demand that police clubs control the growth of crops, and the making of goods, and wages and prices and trade. They dream that because a law can make any action a crime, it can stop that action. (Though they know nothing of the history of smuggling and graft, they should be able to remember the law that stopped drinking in these States.)

To these ardent reformers who want to do good (as they see good) by using force upon the greatest number of their inferiors, add the groups of those who want to rob others by force without risking going to jail. Since Government has the only legal use of force, all these groups try to persuade and compel the men in Government to use force as these reformers and these thieves want it used. Their weapon is a threat to use the vote, at the next election, to put out of office the politicians who resist them.

And whenever they succeed, and do increase the Government's use of force, they reduce the area of every American's free action. They decrease the productive use of energy in this country. And they weaken the only legal protection of every American's property and liberty and life. Groups have been trying to do this ever since the first Congress met. The Constitutions, and the morality and patriotism of a few politicians—who are almost never thanked—have all this time protected the natural human rights of Americans, from these pressure-groups who use the threat of the vote.

The majority of Americans can not use that threat. They haven't time, they are too busy, they are making their livings and supporting the Government; they can not spend their time in Washington or in their State capitals, watching Congressmen. Now and then, in a crisis, they can send up a roar from this whole country, and they do. But their voting can not undo anything that Congressmen have done.

If there is a candidate who promises to repeal laws and to reverse a course of action begun by men in Government, then voting can elect him. But electing him is no guarantee that he will keep his promise. He may not be able to keep it. He may be one of those politicians who make promises only to get votes. An average citizen has no means of knowing a candidate personally; no means of knowing how honorable he is.  In any case, while he is in office he controls himself; the voters have no control over him.

On the whole, of course, this is fortunate. For why does anyone suppose that a majority of citizens should control their Government? No one imagines that a majority of passengers should control a plane. No one assumes that, by majority vote, the patients, nurses, elevator boys and cooks and ambulance drivers and interns and telephone operators and students and scrubwomen in a hospital should control the hospital. Would you ever ride on a train if all passengers stepped into booths in the waiting-room and elected the train crews by majority vote,as intelligently as you elect the men whose names appear in lists before you in a voting booth?

Then why is it taken for granted that every person is endowed on his twenty-first birthday with a God-given right and ability to elect the men who decide questions of political philosophy and international diplomacy? This fantastic belief is no part of the American Revolution. Thomas Paine, Madison, Monroe, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, did not entertain it for a moment. When this belief first affected American Government, it broke John Quincy Adams' heart; to him it meant the end of freedom on earth; it made him doubt the goodness of his God.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Republican Protest Votes fail to deny Owens a seat in Congress

Well, Doug Hoffman failed to take the victory in the Special Election to fill a vacancy Barack Obama created in the 23rd NY district of the US House. Democrat Bill Owens appears to have won without even getting a majority of the votes cast--most appear to have been split between the Republican and Conservative candidates. This despite the fact that he was actually endorsed by the Republican candidate!

Here's how things broke down:
Republican Candidate: Endorsed by Republican Party. Got just enough protest votes (5.6%) to deny the Conservative Candidate a majority.
Conservative Candidate: Endorsed by Conservative Party and Republican heavyweights. Came in a close second (45%).
Democratic Candidate: Endorsed by Democratic Party, Democratic heavyweights, and Republican Candidate. Picked up enough Republican-endorsed votes to win, but without a majority (49.4%).

There are at least a couple of lessons here. One, for the Democrats: don't expect to win the 23rd district unless you can get the Republican candidate to endorse you. Then for the Republicans: Don't be so stupid, ever again, as to run a candidate who will bow out of the race and endorse her opponent at the last minute. Finally, for the Conservatives: Keep trying; every time your candidate denies the Republican party's liberal candidate a win, it's a good thing for your cause. But remember the rule: a Conservative never wins a recount effort, and a liberal never loses one--unless the Courts step in to stop it in time.

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Tipping Point for Third-Party Politics

In the first eighty years of its constitutional existence, the American Federal Government was controlled by no single party or even pair of parties. Some national elections boasted as many as five strong candidates for the same position. Gradually, though, one party consolidated a grip on power, to the point that only a single united party could hope to break it. This was the party of the Jacksonian Democrats, which by the end of this period was known as the Democratic Party. Opposition to it had by then pretty much coalesced around what had only a couple of election cycles earlier been not only a third party, but a minor one: the Republican Party. One or the other of these parties has dominated national politics ever since.

A crack appeared in this wall of national access when socialist Bernard Sanders attained to the House in 1991 as an independent--the first independent to be elected to Congress in forty years, half of which time Sanders had been trying to get into the Senate without having to go through a national party. He attained this goal in 2007, thanks to the help of the Democrats, who never mounted a serious challenge against him. In both elections, he won a seat being vacated by Jim Jeffords, who had always run as a Republican, but voted more like a Democrat. By the time he delivered his Senate seat to Sanders, he had already left the Republican Party in name as well as in deed.

So, until the last election cycle, "Independent" has been a euphemism for a person whose political ideals fall somewhat to the left of the line dividing the two ruling parties. That began to change when Joseph Lieberman had to leave his party to retain his Senate seat. But he still caucuses with the Democrats, as has every "Independent" for the past half century.

But a further change seems to be in the offing. Doug Hoffman, an accounting manager with no political experience, has pulled into the lead in a 3-way race for the New York seat being vacated by Republican Congressman John McHugh, the newly appointed Secretary of the Army. When Dede Scozzafava, one of the most liberal Republicans in the history of the New York State Assembly, got the nod from the Republican Party, ground-level support for her candidacy evaporated, and Doug Hoffman soon found himself the front runner, with even more popular support than Obama-endorsed Independent-turned-Democrat Bill Owens. Once Scozzafava found herself a distant third, she bowed out of the race. So far Owens, despite an unprecedented endorsement from Scozzafava herself, hasn't picked up any of her supporters; Hoffman already shot five points ahead in the polls, while the rest of Scozzafava's former supporters remain undecided--not a very influential place to be on the eve of the election. The Republican Party, which had not only failed to line up support for their candidate but saw such conservative heavyweights as former presidential running mate Sarah Palin speaking out in support of the front-runner, is now scrambling to adjust to the new reality of an Independent in Congress operating to the right of their own party.

This is a new reality, indeed. The Republican Party has shown itself so inept at picking a winning candidate, and with such a long history of drumming up support for legislators who ended up switching parties, that its role as one of two reigning parties is fast approaching obsolescence. It faces the same fate as the Whig Party, whose fortunes it overthrew in only two consecutive election cycles a century and a half ago. Whether the Conservative Party--or another of a large number of minor third parties presently in the mix--will end up taking its place, remains to be seen.

Update: As mentioned, the Republican candidate, seeing she could not take this seat herself, gave it to the Democrats rather than allowing a true independent to take it. Bill Owens won with 49 per cent of the vote; Dede, still on the ballot, herself still got six per cent, enough to deny Hoffman the victory.
But that's not all. Dede even tried to give up her own NY Assembly seat in favor of her Democrat opponent, but failed; now a Republican holds it.
It gets even crazier. In 2010, Hoffman was stupid enough to run, first as a Republican, then on a third-party ticket when he lost the Primary. He was able to keep Bill Owens down to only 47% of the vote this time.
In 2012, the North State voters showed once again that they weren't interested in being represented by a liberal Democrat:  for the third election in a row, Owens won with less than half the votes cast (although enough votes were disqualified to give him a bare majority), and then only by getting enough urban votes to offset losing eight of the twelve counties in his district. This time, Hoffman sat out the race, and Green Party candidate Donald Hassig got to be the spoiler.