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"Too Conservative for Rhode Island"
12/18/2003

That was Pat Kennedy's central argument against the opponent that he faced for the Congressional seat from my district last time around: Dave Rogers. The quip has since come to mind every time I've thought about what plagues this country, particularly my region. It wasn't: "He believes in X, Y, and Z, and Rhode Islanders don't." Not even: "He believes X, Y, and Z, which are all more conservative positions than Rhode Islanders hold." Nope; just a label, applied as an insult not to Rogers, but to Rhode Islanders — as if we are too dim to require explanation of each candidate's platform or to choose our own state's political characterization.

"Oh, well, I am a Rhode Islander, and he is conservative. Guess I'll go with Patrick again."

All of this raises questions about the latest Republican contender for the position that Teddy bequeathed to his son: Margaret Crosby. Unfortunately, the Providence Journal's introduction of the 36-year-old newcomer doesn't provide a single policy position, and I rather suspect that Ms. Crosby's campaign will rely heavily on a biography-based platform. She's black. She's a woman.

Don't get me wrong: I would be honored if my district sent the first-ever black female Republican to Congress. I'm a little disappointed that she brings with her the status of single mother (even if it is largely the record-executive father's shame), in contrast with businessman Dave Rogers's nuclear family, but at least she didn't abort. (The daughter currently lives with her dad in California.) But predominantly, I'd say the odds are good that Crosby is a liberal Republican; she's a "scholar," after all — with a Ph.D. in history from Brown.

So it seems likely to come down to that most horribly calculating of political questions that we blue-state Republicans face. When it's time to cast that primary ballot, do we go with the minority RINO (if that's what she proves to be) who "might actually have a chance," or do we go with the fella who's "too conservative for Rhode Island"? Well, I'm more of an idealist and an ideologue than a political pragmatist, so unless I've missed my guess about Crosby's likely positions, I'll be checking off the box next to Mr. Rogers's name.

However, I'm not so sure that I can't be an idealist and a pragmatist all at the same time on this one. Mr. Rogers generated so much enthusiasm last time, knocking out the state GOP's preferred candidate, largely because he is very conservative. He gave a stark choice, and as one who lives here, I'm inclined to think that one campaign just wasn't enough to break the manacles of apathy that the Democrats have worked so hard to lull onto the wrists of Rhode Islanders. This time, he wouldn't be an upstart, but the guy who actually took his party by storm and then made Patrick Kennedy look like a high school sophomore when the debates came around. Moreover, the nation continues to move toward socially conservative views, and in Rhode Island especially, a stark choice might attract more than the sidelong glances of partisan prisoners.

Two states to our north, the Episcopal Church elected a gay bishop, leading a Newport church to change its sign to "Anglican." Right above us, a state supreme court redefined marriage to include homosexuals. Across the country, die-hards' support for partial birth abortion has appalled anybody who's paid attention. The slight shift rightward during the last election produced enough of a rift in our state that some of the deep corruption in our political system has begun to come into the light. We've enough voters who either work for the military or for companies that supply the military that Pat had to buck his daddy's anti-war stance.

I don't know whether this and more will be enough to win the state, but I'll go ahead and predict that Rhode Island conservatives, at least, are sufficiently incensed to back a truly conservative candidate. Additionally, an ex–Navy Seal would have some of the glow that is finally taking its rightful place around a U.S. military that is manifestly working to make the world a better place, whereas an academic will have hurdles of Bellesiles and Professor Million-Mogadishus. Crosby doesn't give indication that she understands their relative images:

But before facing Kennedy, Crosby must take on Rogers. Crosby criticized the former Navy SEAL for promoting his candidacy by vowing to swim the length of the 1st Congressional District, from Pawtucket to Newport.

"I will not swim the Bay. I think it degrades the whole process," Crosby said. "These types of political antics are a sign of the corruption of American political ideals." She said she uses the word "corruption" in its broader sense and not to mean bribery.

Crosby noted Rogers has not been a SEAL since 1994, saying, "When you hand in your résumé, people ask, 'What have you been doing during the last five years?' "

It may be that voters see good-humored "political antics" as a welcome antidote to the dour adherence to hollow political posturing. This is even more the case considering that Rogers has chosen to ride the wave of his ideals. In that sense, if Crosby appears to be appealing to "the ideals of being political," she might as well leave her bathing suite in the drawer, anyway. She's also not likely to get much benefit out of efforts to dim some of Rogers's military glow. Ten years ago, he was serving his country. Since then, he's been running a business. Throughout that entire period, she's been walking Ivy League halls.

Dave Rogers can take these factors as a reason for hope. Margaret Crosby can take them as advice. And we'll just have to wait and see who gets the coveted Dust in the Light endorsement.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:05 PM EST