Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Lately, I’ve been writing a lot on this page about my efforts to wrestle with conservatism. I’d like to think that my mind is open to conservative principles, and yet whenever I applaud myself for being open, one simple fact re-emerges to nag at my pride: I have never, ever voted in a contested two-party election for anyone other than the Democratic candidate.

Yes, it does bother me. It’s one thing to have a center of gravity. It’s another thing to be a blind partisan.

Well ... my track record is not likely to change for me in congressional elections, at least not for a while. I like my Representative, and I like my Senators. But we have a Presidential election coming up in 2008, and if the Democratic Party isn’t careful, I might not be able to make the above statement much longer.

In case you can’t tell, I’ve been alluding to the possibility that my party will nominate the putative front runner: Hillary Rodham Clinton. It pains me to write those words because Hillary is a woman, and for that reason alone I’d like to support her. I’d like to support her because we’ve never had a woman POTUS and it’s about time we did, particularly since “her kind” represents the majority of the population. I’d doubly like to support her because I’m sick and tired of strong women being painted as evil bitches. Nancy Pelosi, for example, did nothing prior to this past election to warrant all the vitriol that was heaped upon her by the GOP. Nevertheless, she committed the sin of sins – she’s a woman who didn’t act like a den mother or an ambassador’s wife – and that, combined with her being from “Sodom,” I mean San Francisco, caused the GOP-attack machine to speak about her like a character in the Crucible. You’re darned right that pissed me off, and the fact that Hillary is the target of the same kind of sexist nonsense makes me want to support her too.

And yet … and yet.

My basic problem with Hillary is that I’m a Steve Novick Democrat. Novick is a political activist who lives in Portland, Oregon. He moved out to his native Oregon after working for years as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, where be handled superfund and clean air cases. In Oregon, he has worked on multiple political campaigns, practiced law on behalf of labor unions, and would surely have been one of the leading contenders for Portland’s Congressional district in 2004 had the incumbent decided against running for re-election. Novick appears frequently on local radio stations, and he is no stranger to column-writing. He was also profiled as the “Oregonian of the Week” in the state’s leading newspaper.

In the name of full-disclosure, I would add that Novick is also one of my best friends. I met him when he was a first year law student at Harvard. He called himself “pound for pound, the youngest ever at Harvard Law School,” and I didn’t doubt the claim for a second. He was 18 years of age, 4’ 8” tall, and relatively slender. If there was someone smaller and younger who attended that law school, I’d like to see him!

Just as Hillary has her fans, so does Novick. At a 40th birthday bash that was thrown for him a few years back in Washington, D.C., some Oregonians treated me and other of Novick’s law school friends like royalty just because we had known the guy for over 20 years. I learned what it must have been like to have known the Beatles in Liverpool, when they were just John, Paul, George and Ringo, and not the Fab Four. But the truth is that everyone who knew Novick in law school realized then that he was special. That’s why we called him The Lord, which was short for Lord Novick The Young. He was a character then, and someday, he’ll be a character who’s also a candidate.

Novick is nobody’s idea of a conservative. He’s unabashedly liberal. But he’s a guy that even conservatives respect, and they respect him for the same reason they respected another famous diminutive liberal, Paul Wellstone. In both cases, these men have staked out a vision, have spoken plainly in support of that vision, and haven’t cared a whit whether their view was popular or shocking. Conservatives respect that. They also respect political animals who don’t take themselves too seriously. Back in law school, Novick said that he would run for office someday as “the only candidate with a legitimate left hook” – a reference to the fact that he has no left hand but wears a metal hook instead. More recently, Novick has jokingly referred to himself as “America’s leading amateur pundit on soaking the rich.” But he is no amateur when it comes to thinking clearly about how to support the economy. He’s not looking to screw the rich, but merely to reduce inequality. And he cares deeply about the working class. Believe me, many conservatives do too.

Novick doesn’t have an ounce of hypocrisy. If he preaches it, he practices it. He’s also a man of his word. About 15 years ago, when he was still in D.C., he began a tradition of organizing a tribute every year for Robert F. Kennedy on the anniversary of his birth. The event was held at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building (otherwise known as the headquarters of the U.S.D.O.J.). When Novick announced that he was moving back to Oregon, one of his friends said “So Novick, are you going to come back every year and hold this event on RFK’s birthday?” Novick said yes, and being a man of his word, every year, like clockwork, he comes back and hosts that function. I don’t even know if Novick can “afford” to do it – he didn’t come from money and doesn’t have much now. But that doesn’t matter much to Novick. He’s concerned with how much money other people have – particularly, regular working people.

Surely you can tell by now why I’m a Steve Novick Democrat. But you may also be able to tell why I’m so troubled by a Hillary candidacy. To begin, I have no idea what this woman stands for. Seriously, why did she introduce a bill in support of flag burning? Who was she sucking up to then? And while we’re talking about political expediency, why did this “liberal” support the Iraq War? Obama sure didn’t, and neither did Gore. Frankly, she comes across as someone who thinks first about which way the wind is blowing and only secondarily about the path of truth and justice. Novick, she’s not.

I’m also troubled by all that’s been said about Hillary the “executive.” I’ve heard so many rumors about her alleged acts of arrogance to her subordinates that I’m beginning to wonder if she’d be more comfortable running a monarchy than a democracy. Moreover, far from having a Novickean sense of humor, Hillary exudes humorlessness and the lack of humility. Perhaps I’m reading her wrong; then again, I don’t think I’m alone in having this reaction.

The GOP has seen over the past few months how unpopular a party can get if they win the Presidency and then things go south. The Dems saw this for themselves when Jimmy Carter was President. Those who talk about how brilliant Hillary is might be wise to remember that Carter’s IQ is none too shabby. But there’s more to politics than IQ. You also have to have a winning personality. Carter came across as sanctimonious. Hillary might come across as imperious. I don’t think this country is ready for an imperious President right now, and I know we’re not ready for an imperious female President who doesn’t appear to have the courage of her own convictions.

For all these reasons, I’m concerned that if Hillary gets the nod in the summer of 2008, I might just write in Steve Novick for the job. Not a Republican, mind you, but not Hillary either.

Would I be alone in taking that stand? Again, I doubt it. I know, for example – because I heard it from Novick himself – that former House Democratic Whip David Bonior once said that he didn’t mind other people knowing that if Hillary ever got the nomination, Bonior wouldn’t vote for her. Novick himself is unsure if whether he’d vote for Hillary, particularly if she runs against Giuliani. The only thing I can say for sure is that, unlike me, Novick definitely won’t vote for Novick … at least not for President.

I think back to the movie 1776 and the adopted home state of Madame Senator herself. New York abstains, courteously,” the representative of that state repeatedly said, when it was time to vote for independence from Great Britain. Well, if his descendent gets the nomination, a whole bunch of us Democrats might just say “Madame New Yorker, we abstain, courteously.” Folks might not go all the way and vote for the GOP, and I’m not suggesting they’ll vote en masse for Novick. But there are a lot of Steve Novick Democrats in this country whether they know it themselves or not. And if their party wants to win the White House, they had better get all the Steve Novick Democrats on board. It’s really that simple.


Finding Fair Hope said...

Reading what you say so eloquently, I am convinced that the surest way for the Democrats to lose the Presidency in '08 will be to have Hillary as the candidate. You say all the things I feel about her but I seem to be almost alone in this among my Liberal friends.

I have voted "protest" for many Presidential elections, going all the way back to Dick Gregory when he ran against Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. I had different Liberal friends then, but they can't stand that I do this...I just hate the idea of having to hold my nose when I vote. So I don't do it. I've never voted for a Republican, but would certainly consider it if they put up someone I respect for a change and if the Democrats put up Hillary.

Yikes! I just realized that no candidate I've ever voted for for President has won. Makes me a little scared to vote at all.

Daniel Spiro said...

You've never voted for a winning candidate? Wow. That's quite a record. That makes me scared to ask if you'd vote for Obama (assuming he somehow gets the nomination).

I remember Dick Gregory (having read his book "Nigger" when I was a kid), but I'm curious why you voted for him in 68 instead of one of the other protest candidates, like McCarthy. Personally, I've never voted protest before ... but there's something about the combo of Hillary and Novick that's making me wonder.

Finding Fair Hope said...

McCarthy wasn't in the race. It must have been '64. I loved McCarthy. I try not to think that my support is the kiss of death, but we're onto something here.

Finding Fair Hope said...

I think I've got it now...I was in NYC at that time and Dick Gregory was actually on the ballot. If McCarthy was still in the race it would have been as a write-in. I think that's it. I didn't write anybody in. I think McCarthy ran against Johnson in the primary and lost.

Or maybe I was just being perverse. I'll think about this.

Anonymous said...

Gore & Obama ... that's the ticket.

Daniel Spiro said...

FFH -- 1968 was the first Presidential election that I was old enough to remember, and in that year McCarthy was definitely the darling of the anti-war liberals. If there was a protest candidate in 1964, I don't remember who it was. And I have no independent recollection of whether Dick Gregory ran in 64 or 68.

Daniel Spiro said...


I would think Obama and Gore could get along well, but I have trouble seeing Gore win the nomination against either Obama or Hillary. That's just my hunch. A lot can happen between now and the summer of 08 so these things are hard to predict.