Magazine article The American Conservative

The Zephyr before the Storm

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Zephyr before the Storm

Article excerpt

Ralph Nader's question, "Where are the Democratic Dave Brats?" is a stumper on the order of "Where are the neoconservative Marines?" They will all show up ten minutes after Godot arrives.

In late summer Nader received an answer in New York, where a genuine insurgent Democrat took on a repugnant centrist (which has become a political synonym for centralist), Governor Andrew Cuomo. Zephyr Teachout lost her primary, but she held Cuomo to 62 percent of the vote and won half of New York's 62 counties despite being outspent by a margin that may have been as high as 30-1.

The mainstream press, which insists that all candidates walk in let-right lockstep, portrayed this as a rebuke to Prince Andrew from discontented leftists. There is an element of truth to that, but Zephyr--such a canorous hippie-child name--sang a populist tune not found in any Beltway progressive songbook.

Like Brat, unseater of that warmongering bellhop of the bailout class Eric Cantor, Zephyr ran against crony capitalism. She was anti-Common Core and spoke of decentralizing governance. She even lauded the Tea Party, at least in its grassroots genesis, before the vultures of K Street feasted on its carrion.

Unlike the identity-politics left, the Fordham law professor did not demonize rural Yorkers as minatory hayseeds; she even criticized Cuomo's hated SAFE Act, which is less a serious attempt at crime control than a symbol of rural subjugation. Zephyr, raised in Vermont, presumably has known deer hunters and gun collectors as actual persons rather than the demoniacs of TV crime dramas.

I wish Teachout had been closer to the marvelous "let-conservative" New York City tradition of Norman Mailer, Dorothy Day, Paul Goodman, and Jane Jacobs. Her Manhattan supporters pilloried former congresswoman Kathy Hochul, Cuomo's candidate for lieutenant governor, for the sin of being an Upstater: that is, for receiving an A grade from the NRA and disputing the granting of drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. (Who knew the DMV was a nativist redoubt?) Kathy and her husband Bill are fans of the Batavia Muckdogs, so I cut her all the slack in the world.

Issues aside, Zephyr was a breath of fresh air, good-natured and spirited, in contrast to the incumbent, a self-aggrandizing bully. A laugh and a light heart are underrated as a strategy for life as well as politics. …

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