NY 19 Revisited: Should Progressives Support Pat Ryan?

I’m glad that my piece on the NY 19 congressional sweepstakes provoked at least a small amount of conversation. As expected that included criticism–some of it quite harsh. One of those taking issue with it was Tim Hunter, a member of the Gardiner Democratic Town Committee who denounced it as “betray(ing) a shocking lack of political understanding.”

What irked Mr Hunter was my raising questions about the committee’s endorsed candidate, Pat Ryan, specifically his commitment to progressive legislation. I got it wrong, according to Mr. Hunter. Ryan, is, in his words, “A Progressive Chris Gibson. YES, progressive!”

I’m sorry if it upsets Mr. Hunter to hear this, but it needs to be said that the assertions of Democratic Party leaders (even local ones) have long since ceased to be sufficient. Progressives such as myself now require evidence and, with respect to Pat Ryan, there is little which gives any indication of a serious commitment to progressive politics.

Furthermore, there is at least one indication of the exact opposite, namely Ryan offering to spy on left wing activists and unions for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as mentioned in the Intercept piece linked to in my article.

We also have the matter of Ryan’s participation in the great war crime and atrocity which was the Iraq invasion. Ryan, a West Point grad, was required to serve. Relevant here is that some courageous veterans also served but then actively spoke out in opposition, most notably in the winter soldier hearings of March 2008. Ryan did not, nor is there any record of his supporting those who did.

Then there’s the issue of Ryan’s having accepted by now over $1 million in contributions, some of these from some of the most unsavory sources, namely, Palantir corporation headed by the extreme right wing billionaire Peter Thiel. Ryan, to be fair, has distanced himself from Thiel whom he has correctly characterized as “a lunatic.” But the presence of more conventionally predatory private equity outfits such Lone Pine Capital or white shoe law and lobbying firms certainly doesn’t inspire confidence of Ryan’s commitment to challenge the power of the 1%.

For these reasons and others I’m not willing to accept on face value Mr. Hunter’s characterization of Ryan as a progressive. What I am willing to accept (political hyperbole aside) are Mr. Hunter’s assurances that Ryan “is a local product. War hero, and job creator.”


That said, it’s worth noting an oddity which is that Mr. Hunter seems to assume that “jobs creator” will be taken as an accolade.

Is he not aware that this was the exact phrase the Republicans deployed in 2012 to promote the candidacy of billionaire investor Mitt Romney and to justify his proposal for another round of tax cuts to their 1% base?

We’re all familiar with the characterization of the Democrats as Eisenhower Republican party of 1950s, the Gerald Ford Republicans of 1970 and even the Bob Dole Republican Party of the 1990s. But the post G.W. Bush, ultra-right Republican Party of 2011?

Suffice to say that this sort of rhetoric (1) recalls nothing so much as Harry Truman’s classic remark that “If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time.”

I’ll conclude this with a disclosure which might surprise Mr. Hunter: I am by no mean opposed to Mr. Ryan’s candidacy, and could very well end up supporting it. But if I do, I will be for the legitimate argument he provides, namely that Ryan may well be the candidate most able to accomplish what we all agree is absolutely crucial: defeating John Faso.

If that’s so, there is a strong basis for supporting him.

I may very well do so albeit with the expectation-as alluded to in my piece-that real progressive change will require his being primaried in 2022 with a candidate who does not just give lip service to the Sanders agenda, but demonstrates in his votes that he is truly committed to it.

In the meantime, if the Ryan campaign expects to convince those of us in the Sanders camp to support him, I would urge them to remember what they have learned in kindergarten and seem to have forgotten: honesty, as always, is the best policy.


1)I would have been hesitant to raise this objection had not another commenter on the same Facebook thread referred to her preferred candidate, the former Citigroup executive Bryan Flynn, in nearly identical terms. Outraged by my description of his firm’s having outsourced jobs to low wage North Carolina-not to mention still lower waged Dominican Republic, this commenter suggests that Flynn “is totally progressive and interested in creating jobs opportunities and businesses . . .(but)  he should not be expected to stand and watch his business erode and not generate a profit . . . we can try to change what is to create jobs and opportunities.” John Faso would, of course, agree with this sentiment while also ridiculing Flynn for his hypocrisy.

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