Philadelphia Republic Party: This Party Sucks

For half a century, the Republican Party has been a joke in Philadelphia. But now a few upstarts have a radical idea: Let’s try to get Republican candidates elected!

According to Wolfe, the ward leaders weren’t even allowed to vote on whether they wished to throw six of their own candidates under the bus. The decision was simply announced.

Kevin Kelly forwarded me Wolfe’s dispatch with the note, “This is what I’m talking about. Unbelievable.”

FROM THE STANDPOINT of sheer human endurance, it’s impossible not to respect the Meehans. Still, I can’t help thinking back to something Kevin Kelly told me at our lunch. “People are resistant to change, right?” he said, then pushed aside his pulled-pork sandwich and made his hands into fists. “Imagine I have a pencil right here. You apply a little pressure, it bends.” He pretended to bend an imaginary pencil, slightly, then bend it back. “It’s called the ‘historisis effect.’” His point was that if you want to break the pencil in half, to make it into “the new thing you want it to be,” you have to apply the right amount of pressure.

Kelly knows how to play this game. In 2006, he publicly criticized a Democratic candidate for Congress, Patrick Murphy, who had served in Iraq as a JAG lawyer. Kelly stood up at a press conference organized by Murphy’s opponent and said that Murphy had never been “a front-line guy.” It was a vile smear, but potentially effective; similar “swift-boat” tactics sank John Kerry. (Patrick Murphy won anyway, by a razor-thin margin. Kelly claims he was set up by Democratic operatives and never intended to swift-boat Murphy; he was only responding to reporters’ “leading questions.”) Kelly continues to be a freelance combatant in our nation’s political wars. On August 2nd, Kelly told a friend to film Arlen Specter’s town hall on health-care reform, and the camera was running when the rowdy, conservative crowd heckled and jeered Specter until he stammered to a stop. Within 20 minutes, at Kelly’s behest, the Loyal Opposition cameraman had edited the outburst into a YouTube clip, and later that night, it was at the top of the conservative website Drudge Report , and within a day, it had gone viral and was being played on every major news network, over and over and over, as evidence of a populist upswelling against health-care reform.

This stuff can get ugly. But better ugliness than stagnant pleasantness. Better two actual political parties fighting for what they believe in, out in the open, than this polite fiction of a two-party system that serves nobody except the nice people who set it up and sustain it and will continue to benefit from it for another 20 years, until they die. “The stuff they do can’t stand the light of day,” Kelly says, talking about the leaders of his own party. “And what I want to do is shine the light of day, and let the chips fall where they may.” For all of the party’s losses, year in and year out, it’s still shaped by a pathological fear of losing — losing its jobs, its deals, its carefully carved-out niches. But Kelly isn’t afraid of losing everything. And that’s why he will, eventually, inevitably, win.