Saturday, January 23, 2010

Better Democrats, Please

Gail Collins has a delightfully snarky column up today on the state of the Democratic party with respect to the upcoming elections. This is the crux of her argument:

...If the Democrats are looking for a wake-up call from Massachusetts, the big rooster in the room is the plethora of underwhelming candidates they are fielding.

She's right.

Let's start with Collins' primary target: Arlen Specter. You remember Arlen, he was a Republican until this year when he switched teams after recognizing that he would be facing a tough primary challenge by a more conservative Republican. Always ready to help out a fellow Senate Country Club member, Harry Reid brokered a deal. Arlen would change parties, thereby giving Harry the 60th vote he needed, and the party and the White House would campaign for him in November. Sweet, eh?

Of course, Harry and the White House didn't bother checking with Pennsylvania voters or with members of that state's Democratic Party. Harry needed that 60th vote to accomplish all the miracles promised during the 2000 election. It didn't matter that Arlen always talked a good fight but never actually followed through when crunch time came. He would be the 60th vote (or the 59th vote if one considers Joe Lieberman, the independent who invented a new party after he lost the Democratic primary in 2008).

After the special election in Massachusetts this past week in which a Republican won Ted Kennedy's seat, Harry has lost that 60th vote, but that won't matter. Democratic leaders and the White House will still campaign for Arlen, which just goes to show that there is at least one promise those folks won't break.

Now that's a shame, because there is a perfectly good real Democrat who is running for Arlen's seat, Congressman Joe Sestak. Mr. Sestak now not only has to fight Arlen, but his own party's leadership. That's a tough road, as we learned when Democratic senators campaigned for Joe Lieberman even after he lost the primary.

It's not just Arlen Specter, however. The party leadership is locking out other progressive candidates in primary races. In California, Jane Harman is up for re-election. Jane, who has been seated on the House Intelligence Committee for what seems like decades, cheerfully went along with all of the illegal domestic intelligence gathering by the Bush administration. Then, one day when she learned that some of her communications had been monitored she was outraged, OUTRAGED. Of course, we haven't heard anything from the good congresswoman on the issue in months, so I guess somebody smoothed those ruffled feathers.

She is being challenged by Marcy Winograd, who has some pretty impressive and realistic ideas for how to meet the problems the nation is facing. Ms. Winograd, however, is not getting any party support. Even the "progressive" caucus has come out for Jane, which I find astounding. Apparently Ms. Winograd is just too progressive for those comfortable incumbents, or the party leaders has made it clear who they want supported. Or both, which is even worse.

Those of us who have been sickened by the last year's performance by Congress and the White House are now facing a choice. We can either sit back, cut off the flow of donations and volunteer hours, stay home in November, and let the Democrats get their faces beaten in, or we can start identifying the "upstarts" and "rebels" and direct our dollars and time to those campaigns. If we defeat a number of the entrenched members of the Republican-Lite brigade, the party leadership just might get a clue.

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