Comments on Specter’s Switch II: Purity vs. Viability

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         Given a black-and-white choice between stand on principle and lose and sacrifice your principles and win, I’d take stand on principle and lose.

·         To echo Senator Jim DeMint, I would rather have 30 Democrats in the Senate who really believe in principles of active government, regulated markets and not only free people but helping those free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.

·         Political party doesn’t matter – it’s what you believe in and what you do about it that matter.  That said, I’d vote for a liberal who was a Republican over a conservative who was a Democrat any day.

·         A lot of the liberal blog chatter about how weak the Republicans are and how they have to move to the center seems not only premature and hyperbolic, but also contrary to what the bloggers themselves have to say about their own (Democratic) Party.  Of course, according to them the reason conservatives have to move to the center but liberals don’t is because liberal ideas are actually popular.  Of course, how convenient! <rolls eyes>

·         Such an argument implies, of course, that principles will have to be betrayed or moderated if they are found to be unpopular.  Considering that liberal ideas were (and, very possibly, still are) unpopular, and yet people like Kos (whom I have great respect for and otherwise mostly agree with) not only stuck to those unpopular ideas but argued that the Democrats should proudly adopt them, I find his argument that conservatives should give up/moderate their beliefs now that the shoe’s on the other foot very contradictory, self-serving and ridiculously smug.

·         A political party that needs to betray the people in order to win elections doesn’t deserve to exist, let alone win those damn elections.  There’s no point in selling out our principles for some election victory because it’s the selling out that makes that victory totally meaningless.

·         If a party that’s supposed to act as a vehicle for an ideology modifies its core beliefs with the political winds, in my mind it ceases to be a meaningful party.  To put it another way, moving to the center and betraying core principles to “save” a political party is just the same as destroying our constitutional rights to “save” our country from terrorists: by supposedly “saving” the party/country we’re actually destroying it ourselves.

·         I briefly talk about twelve “Democrats” betraying the American people by voting against mortgage cramdown.  You can find the list of the twelve Democrats, and which ones I consider vulnerable (all two of them, sadly), at the bottom of the entry.

·         By the way, wouldn’t it be great if, having switched parties to avoid a defeat from the right, Arlen Specter is defeated in the Democratic primary by the left?  How ironic and terrific would that be?  Let’s do it!

 

Before Specter’s switch, there was a lot of discussion inside and outside the Republican Party as to whether they should valiantly stand by their core principles and defend it to death, or moderate themselves so as to be more competitive in non-deep red states.  As a guy who, to borrow a line from the great Henry Clay, would rather be right than be President, I always favor the “stand on principle even if it loses elections” than mushy moderation, and that goes for Republicans as well as Democrats.  Moderation is uninteresting, deprives us of a real political debate and is often nothing more than pure political opportunism.  Yes, obviously winning elections is important and we should always look for ways to stand on principle and win, but if the choice were a simple black-and-white one between stand on principle and lose and sacrifice your principles and win, I’d take stand on principle and lose.

 

That’s essentially what Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who is rapidly becoming the Republicans’ point man on stubborn, unyielding conservatism, said when he declared: “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

 

As a proud liberal Democrat, let me say this: I would rather have 30 Democrats in the Senate who really believe in principles of active government, regulated markets and not only free people but helping those free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.

 

As if to make my point that it’s ideology and not party that matters, on Thursday the Senate voted 51-45 against the Durbin amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to “cramdown” mortgage payments so homeowners can keep their homes.  We needed 60 votes to pass it but with 59 Democrats all we needed to do was to get everyone on board and then snag an Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins or… well, I guess that’s it.  Difficult, but not impossible… until it became impossible due to our own “Democratic” Senators.  Twelve Democrats – and I will at the bottom of this entry list their full names, their states, their next election and any comments on their political viability, so to facilitate the wrath we will bring upon them – joined the Republicans in stopping the amendment.  I will say this now and I will say it again many times in the future: I don’t care what party you’re in – I care about what you believe in and what you do about it.

 

And yet, many of my ideological peers, including the denizens of Daily Kos who agree with me that liberals ought to stand loudly in support of their ideals no matter what the political odds, seem to be going out of their way to mock Republicans for their current state of irrelevancy and to goad them into moving towards the center.  Now, I like stomping on dying Republicans as much as the next guy.  But it seems odd that these liberals are counseling Republicans to do something that they regularly attack the people in their own party for doing.

 

Kos, a guy who should be the first to give the finger to the political winds, recently put out a piece called the “The GOP’s base problem” where he first talks about how the Democrats were woefully stuck in the center, until a magical army of righteous netroots bloggers swooped in and saved the day for the Democratic Party by discovering that – how wonderful! – liberal ideas were right and politically popular:

 

Lucky for them, a new generation of activists arose to challenge the status quo — on MoveOn, blogs, DFA, and so on, in addition to a core group of big-money donors willing to invest in a new party infrastructure. This was a movement predicated on getting the Democratic Party off its self-destructive path, and realigning it with the populace. There was an ideological component to our work, sure, but also a very practical one. From the beginning, we were poll-obsessed, and we knew by looking at the numbers that we could succeed and thrive as a liberal party if we abandoned the Joe Lieberman-school of politics and became clear, unapologetic, and muscular progressives, while building the infrastructure to generate and disseminate our ideas.

 

Then he goes on to note that the Republicans are now in a rut and, like the liberal netroots, are sticking to their guns.  But whereas it was great going for the liberal netroots, for conservatives it sucks.  Why the difference?  Why of course, it’s because liberal ideas are popular and conservative ones aren’t!

 

Note — Democrats didn’t succeed because we forced them to “moderate” and “compromise” on key party principles, but because we forced them to stand up for them. But here’s the difference — our principles are actually quite popular — no unnecessary wars, access to good health care, responsive government, tax fairness, and so on. Conservative principles? Not so popular. War, a lower tax burden for the rich, environmental devastation, hating on immigrants and people of color, starving government and the rest of their agenda really doesn’t light anyone up beyond the wingnut fringe.

 

Really.

 

Ahem.

 

Point I: Are conservative ideas really unpopular?  Let’s go through Kos’s roster.  War: I assume he refers to the Iraq war, which indeed is unpopular, but only because we’re losing.  I recall back in the days leading up to the war and during the early stages of the war (i.e. up to “Mission Accomplished” and even beyond), those who supported it were in the overwhelming majority, and not only that, they were true red-blooded patriotic Americans, whereas those of us who protested the illegal and completely unjustified invasion of Iraq were considered to be not only sympathizers to Saddam’s evil regime and his “allies” in al Qaeda, but on top of that we were also elitist tea-drinking, Volvo-driving pacifists.

 

If the Iraq war was truly over at the end of 2003 I virtually guarantee you that it’d be as super popular now as it was then.  It’d be no less illegal, unjustified and unnecessary, but it’d still be popular.  But that is not where I’d want my Democratic Party to go.

 

A lower tax burden for the rich: Hrm, doesn’t everyone support lowering taxes on the rich because hey, they might be “rich” someday?  I can tell you that the Bush tax cuts, the first round of which passed with overwhelming support thanks to quite a few guys and gals on our side, were never unpopular.

 

Environmental devastation: Okay.  But didn’t most people support offshore drilling?

 

Hating on immigrants and people of color: Okay.  But on the question of illegal immigrants I think a lot of people are uneasy about allowing them to remain in the country.

 

Starving government: As Dick Morris just helpfully pointed out for us, Americans still hate government. (This is the one thing in politics I want to change most in my lifetime.)

 

Okay, I admit that I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate.  Kos is right in that Americans probably agree with Democrats on more issues (or even way more issues!) than they do with Republicans.  But Republicans didn’t win six of the past ten presidential elections and control Congress for 12 long years for free.  They won those elections, and while gutter politics had a lot to do with it there were issues involved too, and Americans liked what the Republicans were saying enough to give them wins.  So let’s not forget or pooh-pooh what the Republicans did in pushing their issues.

 

Point II: So is Kos saying that principle only matters as long as they’re popular?  His argument essentially boils down to: We should stand on our principles because they’re popular, and they should give up on their principles because they’re unpopular.  So that begs the question, if our principles were unpopular, does that mean that we would have to moderate?  I’m guessing Kos would say yes, and that we did just that with Bill Clinton, but that doesn’t make him very principled, does it?  Besides, I’m guessing that Kos would be among the first to criticize the actual steps Clinton took to moderate the Democratic Party (e.g. welfare reform).  I say “guessing” because I don’t know for sure where Kos stands on those issues.

 

Certainly I mostly criticize the “moderation” that the DLC forced the party into.  Yes, some steps were necessary, like letting voters know that Democrats care about families and safety. (I can’t believe we actually had to go through the trouble of doing that.) But some steps, like welfare reform and like DOMA, were just betrayals, pure and simple.  I don’t care how viable that made the Democratic Party; a party that needs to betray the people in order to win elections doesn’t deserve to exist, let alone win those damn elections.

 

What I am saying is that it’s great that our liberal principles are finally finding resonance among the American people (or are they?).  But that has not been, nor will it always be, the case. (In fact, it might not even be the case right now, as Americans’ continued distrust of government shows.) And when that day comes that liberals are the unpopular ones (again), the real test of principle is whether we stick to our ideals or compromise them to look more like the popular guys.  On that question, I think that I, for one, will stay principled by sticking to principle, period.  And if that makes me unpopular, so be it.  If Democrats stick to principle and don’t win elections because their ideas are unpopular, that’s fine – actually it’s better than fine, it’s democracy!  And best of all, we won’t sell out our principles for some election victory that’s meaningless precisely because we sold out our principles.

 

Of course, when the time comes to vote a moderate Democrat is always better than a conservative Republican.  But, likewise, a liberal Republican is better than a conservative Democrat, and a moderate Republican is better than a conservative Democrat.  That’s my point – it’s the ideology and actions, what you believe in and what you do about it, that matter, not the party label.  Which is why if a party that’s supposed to act as a vehicle for an ideology modifies its core beliefs with the political winds, in my mind it ceases to be a meaningful party.

 

Bringing the discussion back to the choice that faces Republicans, the Republican Party may well wither away or even die if most of the people in it remain staunch conservatives.  But so what?  Who cares if the GOP dies?  Parties come and go; they are but vehicles for ideologies and worldviews.  It’s the conviction in the party that matters.  So I don’t see why Republicans should have to moderate their core convictions and rush to the center in order to “save their party”, if saving their party means destroying what it stands for.

 

Likewise with Democrats.  If the Democratic Party some point down the road is dying and needs to move to the center to be “saved”, watch me not give a fuck.  I’m staying right where I am and so should my fellow liberals.  What’s the point in moderating our beliefs or voting for subpar people?  Moving to the center and betraying core principles to “save” a political party is just the same as destroying our constitutional rights to “save” our country from terrorists: by supposedly “saving” the party/country we’re actually destroying it ourselves.

 

P.S. Here are the Dirty Dozen Democrats who voted against cramdown, and should be punished, potentially through electoral defeat in a Democratic primary.  For what good are electing Democrats if they vote AGAINST the people?

 

Max Baucus (Montana) (next up in 2014) – A usual suspect.  We probably can’t beat him in a primary.

Michael Bennet (Colorado) (next up in 2010) – Pretty new to the Senate and already a centrist fuck like his predecessor.  We gotta replace him with a liberal in 2010.  Andrew Romanoff is rumored to be considering a run – I don’t know for sure how liberal he is but he’s probably more liberal than Bennet.

Robert Byrd (West Virginia) (next up in 2012) – He’s good on most issues but has centrist tendencies from time to time, usually on social issues but I guess on helping people keep their homes too.  Not primary-able but at 91 his Senate career is heading towards its finale.  Let’s hope that his successor will be a more committed liberal.

Tom Carper (Delaware) (next up in 2012) – Another usual suspect.  Unfortunately he’s probably not primary-able unless we find and fund some netroots insurgent ala Ned Lamont.  But I don’t know how many Ned Lamonts can be found in Delaware.

Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) (next up in 2010) – Dorgan’s usually a good guy!  I don’t know what’s going on… needless to say in a state like North Dakota any Democrat is precious.

Tim Johnson (South Dakota) (next up in 2014) – Also usually a decent guy, and again Dakotan Democrats have to be held onto with both hands.

Mary Landrieu (Louisiana) (next up in 2014) – Among the worst of the Conservadems, but in Louisiana no Democrat’s going to challenge her.

Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas) (next up in 2010) – Sigh.  Probably not replaceable.

Ben Nelson (Nebraska) (next up in 2012) – This fucker is probably the worst excuse for a human being in politics.  I don’t know if Nebraska can send another Democrat in his place but at this point his death will suit me just fine.

Mark Pryor (Arkansas) (next up in 2014) – Probably not replaceable.

Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania) (next up in 2010) – Very centrist and very replaceable, if some liberal Democrat would just grow some balls already.  Joe Torsella is running against him and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7) may get into the race as well.

Jon Tester (Montana) (next up in 2012) – Do Montanans not have houses?  Tester was supposed to be a relative liberal for a Montanan Democrat, but he seems to be moving to the center lately.  Disappointing.  I doubt we’ll get another Democrat in his place.

 

So of the 12 only two, Bennet and Specter, look like they can be conceivably replaced, and both in 2010.  But even in Specter’s case it looks glum since the establishment is backing him.  Not good.

 

P.P.S. Just had a thought.  Wouldn’t it be deliciously delightful if, after having switched parties to avoid a defeat from the right, Arlen Specter is defeated in the Democratic primary by the left?  How ironic and terrific would that be?  Can we make it happen?  Please???

 

C’mon, liberal idealist crusader with a passion for politics in Pennsylvania!  You could be the next Ned Lamont and do the Democratic Party a favor by weeding out these traitors and hangers-on!  Send Specter packing!

 

Fuck, I’d do it myself if I were established in Pennsylvania politics.

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