Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Salazar to Interior, plus Cillizza's stupid spin

By Michael J.W. Stickings

It looks like Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate, is Obama's choice for interior secretary, and so the question turns to what his departure means in political terms. According to Chris Cillizza, it " presents Republicans with a prime pickup opportunity in a swing state, an early sign that their fortunes may be turning after two disastrous elections in which the party lost a combined 13 seats in the Senate."


Salazar's replacement will be appointed by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter. He or she will then have two years of Salazar's term left before the next election for that seat in 2010. Cillizza sees this as a potential opening for the Republicans. And yet, two of the leading candidates for the position are fairly popular figures in the state, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Salazar's brother John, currently representing the state's 3rd District in Congress. Even with less than two years in office before the 2010 election, either one would have a distinct advantage over any Republican challenger, and especially, as Cillizza notes, if that challenger is right-wing wacko Tom Tancredo.

Furthermore, as Steve Benen points out, this development could turn out be an "improvement" for Democrats in the Senate. For example, "if [Hickenlooper] gets the nod, the party may find a more reliable vote on progressive issues." There is still the question of how the conservative Salazar will do in "a not-especially-glamorous cabinet post" but a hugely significant department in terms of the environment, but "if [he], as a popular former senator, can leverage his stature and ties to Obama effectively, he can make a difference at the agency. And if he's replaced by a more progressive successor in the Senate, this may be a win-win opportunity for everyone."

A win-win for the Democrats, that is, not for the Republicans.

And yet, once again, as he did in similar fashion upon the victories of Chambliss in Georgia and Cao in Louisiana, Cillizza is hyping some non-existent Republican comeback. And why? Surely he doesn't actually believe his spin, or does he? Maybe he's so caught up in in-the-now, divorced-from-context punditry that he can't help but make much ado about nothing, that is, sensationalize about the unsensational. He needs to write about something, after all, so why not make something up, fabricate a narrative out of nothing at all?

I just can't help thinking, though, that there's a double standard at work here, as there is with many in the Beltway establishment. Obama isn't in the White House yet, and the new Congress, with expanded Democratic majorities hasn't begun sitting yet, and yet we're supposed to believe that Republicans are already on the rise again, that, for all intents and purposes, the Democrats won't last long in power? Huh.

But what if the roles were reversed? What if the Democrats had just suffered two straight resounding defeats in congressional elections and the Republican had soundly defeated the Democrat to regain the presidency? Would Cillizza and his ilk, in that case, be fabricating some narrative about a Democratic comeback with scant evidence to back it up? Hardly. They'd be babbling on endlessly about Democrats being lost in the wilderness and having to rebuild and be more like Republicans. Even any Democratic victory akin to Chambliss's or Cao's -- which do not point to some larger shift but are reflections of local conditions (an incumbent winning a run-off, a challenger defeating a corrupt incumbent in a low-turnout run-off -- would be spun as somehow confirming the narrative of Republican ascendancy and hegemony.

There is the spin, though, and there is the reality, and the reality is that there is no Republican comeback and that, for now, Salazar's seat will remain safely in the hands of the Democrats.

Don't believe the pro-Republican hype.

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