Friday, June 11, 2010

Why the Democratic Party supports anti-Democrats like Blanche Lincoln

Make sure to read this Glenn Greenwald post in full, particularly if, like me, you tend to think of yourself as a fairly loyal Democrat. Here's a chunk of it:

The run-off between Democratic Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln and challenger Bill Halter, which culminated on Tuesday night in Lincoln's narrow victory, brightly illuminates what the Democratic Party establishment is. Lincoln is supposedly one of those "centrist"/conservative/corporatist Senators who thwarts the good-hearted progressive agenda of the President and the Party. She repeatedly joined with Republicans to support the extremist Bush/Cheney Terrorism agenda (from the the Protect America Act to the Iraq War and virtually everything in between), serves the corporate interests that run Washington as loyally as any member of Congress, and even threatened to join the GOP in filibustering health care reform if it contained the public option which Obama claimed he wanted. Obama loyalists constantly point to the Blanche Lincolns of the world to justify why the Party scorns the values of their voters: Obama can't do anything about these bad Democratic Senators; it's not his fault if he doesn't have the votes, they insist.

Lincoln's 12-year record in the Senate is so awful that she has severely alienated virtually every important Democratic constituency group -- other than the large corporate interests that fund and control the Party. That record, along with her extreme unpopularity in Arkansas, is the reason Accountability Now -- the group I co-founded and run in order, among other things, to recruit primary challengers against corporatist incumbents -- targeted Lincoln and why it expended so much effort and resources to recruit Halter into the race. We knew that most key progressive factions -- grass-roots organizations, progressive blogs, civil liberties groups, and unions -- would want to see Lincoln removed from the Senate, and that's the type of formidable coalition needed to persuade a credible challenger that a 2-term Senate incumbent can be defeated.

So what did the Democratic Party establishment do when a Senator who allegedly impedes their agenda faced a primary challenger who would be more supportive of that agenda? They engaged in full-scale efforts to support Blanche Lincoln. Bill Clinton traveled to Arkansas to urge loyal Democrats to vote for her, bashing liberal groups for good measure. Obama recorded an ad for Lincoln which, among other things, were used to tell African-American primary voters that they should vote for her because she works for their interests. The entire Party infrastructure lent its support and resources to Lincoln -- a Senator who supposedly prevents Democrats from doing all sorts of Wonderful, Progressive Things which they so wish they could do but just don't have the votes for.

I'm all for a big tent that includes centrists/conservatives, and I'm all for standing by incumbents who, for the most part, are good Democrats. But at what cost?

In the case of Blanche Lincoln, who isn't really much of a Democrat at all, it seems to me that the cost is enormous, with the party establishment, including the White House, sacrificing its self-respect and the good of the party, given Lincoln's pro-Republican tendencies, to support an incumbent who opposes much of the establishment's agenda.

It can't just be that she's electable, because she's actually quite beatable this year, and it's not like no other Democrat could hold the seat. Halter certainly would have been a strong candidate.

So why the support? Because Lincoln, in a way, is the Democratic Party:

What's going on here couldn't be clearer if the DNC produced neon signs explaining it. Blanche Lincoln and her corporatist/centrist Senate-friends aren't some unfortunate outliers in the Democratic Party. They are the Democratic Party. The outliers are the progressives. The reason the Obama White House did nothing when Lincoln sabotaged the public option isn't because they had no leverage to punish her if she was doing things they disliked. It was because she was doing exactly what the White House and the Party wanted. The same is true when she voted for Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies, serves every corporate interest around, and impedes progressive legislation. Lincoln doesn't prevent the Democratic Party from doing and being what it wishes it could do and be. She enables the Party to do and be exactly what it is, what it wants to be, what serves its interests most. That's why they support her so vigorously and ensured her victory: the Blanche Lincolns of the world are the heart, soul and face of the national Democratic Party. 

I'm still a Democrat, and I'm generally less critical of the party than Glenn is, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that the opposition is so awful. Even Lincoln, after all, looks good compared to the extremists who dominate the GOP.

But Democrats -- real Democrats, Democrats who believe in the party and want it to stand for genuinely liberal-progressive values -- need to take the party back if it is be anything other than a milder version of the Republican Party. The way it is now is simply unacceptable.

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  • A good piece (I'd read Greenwald earlier). But I don't think of you as a Democrat, I think of you as Canadian. ;)

    By Anonymous Greg, at 12:13 AM  

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