June 24, 2006
If You Can't Find a Donkey, Ride the DINO
Whenever I read posts like this by Jedmunds, I feel a need to say something about what a Senate majority means. Jedmunds is rooting against Sen. Maria Cantwell in her re-election race because she has dumb views on the Iraq War and voted against the Alito filibuster. I think Cantwell's views are dumb too, but it's important to keep the big picture in mind here. In some cases, a Senator contributes more to progressive causes as a mere matter of party affiliation than by her actual votes.
Control of the Senate, whether by one vote or a dozen, means a Democratic majority on every Senate committee, Democratic chairmanship of all committees, power to subpoena witnesses when investigating the executive branch, and a number of other procedural powers that must not be left in Republican hands. Winning either chamber of Congress in 2006 would allow us to conduct real investigations of the Bush Administration. The betting markets give us only a 19% chance of retaking the Senate this year, but I think we stand a pretty good chance of getting it in 2008, when many more Republicans than Democrats are up for re-election.
And can you imagine what it'll look like if January 2009 rolls around and we control both chambers of Congress, and John Edwards is president? It's time for universal health care and fixing poverty and taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage (which Cantwell supports) and appointing judges who respect women's rights. Even if Cantwell votes against us sometimes (or hell, even if she votes against us all the time), she'll help simply by allowing for Democratic chairmen and a Democratic majority on all the committees that we need to pass our proposals through. And no matter who's president, I'm a lot happier with subpoena power in Democratic hands than in Republican ones.
If you don't want to vote for Cantwell for Cantwell's sake, that's okay. Then vote for her for the sake of Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama and Chris Dodd and (let's hope) Sherrod Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse and Ned Lamont, all of whom will be more powerful under a Democratic majority, because they'll rise in power on their committees, get to serve on more powerful committees, and get subpoena power for any investigations they want to conduct. And vote for her to smooth the passage of so many wonderful things if we get President Edwards or another good Democrat in 2009.
"but it's important to keep the big picture in mind here."
It's only important to keep the big picture in mind if it's a priority for you to have the left govern America in our lifetimes.
If you're more interested in speaking truth to power and having a permanent minority party that closely reflects your views act as your debating society, than it won't be a priority for you.
It all comes down to what you think is important.
Posted by: Petey | Jun 24, 2006 5:24:15 PM
I'm not convinced the Democrats are actually going to do anything we want, even with a majority.
Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Jun 24, 2006 5:45:32 PM
Really, Amanda? You don't think that (for example) minimum wage increases would pass under a Democratic majority?
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jun 24, 2006 5:52:28 PM
I don't really need the Dems to do anything; I want to keep the Republicans from fucking up the country more than they already have.
Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jun 24, 2006 6:22:32 PM
Do you really think the kind of DINO that will have a chance of getting elected to the White House will actually rollback the Bush method and the President as King meme?
If so, do you have evidence or are you just playing ostrich and hoping it will be the case without ever raising the question? So far, every major liberal blogger I've asked to comment (about two dozen) has simply said nothing about it.
From what they have and haven't said, I think H. Clinton, Biden and Lieberman are as likely to use the Bush years as a handy precedent as Mccain, Rice, Guilliani et al.
We can't afford to simply cross our fingers and hope. The country needs this more than anything else. We need to ask the question of every candidate and I mean for President, Senator, Congresscritter, Governor, whatever -
"Will you, if elected, pledge to roll back the Bush vision of total Presidential executive power?"
Anything else is just naivete. Want to count the number of prominent establishment Dems moving to the Right of the GOP on, for instance, Iran?
Regards, Cernig @ Newshog
Posted by: Cernig | Jun 24, 2006 6:25:33 PM
Cernig, let me quote part of a John Edwards interview for you:
Edwards: I think that the way to deal with this is we need a Democratic President in the next election. I think the damage this President has done — and I didn't get through the whole list. For example, leading an effort — an illegal effort, I think it's absolutely clear that it's illegal — effort to spy on Americans, completely ignoring the law and the Constitution. The President knew and his advisor knew…
Stephanopoulos: He says that he has the authority under the Constitution. Article Two of the Constitution.
Edwards: He is wrong. He is wrong. It is the reason we have a separation of powers in this country. Congress had enacted a [FISA] law that told the President exactly what he was supposed to do and he just ignored it. He intentionally ignored it. If there was any question about this, the least they should have done is to go to Congress and try to get the law changed. Should we be monitoring al-Qaeda? Absolutely. It is necessary to keep this country safe but we can do it under the law and the President is not above the law…
Is this the kind of answer you're looking for?
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jun 24, 2006 6:32:12 PM
the least they should have done is to go to Congress and try to get the law changed...it is necessary to keep this country safe but we can do it under the law and the President is not above the law.
It doesn't fill me with confidence, no. It's halfway there, but not quite. He hints that he himself would rollback the Monarchical Presidency but then there's that thing about just changing the law to allow it...it worries me. What's his position on signing statements? Not on Bush's but on the general concept itself. Are they even constitutional given that they are a Reagan era invention? (Used by every Prez since, including Bill Clinton.) Does he think a President shouldn't be allowed signing statements but should instead enforce the will of Congress in law as written, which is fairly obviously what the Constitution's authors intended? That would be a big step in the right direction as far as I am concerned.
Worse, Edwards obviously cannot (and, I suspect, would not) speak for, say, the Two Joes and Hilarity. Or Chuck Schumer, who has a penchant for dictating from above already as was seen in some primaries.
I think it is a fair and necessary question to ask of every candidate that wants liberal support...and I think the A-listers are simply not asking it. I get nervous when everyone assumes something about a politician's stance...like Dubya was a Republican so he would be against big gub'ment...and they are really just hoping it is true while they vote for said politician.
To be honest, I think the A-listers aren't asking because they are sorta afraid of the answer they might give themselves.
This question is too important to just cross your fingers and wish on, don't you agree? What do you think?
Regards, Cernig @ Newshog
Posted by: Cernig | Jun 24, 2006 9:21:52 PM
If Cantwell did nothing else, she rid the Senate of the disreputable, slimy Senator Slade Gorton. I have watched Cantwell closely since her election. Far more often than not, she votes with the Democratic leadership. Although I excoriated her for her Alito cloture vote, she was not the deciding vote and voting the opposite way would not have made any real difference.
Her opponent, Mike! McGavick, was Slimy Slade's campaign manager and is nothing but a bought-and-paid-for insurance company shill. That is reason enough to vote for Maria Cantwell.
Posted by: Brenda Helverson | Jun 24, 2006 9:59:44 PM
I agree completely.
Say what you will, but a Democratic partisan who is pushing for the defeat of a Democratic Senator is usually working against his or her own interests. There is a definite exception to the rule - henceforth known as the Lieberman Exception. The Lieberman Exception states that it is in the best interest of partisan supporters to work against an incumbent if that incumbent contributes significant political damage to her/his own party. This is true of Holy Joe's high-profile statements against the ideology of his own party. This is not true of the positions Maria Cantwell takes. Now, Holy Joe has said a number of other things that have riled progressives but not done nationwide damage to the party (example: the "short ride" comments.) These statements are not qualifiers for the Lieberman Exception, because they don't advance a popular negative frame of the Democratic Party for short-sighted political gain.
The key is to know that the Lieberman Exception is just that - an exception - and so should only be used sparingly.
Posted by: Jon O. | Jun 24, 2006 10:46:51 PM
Cernig, let's say your correct (leaving aside for the moment that Biden and Lieberman are about as likely to be president in 2009 as you or I) about Democrats not actually rolling back executive power. I agree, that's a tragedy. But how does helping the GOP take a Senate seat in Washington help the situation? It seems to me you're well and truly off topic here.
Posted by: djw | Jun 24, 2006 11:58:34 PM
A majority without a progressive governing majority may get you the leadership position, but it will not change the policy or judicial appointment outcomes coming out of the Senate. I believe that is the point your argument misses. I suppose the question becomes are you in this to change outcomes or to change the letter behind the representatives name. There is not easy way to answer this question as this is more of a scale with two strong poles. The flaw in your analysis is that you ignore that there is a scale at all. \
Posted by: bruhrabbit | Jun 25, 2006 12:07:46 AM
I'm with Jon O. above. Furthermore, I live in Washington state (Cantwell's state), have contributed to Cantwell's campaigns, and will vote for her without hesitation. Gorton was a total bought-and-paid for sleaze. No one's mentioned this, but Cantwell has been one of the bigger voices defending ANWR. I don't have to agree with a politician on every single position, and I fully agree that she doesn't qualify for the (well-named) "Lieberman exception."
Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP | Jun 25, 2006 2:48:04 AM
I agree, that's a tragedy. But how does helping the GOP take a Senate seat in Washington help the situation?
It doesn't, of course. So where's the plan to ensure "rightwing-lite" or plain power-hungry Democrats who otherwise would use the Bush years as precedent actually undertake to preserve some democracy in America? Read the post I linked upthread. The question is inherently unfair since it begs for a "yes" answer and concommitant action. It's my preferred course.
Failing that happening, where's the third option for those who don't want to vote for more signing statements, domestic undercutting of civil liberties and a hawkish foreign policy?
It seems to me you're well and truly off topic here.
No, I'm talking about the elephant in the room. I'm pointing out that the topic itself is flawed if you haven't considered this issue first.
Posted by: Cernig | Jun 25, 2006 2:48:56 AM
Cantwell is "rightwing lite" on a few high profile issues, but a close look at her voting record shows she's a mainsteam Senate Democrat on most issues.
Posted by: djw | Jun 25, 2006 5:03:41 AM
Well said, Ezra. As a Washington voter, I'm swallowing my disappointment in Cantwell's Iraq position and cloture vote. Her record, by and large, is progressive. On ANWR, her leadership has been heroic. And we need to build toward a Democratic Senate majority.
If you want to express you outrage at the Republican lite phenomenon, send Ned Lamont some support. But keep Cantwell in the Senate.
Posted by: Mickeleh | Jun 25, 2006 6:53:04 AM
Minimum wage increases? Hmmmm..... That's a toughie. I'm not really sure we can trust them to bother. On a few issues, the Democrats are still trustworthy liberals. For instance, I don't doubt that within minutes of the next Democratic President taking office, the FDA will approve Plan B, for instance. And god knows they won't start any more wars. But I don't trust them so much on economic issues, no.
At this point, competence would be nice. The Dems have that going for them. But I'm not holding my breath for huge economic reforms until we actually see economic collapse.
Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Jun 25, 2006 5:06:42 PM
I admit I was kind of setting you up there on the minimum wage question -- it just recently came to a vote in the Senate, or more accurately, it didn't, because the Republican leadership wouldn't let it out of committee. Senate majorities can do that. So Democrats tried some kind of weird move that I don't really understand to force it out of committee for a full vote. They needed 60 for this move to succeed, but they only got 52. Every Democrat voted for the move, plus a few Republicans.
The specific take-home message: Democrats really want to vote on a minimum wage increase.
The broader take-home message: There's a lot to be said for getting a Senate majority, even if it includes DINOs. It'll put all sorts of wacky procedural powers, like the power to bottle up bad legislation in committee, into the hands of liberals.
Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jun 25, 2006 11:32:47 PM
And can you imagine what it'll look like if January 2009 rolls around and we control both chambers of Congress, and John Edwards is president?
Might be enough to make me start going to church.
Posted by: Adam | Jun 25, 2006 11:45:53 PM
And can you imagine what it'll look like if January 2009 rolls around and we control both chambers of Congress, and John Edwards is president? It's time for universal health care and fixing poverty and taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage (which Cantwell supports) and appointing judges who respect women's rights.
Republicans were saying the same thing in anticipation of January 2001. It didn't work out quite the way they hoped.
I'm hoping for divided government, myself. I read that Edwards quote much more favorably than Cernig did, but he's right that Edwards can't speak for anyone but himself. And even in that case there's a difference between what people say and what their record says. I do think that if in some alternate universe the last six years had seen a reversal of fortunes between Democrats and Republicans we would be better off than we are, but not as well off as we would have been if there were the checks and balances that got drilled into our heads in civics class. (And I intentionally say "alternate universe" rather than talking about the future, because if we somehow get unchecked Democratic dominance with the precedents set in the past few terms, it's harder to say.) Power corrupts, after all. Edwards would be better than Bush, but he's only human.
So, yes, fight hard for your Democratic candidates, because there's almost no way we're getting divided government until 2008 at the earliest. But once we get back to a state of semi-normalcy where Democrats don't have to act like it's an inspiring victory when we hold on to seats we already have or lose by a hair in a tough district, I personally will be wishing for each party to have the presidency or at least one house of Congress.
Posted by: Cyrus | Jun 26, 2006 10:55:22 AM
Amanda, at least we won't have any more wars???
Do you know how many Dems voted for regime change in Iran and how many Dem hawks are in favor of a strike there?
For that matter, show me a withdrawal plan for Iraq. As any family planner can tell you, it isn't withdrawal if you leave some in. There are NO plans by either party to provide the Iraqi military with the heavy equipment and support material that would make it a credible deterrent to EXTERNAL aggression (e.g. Syria) at all. That means US troops as a "tripwire" deterrent and a Satrapy of Iraq for the forseeable future.
On the minumum wage - but NO Dem is suggesting closing the highly lucrative loophole that means restaurants can pay their wait staff below min. wage on the assumption that they "make it up in tips" at a time when the avarage American is feeling the pinch (guess what goes first...the tip!).
In general...a majority of Dems voted to confirm Negroponte, Hayden, Gonzales. How can we trust them to rollback the Imperial Presidency with that record unless we put them on the spot about it?
Posted by: Cernig | Jun 26, 2006 11:28:40 AM
"How can we trust them to rollback the Imperial Presidency with that record unless we put them on the spot about it?"
How can we expect them to take Congress if every Dem candidate must be in lockstep with a certain line?
There's a give and take to this, mind. And I find Lieberman to be and example of the kind of Dem we can give away. He's in a solid blue state, he's not just deviating from the party line but actively maligning the party, he's got to go.
Somebody like Cantwell...still in a blue state, not 100% on party line, but not stabbing Dems in the back. To me the question is not whether we have to tolerate people like this, but whether we can do better in a state like Washington. When it comes to people like pro-life Ben Nelson in Nebraska, we gotta realize that in some places it's better to bend than to break.
The question is where and when those places are...
Posted by: Kylroy | Jun 26, 2006 1:05:23 PM
Here's someone else with a different view of Cantwell:
But seriously, you think it is OK to vote for candidates who will NOT work to rollback warrantless spying on citizens, 750 "signing statements", "pay to play" politics, robbing the poor to feed the rich, corporate welfare (the Bankruptcy Bill, anyone?), or the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare justified by Cheney's 1% rule?
This isn't about "lockstep" and it is a strawman argument to suggest so. Nor should it be about how those candidates use social issues to present thier "democratic" credentials while being undemocratic on the basics. It is about bedrock democratic (small d) principles and having the guts to say that those who don't hold them shouldn't hold office.
Something similiar is happening in the UK, where there is the embarrassing spectacle of a wannabe leader moving further to the Right because of his own boss rather than because of the opposition party. Urban Drift blog (h/t Kevin Drum) recently covered it well and some of it sounds ominously applicable to this side of the pond:
"Triangulation means the betrayal of the core party supporters on the left. They are vulnerable because they have no choice but to vote for the party, while of course the party has much to gain by way of votes from the middle in moving rightwards...Would non-voting be a rational response? The theory says no. It predicts that the firm left voter is trapped into continuing to vote for the party as it would be irrational to vote for the other party and hence usher in an abhorrent government...It would be rational not to vote...only if the difference in utility arising from the two parties' agendas in government is smaller than the loss of utility from said party’s failure to implement promises."
The "difference in utility" between the two parties' agendas on these basic issues is looking pretty slim to me.
Posted by: Cernig | Jun 26, 2006 2:03:53 PM
"But seriously, you think it is OK to vote for candidates who will NOT work to rollback warrantless spying on citizens, 750 "signing statements", "pay to play" politics, robbing the poor to feed the rich, corporate welfare (the Bankruptcy Bill, anyone?), or the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare justified by Cheney's 1% rule?"
"The "difference in utility" between the two parties' agendas on these basic issues is looking pretty slim to me."
If you really think the Dems will not be different on corporate lobbying (K street was built specifically to keep them out), warrantless wiretaps, and pre-emptive warfare, we've got dueling strawmen. Do you really think Gore would have invaded Iraq? Do you think Kerry would be avoiding a withdrawal?
The key problem is that with a two-party system - the fringe to abdicate first loses. Lefties abandoned Gore (for what often seemed like good ideas at the time - GWB looked pretty inoffesive on the 2000 campaign trail), the whole country lurched right following GWB and especially 9/11, and only now is the far right even beginning to think about leaving the Repubs hanging. With most elections hinging on a bare majority, the party that loses it's 3-4% extreme first loses elections.
And trying to get your base back? Let me put this in context. Imagine if, glory of glories, Pat Buchanan or some such starts the Conservative party and leeches away 3% of the vote, and Edwards (or whoever) becomes president in 2008. Then, desperate to win them back, the Repubs back full abortion bans and prayer in schools in 2010.
How do you think that strategy would play to the mainstream? Do you think they have any prayer of keeping any of the middle if they are obviously, transparently sucking up to their base? Repubs have mastered a "dog-whistle" style of communicating with their base, but I don't think lefties are foolish enough to fall for that; they want unmistakeable statements of solidarity.
It boils down to the fact that people don't like being held hostage. Leftists don't like feeling trapped into voting Dem, so they don't. Dems don't like feeling trapped into playing to the left, so they don't. Meanwhile, Repubs move the debate further and further to the right, with neither left or near-left willing to compromise.
Posted by: Kylroy | Jun 26, 2006 3:15:39 PM
"If you really think the Dems will not be different on corporate lobbying (K street was built specifically to keep them out), warrantless wiretaps, and pre-emptive warfare, we've got dueling strawmen. Do you really think Gore would have invaded Iraq? Do you think Kerry would be avoiding a withdrawal?"
K Street: The matter is one of shades of grey, not of black and white. The Repubs have never successfully kept the Dems utterly out of K Street's pockets. For example, more than 1,300 registered lobbyists personally gave more than $1.8 million to President Bush from 1998 through March 2004. Senator John Kerry received $520,000 from 442 lobbyists during the same period.
More here: http://www.publicintegrity.org/lobby/
Given a Dem majority the bulk of K Street would go where the power is. There is no indication that most Dems would turn them down.
Warrantless wiretaps: you mean the majority Dem vote for Hayden's confirmation, and Gonzales, was a figment of my imagination?
pre-emptive warfare: ditto the Dem votes for invading Iraq, the Dem votes for Iranian regime change and recent Clinton-era Dem officials calling for a strike against NK...all figments?
Gore: Isn't running. Irrelevant. Now tell me how those who are running would go on, say, an airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Kerry: It isn't withdrawal if you leave some in, ask any Family Planner. Every Dem plan so far published means leaving 50,000 or so US troops in Iraq forever - simply because there is no plan to equip the Iraqi military with tanks, big guns, radars, communications, airlift or even aircraft with so much as a popgun on board. In other words, the stuff a truly sovereign nation's military needs. The Iraqi military is entirely and only an internal security force. This particular bit of smoke and mirrors talk is one of my own pet peeves - there is NO "withdrawal" plan.
So...it's not duelling strawmen, more a battle of actual record versus wishful thinking.
Wishful thinking, to go back to my original point way upthread, is no longer good enough for this country. Ask the damn question. Put the candidates on the spot. THEN decide if they get your backing, not before.
Posted by: Cernig | Jun 26, 2006 3:52:17 PM
An actual record of actions under a Republican majority.
"...you mean the majority Dem vote for Hayden's confirmation, and Gonzales, was a figment of my imagination?"
Do you think a Dem majority would have put those nominations forward in the first place? Amazing what controlling the chambers of Congress lets you do.
"Wishful thinking, to go back to my original point way upthread, is no longer good enough for this country. Ask the damn question. Put the candidates on the spot. THEN decide if they get your backing, not before."
And if the candidates dance around the question, as all politicians are wont to do...sit by and let the Rs win another election? As Petey said:
If you're more interested in speaking truth to power and having a permanent minority party that closely reflects your views act as your debating society, than it won't be a priority for you.
Challenge rotten incumbents in primaries, but don't pretend that not voting for the lesser of two evils is doing a favor for anything but your own unblemished conscience.
Posted by: Kylroy | Jun 26, 2006 6:05:07 PM
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