All Along The Watchtower

August 31, 2009

Purge The ‘Corporate-owned’ Centrist Democrats?

August has historically been the slow season in Washington politics.  It used to be a time when pols would make their way back to their home districts to visit with their constituents via uneventful Town Hall Meetings for a about a week before taking in a few weeks of vacation time with their families.  The dog days of August made journalists left behind in D.C. feeling they could sacrifice their first born for a truly newsworthy nugget of information.

So much for uneventful Town Hall Meetings.  Legislators have heard an earful, and it’s all due to that one subject that has been baffling Democrats since the New Deal–universal health care.  Many of them will return to Washington over the next week with the fear of God or worse–the threat of losing their precious gravy train in the Game of Life–their seats in the United States Congress.

Oh, we’ve all heard them say how hard they work and how little in compensation they’re paid compared to other high powered jobs.  For a goodly number of them, this is true.  Don’t be fooled, though.  The prestige of being a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative is worth every committee meeting, late night session, fund raising event, press availability, and, yes, Town Hall Meeting, no matter how eventful.

Those feeling the most heat are the so-called Blue Dog Democrats from both Houses.  They are being pressured by their constituents through the Astroturf Movement of one of their largest benefactors–the health care industry.  It would be nice if these members had the courage, moral conviction, safety of reelection, and, not to mention, wit of Barney Frank, whose retort to a Lyndon LaRouche zombie was the most entertaining moment of the summer recess.

Now, however, come the dangerously naive calls from’s Glenn Greenwald and The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait to purge the centrists in the Senate by challenging them in primaries with more liberal opponents, even at the expense of losing seats and, possibly, Democratic control of the Senate.  Where have these two been?  They truly believe only centrists in the Democratic Party are indebted to corporate interests?  Do they really believe all of the nearly $750 million raised by President Obama during the ’08 campaign came from the “little folks?”

Which centrists, up for reelection in 2010, do Greenwald and Chait believe they can pick off with the hope of getting health care reform done in 2011 or 2012?  Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas?  Purge her with a more liberal Dem and they’ll get a Republican for sure.  Evan Bayh of Indiana, the leader of the centrists?  One way or another, he won’t be defeated by any Democrat in Indiana.  Byron Dorgan of North Dakota?  See Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.  And, that about does it for the centrists in 2010.

In 2012, only three Royal Blue States have centrists up for reelection, California, New York, and Delaware, where Tom Carper will probably give way to current attorney general and Iraqi War veteran Beau Biden, son of the Vice President.  In New York, Senator Kristen Gillibrand supports a public option on health care reform, admittedly after being pushed from the left by potential opponent Jon Cooper.  One wonders if her other more centrist positions will suffice in Greenwald and Chait’s world.  That leaves Dianne Feinstein in California.

So, tell me Mssrs. Greenwald and Chait:  How long do you expect this purge to take?  How long can we wait for health care reform?

So, at most, you remove one or two centrists over the next two election cycles.  I can feel moderate Democrats quaking in their shoes over this plan.  Connecticut was easy.  Oh, I forgot.  It really wasn’t that easy, was it?  You see, there really aren’t enough royal blue states with centrists to pull this off, and the purple states like their centrist Democrats.

By the by, where have we heard all of this before?  Now I remember.  That’s exactly where the Republican Party stands–all wing nuts with no bolts.

It is more realistic to concentrate on the purple states with current Republican Senators.  For instance, Chuck (We Won’t Kill Grandma) Grassley in Iowa.  It’s too bad Tom Vilsack isn’t standing for that election, but how can a state like Iowa continue to return Grassley to the Senate?  With liberal Dem Tom Harkin holding the other seat, Iowa must be the most schizophrenic state in the union.

Frankly, if Greenwald and Chait somehow get their way, we could hardly afford a decade or two of legislative wilderness or deadlock to make the case for health-care reform while costs continue to rise and bankrupt the nation. And, God forbid, we have to deal with a Republican White House and Congress–a travesty that will result, once again, in the easy to vote for Republican responses to everything: Cut Taxes! And, Unfunded Mandates For All! (i.e. No Child Left Behind, Medicare Drug Benefits, and, an oldie but a goody, Unnecessary, Off-Budget Wars.  You know, just to make us feel patriotic. I think Cuba may be ripe for the taking er, or, retaking!)

If FDR was unable to pass Universal Health Care during the New Deal era, why would President Obama believe he could pass a substantive bill within the first several months of his term, especially with no coherent leadership from his end of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Leadership not only includes actual legislation and a plan to pass it but a plan to preempt what should have been anticipated nonsense coming from the right. I guess everyone was asleep when Bill Clinton was so successful in his health-care reform efforts. Gee, fellas, I don’t know where the country would be without HillaryCare.

The 8 month absence and unfortunate death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has truly left a void of leadership on this issue in the Senate.  It’s almost as if the White House had been waiting to hear for miraculous news from Hyannis Port.  But, alas, no.  The White House had been very aware of the Senator’s prognosis and unlikely return to lead this effort.  That is exactly why it has been so frustrating.  If the president doesn’t provide the leadership, he can only blame himself.  Making centrist Democrats the scapegoats to this problem is no solution.

Perhaps Senator Kennedy’s death and a delay in replacing him will give everyone pause.  Time can only help people reexamine the issue more clearly while the loonies on the right begin to turn blue in the face with their unsubstantiated and nonsensical diatribes.  In the end, a sensible compromise may have to be enacted.  Compromise is, after all, the true art of politics.  Ted Kennedy learned that lesson the hard way.  One of his biggest regrets may have been his failure to compromise with President Nixon on this very issue, but, like the Republicans today, Democrats didn’t want to give Nixon a victory heading into the 1972 election.

Many centrist Democrats, Republicans, and Independents supported Obama in ’08. I fear the arrogance, amnesia, and myopic vision of the left will again shine a light on their numbers.

Meanwhile, the nation waits while the White House continues to abdicate its responsibilities.



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