Targeting Democratics: A Refutation -- I'm going to be putting up a few political posts. It's been awhile since I used this blog space to comment outside of sports. While there have been a number of things I've wanted to write about, I will start with the most recent. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a front-page story about how the liberal blogosphere has made Rep. Ellen Tauscher its "next target." According to the Post, liberal bloggers, with Markos (owner of the DailyKos) Moulitsas Zúniga at the forefront, have put Rep. Tauscher in their fearsome crosshairs. The article notes that the Democratic political establishment is taking this development seriously, and is rallying around Tauscher. On the DailyKos site, a writer who calls herself McJoan posted a story yesterday, detailing the record, justifying the attention being focused on Tauscher. McJoan's posted refutation described the article as "a long lamentation for poor, embattled Ellen Tauscher."
I think the article was more balanced than McJoan allows. However, if possible, I would like to avoid a debate about the merits of Tauscher’s record, from the liberal/progressive perspective. To me, the question isn’t whether I or anyone else is completely satisfied with Tauscher. Instead, I would like to offer some food for thought about the strategy involved when liberal bloggers target Democratic elected representatives like Tauscher.
As I said above, I believe the Washington Post article was fairly balanced. The story does suggest that Tauscher is running scared, and is moving to the left in response to attacks from her left-wing critics. Moreover, the article does not portray Markos as a big, bad wolf. He is described as a "savvy strategist," and he is given the space to explain his logic.
According to the Post, Markos "has no problem supporting conservative Democrats in conservative districts, such as new Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.). But he sees no need to tolerate a DLC type in Tauscher's district, where Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) received 58 percent of the presidential vote in 2004. And he said that primaries are the only way to force incumbents with safe seats to pay attention to constituents."
Finally, the article claims that Kos isn't necessarily demanding Tauscher's head on a platter. "Kos can imagine a day when Tauscher still holds her seat but is no longer distasteful to the left. 'That's what victory would look like -- a more responsive representative,' he said."
Certainly, I have no quibble with desiring a more progressive Congress. As an ideal, this is what we should all work towards...and Kos' distinction makes some sense. Where the constituents in a district would tolerate, even endorse, more liberal representation, we should encourage that. Kos is correct that it is counter-productive, unfair, even self-defeating to demand progressive politics from Democratic candidates running in more conservative districts. So, we must respect the more conservative tendencies of elected Democrats like Heath Shuler, because their seats are crucial to holding on to the majority.
In the Post article, Markos sounds entirely reasonable, hoping for Rep. Tauscher to be more responsive to the party faithful. By and large, though, the article does present a movement that is a bit power-mad, going around targeting folks who have strong voting records on the liberal agenda, simply because they aren't strident enough on Iraq. As Tauscher points out, she doesn't have the luxury of pretending she can start governing in January '09. Since I joined this site (last July, I think), I've been alarmed at the stridency in attacking strong Democrats. As I discussed above, I do understand Markos' logic in laying off those in conservative districts, and saving his ire for those he sees as more conservative than their districts. I do think, though, that this takes the "all politics is local" maxim to a dangerous extreme, without consideration for the national consequences of that approach.
If the Democratic Party itself becomes too extreme, it will leave the more moderate elements twisting in the wind. More to the point, if the liberal blogosphere becomes the new special interest group dominating the Democratic agenda by punishing independence and dissent, we will have become the left-wing cognate of the Christian Coalition. As the American people have turned on the GOP nationally for their radical conservative agenda, a similar process could doom the new Democratic majority. It might sound nice to say you're not going to attack the Heath Shulers of the Party, but if we turn off the voters in their districts to the idea of voting for Democrats, we're still cutting off those moderate members...at the knees.
We won't lose the more progressive Democrats in the safe districts. After the rout last November, those conservative Republicans from "safe" conservative districts are still in office. By and large, it's the ones that were from more moderate districts that were drowned in the Democratic wave. Sure, there were a few candidates in red states/districts, like Conrad Burns, who were either unbelievably stupid or patently corrupt, and got the old "throw da bums out" heave-ho. Even that effect would have been more limited if people hadn't been turned off to the GOP and its pandering to the radicals who represented the party's activist core. The same thing could happen, in relatively short order, to the Democratic majority, if we try to enforce a too strict ideological orthodoxy.
I'm not really even talking about policies here, so much as image, and public perception. I think we can convince the American people to support a progressive agenda. If, however, we create the impression that the Democratic Party is being held hostage to the whims of a relatively small, but influential cadre of bloggers on the far left of the Party, the new Democratic majority probably won't last even as long as the Republican majority did.
Markos considers the apparent leftward shift by Jane Harmon as a personal political success story, and he hopes for similar success in influencing Tauscher. McJoan agrees, saying that would be a victory. I wonder how many of these successes we can stand before we shoot ourselves in the foot. Tauscher isn't another Lieberman. Her voting record is solidly liberal on most issues. If we target her, and those like her, for their independence on the other issues, we risk a real backlash.
We have an agenda that we want to push, and that's a good thing. Yet, we cannot afford to think only about the next two years. To my way of thinking, we should be focused on convincing the American people that we are better than the Republicans, and we will govern better, in every way. Part of that will entail understanding that our leaders must represent the American people, with a national agenda -- not within separate fiefdoms, some of which we rule tyrannically, simply because we can. That way is the path the Republican majority followed to its ultimate self-destruction. It will not build a lasting majority.
If the netroots show they run the Party and control the agenda in the way the Christian Coalition has done within the GOP, the voters will turn away -- the swing voters will swing the other way. To someone who spent his first 30 years living in a country where the Democrats controlled the Congress (except for a few years in the Senate), and much of the political agenda, I'm disturbed at the thought that the new Democratic majority might not last even the dozen years that the Republicans had in power.