Sunday, September 27, 2009

Article Of The Week

Don't go to salon.com and read David Sirota's "Obama crushes Democratic dissent." Not that Salon isn't worth reading regularly and certainly not that Sirota's piece isn't worth reading. It's only that he links to it in his 9/27/09 post, "Denver Post: Obama Aide Messina Caught trying to But Off" Primary Challenger, on openleft.com. And then you can get two for one.

In Salon, Sirota notes the effort of the Obama administration to block primary challenges to: New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton's replacement; Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who became a Democrat when he realized he would not survive a primary challenge as a Republican; and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, supporter of a public option now that he faces a primary challenge from the left. Sirota recognizes

this Colorado example is a replica of that now-famous Illinois contest in 2004. Bennet, like one of Obama's toughest opponents back then, is a millionaire who has never run for public office. And as in 2004, that millionaire is being propped up by the establishment against an Obama-esque state legislator who has oodles of experience and grass-roots support. The hypocrisy, of course, is that Obama is now backing the tycoon instead of his former self.

No doubt, if I devoted this column to any of that history, presidential aides would respond (if at all) by saying Obama is only aiming to preserve Democratic Party strength. And then I would publish an even easier-to-write follow-up reminding those aides that last year, Obama said primaries like his 2008 presidential campaign have helped the Democratic Party because they have "engaged and involved people like never before."


But Sirota sees at work something more serious and damaging than standard hypocrisy:

At a moment when Obama's agenda is acutely threatened by congressional Democratic recalcitrance, the president's anti-primary posture tells all Democratic incumbents he will defend them, regardless of their position on issues. And that message blunts Obama's most powerful instrument of legislative leverage: fear of contested elections.

Without vigorous primaries forcing Democratic legislators to face Democratic voters, those legislators feel free to defy the president's Democratic agenda. Alternately, with primaries, Democratic lawmakers typically compete to show who is more committed to the Democratic agenda. As two examples, Sens. Specter and Bennet went from mealy-mouthed equivocation to strong support of the public healthcare option immediately after opponents announced primary challenges to them.

Hence, in trying to prevent or weaken primaries against incumbents, Obama is not merely signaling a royalist's disdain for local democracy. He is exposing a corrupted pol's willingness to prioritize country club etiquette over policy results. If his agenda ends up being killed, that cynical choice will be a key cause of death.


The Denver Post (to which Sirota links from the openleft post) suggests that "Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's deputy chief of staff and a storied fixer in the White House political shop" dangled the possibility of a job in the administration to Andrew Romanoff, when rumors began that the latter was considering a primary challenge to Bennet. Romanoff reportedly declined, announced his candidacy, and the following day Obama endorsed Bennet.

Sirota accurately, if grammatically awkwardly, summarizes this as "the power-worshiping, incumbent-protecting country-club etiquette at work" and identifies the main culprit as "President Emanuel" (are the quote marks really necessary?). Sirota makes no excuses for the guy who technically is Emanuel's boss: Emanuel would not be throwing his weight around if it did not meet with Mr. Obama's approval, in a Washington version of good cop- bad cop. Which brings to mind a statement Howard Dean recently made at an appearance in Philadelphia, Pa. The physician and former governor, expressing optimism that meaningful bill health care reform will emerge from Congress, assured the sympathetic audience "Barack Obama is from Chicago." Unfortunately, Rahm Emanuel is from Chicago. Barack Obama is from Hawaii.

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