"If you want to WIN, you have to pay attention to the real heartbeat. Later, when you win, you get to do what is right. It's the way it is."
The anonymous reader obviously means well. I give credit to this reader for at least being interested in eventually having politicians "do what is right". But, I can't agree with what the reader says.
This argument is a condensed version of a political argument I've seen far too many times. It's the "saving our ammunition" argument.
1. A Democratic candidate runs for office, and explains that he or she must lean toward the ideological right and reject the Democratic base in order to win, but suggests to voters that, after the election, of course he or she will do what is right and vote like a good Democrat. We'll save our ammunition until after the election, so that we can get good things done.
2. The candidate wins, goes to Congress, and then explains that, as a junior member of Congress, it's important for the district that he or she gain influence by getting a position on an influential committee. In order to do that, he or she will have to be a dutiful junior member, and vote as he or she is told to vote by party leadership, even if it means voting for something like the invasion of Iraq. Later, after he or she gets that seat on that committee, or maybe, well, the seat as chair of that committee, he or she will do what is right and vote according to conscience. We'll save our ammunition until after getting that position, and then we can get good things done.
3. After a few terms, the politician climbs to the position of chair of a powerful committee. But, the politician explains, it's important to give some strategic votes in favor of Republican policies, and wrestle junior members into voting that way too. After all, an election is coming up, and we wouldn't want to keep the Republican majority, would we? No, of course not, so it's important for Democrats to grab the loyalty of Republican voters by suppporting Republican legislation. We'll save our ammunition to triangulate and surprise those Republicans by not opposing them!
4. The elections go on and on and on... Sometimes the Democrats are in the majority, and sometimes they're not, but in the House, with elections every two years, the excuse of kicking the progressive base in the teeth in order to try to attract Republican voters is always there to be used. The funny thing, though, is that the Democrats never really save up any extra political ammunition, because they're constantly directing their fire at their own progressive base instead of at the Republicans.
Think back to the key votes of the last six years and you'll see the impact of this reflection. Democrats voting along with Republicans for tax cuts for the rich, for the invasion of Iraq, for laws to help President Bush spy on American, for laws that undermine rights as basic as habeas corpus, for right wing judges on many courts from the Supreme Court on down.
There have been courageous Democrats in Congress to counter the cowardly Democrats, but the cowardly Democrats have left voters feeling that the Democratic Party as a whole doesn't stand for much other than the desire to get back into power. The polls show pretty clearly that Democrats are not picking up all the approval that has been lost by the Republicans. There's a lingering distrust that Democrats will say whatever it takes, and, as a whole lack a moral compass.
Looking at the incoherent whole of the Democratic Party, one can easily miss little spots of individual coherence, but then again, few voters exercise that kind of focus. The one chance we have for increased focus is from our small district's candidate - if the candidate speaks clearly.
Michael Arcuri's problem as a candidate has been a combination of terseness and ambiguity. Arcuri has made some good starts at statements on some important issues, but he's not extended those starts to completion. It's difficult to know exactly where Arcuri stands on most issues, and his brief statements seem designed to create that fuzzy impression.
As a result, I have some hope that a Congressman Arcuri could cast some good votes in Congress, but that hope is tempered with a great deal of skepticism. Arcuri's fuzziness, his infrequent communication with the public, and his occasional jabs at the progressive base of the party elicit reflections on the stark failure of the Democrats in Congress over the last few years to act as a genuine opposition party.
Some people believe that the Democratic Party is just fine the way it is. I'm not one of them, and it worries me that we have seen no signs that Michael Arcuri will stand for anything much on his own. Arcuri seems devoted to following the party line, whatever that is.
It would be nice if the 24th District could be represented by a leader instead of a foot soldier.