Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Will a Right-Leaning Candidate Do The Right Thing Later?

Yesterday, an anonymous reader left a comment here trying to clue me in to the way politics really works. Obviously annoyed at my preferential devotion to ideals rather than candidates, the reader wrote,
"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.


Curious said...

To give Mike a little credit, at least he can learn from the people, as shown by his rapid movement from his posted feelings on Iraq (see his website) to "we can be out in a year" to the more recent "we must be out in six months" or from a bland and meaningless health care stance to at least supporting Citizen Action's model (though not single payer). I think the more he moves around the district, the more he will learn that the "moderate" stance is perhaps a bit to the left of where he thought it was. And the only reason any of the candidates has talked about (or around) gay marriage is because it was on a Utica Observer Dispatch questionnaire. It's not a real hot issue in the 24th, I think.

Anonymous said...

It's not surprising the Utica OD would put that on their questionnaire. They are so far to the right they are nearly off the earth. Besides the fact that the publisher is the daughter in law of the late canonized Senator Donovan, it's a Vatican newspaper half the time. You can read all about Catholic things there. They would LOVE to set fire to that issue, the pond scum that they are. They want democrats to go down and they will help make it happen any way they can. They can't even pretend to be objective.

Jeff Parker said...

You got that right. Boehlert was the king of this. He would be a diehard Conservative when he had a primary, then the world's best moderate as soon as he won. I never felt he could be trusted to vote the right way on anything, and from my standpoint he rarely did. I sure hope Mike will be a different kind of representitive.

24 Independent said...

Well, I don't really know the spirit in which that message was intended, but from what I know of the history of the Liberal Party in New York, it never really tried to be its own thing, but worked like the Working Families Party does now.

I'm not on the County Democratic Committee here because I've only been in Tompkins County for a year and a few months. I've been asked to join my town's Democratic Committee, but I haven't decided whether to join.

Go back in history, and you'll see why the Democrats in Congress really lost power: It wasn't because they were too liberal. It was because of massive corruption scandals.

I'd like for you to explain how the Democrats in Congress before 1994 were too liberal. Please. Name a policy they had that was too liberal. I can't think of one.

I belong in the Democratic Party if I want to be there. When I was much younger, I looked at the Green Party for a while, and I can tell you that they're not for me. The Liberal Party in New York really doesn't exist anymore, and Working Families is not for me, as I'm self-employed, and not a part of the organized labor scene, and don't want to be.

No, I'll stick around here in the Democrats, thank you. There are too few independent voices in the Party now. It's no time for me to leave.

I'm not ready to surrender the Democratic Party to become the center right party to the Republicans' right wing. We need a progressive alternative that works, and if we can't get the Democratic Party to be that, we can at least be a constantly nagging conscience that prevents the Party from going full tilt into the Bob Casey, Joe Lieberman abysss the leadership seems so hungry for these days.

You don't make any progress by quitting.

I could tell you to go join the Republicans if you're not willing to stick up for progressive policies as a Democrat should...

...but that might be a little bit rude, wouldn't it? So, take my restraint from doing so in the spirit that it is intended.