The Backlash Against Anti-Reform Democrats Is Unleashed
While the media focused it’s attention on the victory of the Tea Party favorite Rand Paul (son of Ron Paul) in Kentucky, the strong performance of progressive candidates in the recent Democratic primaries went largely ignored. The mandate for change and reform in the 2008 election had been largely sidetracked by staunch conservative resistance and obstruction in Congress, and there is a public backlash growing against Democratic incumbents who have watered down legislation.
In the Pennsylvania US Senate Democratic primary, the center-right incumbent was Arlen Specter, a longtime Republican who recently abandoned the sinking Republican Party, and became a Democrat. Despite having the backing of the Obama administration, he was soundly defeated by the progressive candidate Joe Sestak 54% to 46%. This victory came in spite of pressure by the Democratic Leadership Council attempting to remove Sestak from the race by offering him a cabinet post in the executive branch.
In Arkansas, the conservative Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln failed to win the first primary ballot, and her progressive opponent Bill Halter nearly managed to gain a majority of votes. The end result was 44% for Lincoln, 42.5% for Halter, forcing a runoff vote on June 8th. Arkansas businessman D.C. Morrison, came in a distant third place, getting 13.5%. Recently, Halter has pulled ahead of Lincoln in a Research 2000 poll.
Leigh Ann Caldwell of News Junkie Post reports that despite being heavily outmatched in terms of campaign finance, the challengers have faired extremely well:
In Pennsylvania‘s Senate race, party-backed Arlen Specter out raised competitor Joe Sestak 5 to 1.
Arlen Specter: $15.4 million
Joe Sestak: $3.4 million
In Arkansas’ Senate primary, two term Senator Blanche Lincoln is forced into a run off against union and progressive backed Bill Halter.
Blanche Lincoln: $8.7 million
Bill Halter: raised $2.6 million.
Much of the money in the incumbents war chests have unfortunately come from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and organization devoted to electing as many Democrats into the US Congress as possible, despite their political ideology or devotion to strong reform. Progressive organizations such as the Bold Progressives (also known as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee or PCCC), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and Moveon.org worked hard to raise funds for reform minded challengers, although they were not able to raise nearly the sum that the party establishment and corporate backers were for the incumbents.
The candidate with the most money nearly always prevails in elections. Overcoming these stark fundraising contrasts, the progressive challengers have either won or forced runoffs in many races.
Most analysts in the main stream media repeat the corporate backed Tea Party talking points that this is a result of strong anti-government and anti-incumbent trends in voters today. This over simplification falls into the narrative trap designed by conservative think tanks to foster an atmosphere of resentment towards the very personalities and policies that are attempting to reform the failed conservative policies of the last 30 years. This shifty slight of hand worked well for the Republicans in 1994, and derailed some fairly ambitious social reforms by stocking Congress with conservative Republicans who for the most part became career politicians and stayed in office until the paradigm shift that led to strong Democratic and progressive changes in 2006 and 2008. The conservative counter revolution in 2010 is using nearly the identical playbook as in 1994, including a new Contract on America.
Although there have been a large number of incumbents in both parties who have chosen not to seek reelection (26 Republicans retiring vs 20 Democrats), this is not merely a result of a general anti-Washington sentiment, but two distinct and very divergent political trends. The first are Tea Party ultra-conservatives who are bitter about losing the 2008 election and the second, largely ignored group are pro-reform progressives seeking to enact and strengthen the change promised in the 2008 election. These are separate currents, and grouping them is an irresponsible and inaccurate oversimplification by the main stream media.
For instance, in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District to replace the late John Murtha (a center-right war hawk Democrat), conservative Republican Tim Burns failed in what was considered to be a sure win, despite raising 33% more than the Democratic winner Mark Critz (45% to 53%). The most interesting aspect of this race was that this was the only district in the country to switch from blue to red in the presidential election in 2008.
Campaign Money Raised:
Tim Burns: $1 million
Mark Critz: $750,000
A head to head matchup of these two groups could certainly be interesting. In December 2009, the Tea Party outsider managed to lose a district in northern New York (23rd district) that had not been represented by a Democrat since the Civil War. There is speculation that Tea Party candidates could potentially cost the Republican Party nine competitive seats in the Senate this year, and a recent poll discovered that the American public would prefer that Congress remain in Democratic hands.
Regardless of hypothetical Tea Party vs. progressive matchups this fall, the reason there is a progressive backlash against some Democratic incumbents is because the pace and gravity of reforms that have taken place over the last 16 months has not been nearly satisfactory. The US House has faired far better in passing strong changes, including a climate bill, financial reform, and a health care bill with a public health insurance option. However, in order to become law, these reforms have always been bogged down, severely weakened, or defeated in the US Senate, where 10% of the US population from the least populated 20 states can literally kill any reform they want to thanks to the abuse of the filibuster.
Until the election of the Republican Scott Brown in senate seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, the Democrats held 58 seats and had 2 independents who caucused with them, effectively giving the party a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes. Every piece of strong reform forwarded to the US Senate from the US House fell victim to the whims of a few conservative Democrats and Joe Lieberman.
There is no better example of this than the fight to reform the failed health care system in America. A reasonably strong reform bill passed by the House that included a weak, narrow public option (a far cry from the ideal reform that would have included a single-payer system or at least a strong, robust public option that people could sign up for) was sent to the Senate. Here, the reform effort was bottled up mainly in two committees whose members received $100 million in corporate campaign donations from vested industries opposing the profiteering inherent to the current system. In particular, members of five committees working on health care reform legislation received $187.1 million in campaign contributions over their career from health and insurance interests, and elected officials who voted against health reform legislation received 65% more in contributions from insurance corporations than officials who voted for reform.
In most democracies in the world, this would be called corruption. Now thanks the unconstitutional ‘Citizens United’ ruling by a Supreme Court stocked with ultra-conservative activist judges, corporations can spend unlimited sums on political campaigns, further eroding the strength of our American democracy.
Conservative Democrats like Blanche Lincoln who were raking in these campaign donations sided with the obstructionist Republicans to block or remove the strongest measures of reform. Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who was instrumental in the progressive political revival, made the prediction that the failure to include a strong, robust public option in health care reform would lead to a huge public backlash in 2010. Michael Moore also promised that any Democrats who sided with corporations over reform would face challenges this spring, and both prophecies have come true.
While the main stream corporate media continues to focus on the Tea Party narrative that incumbents are somehow in trouble because of reform efforts, the reality remains that an equal number of anti-reform conservatives are in deep trouble in the 2010 midterms in both parties. The change America was promised in 2008 has not even begun to happen, and those anti-reformers seeking to double down on the failed policies of the past are starting to feel the heat.