Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Aftermath of the Conor Lamb election

I wrote prior to Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania about how establishment Democrats could be expected to draw the "lesson" from either a win or a loss there along the lines of, well, what corporate Democrats always want: candidates beholden to wealthy donors and who hold "Blue Dog" (i.e., Republcican) positions on guns proliferation, abortion rights, the military budget, and corporate deregulation.

One way to look at this is to use a metaphor along these lines: the progressive Dems are the left/center left party, corporate Dems are the conservative party, and the Republicans are the raging reactionary Trump party.

That's only a metaphor, though, because the American electoral system with winner-takes-all districts creates a very strong incentive for a two-party system, and that's what we have. Despite the dissonance within the Republican Party over Trump's erratic foreign policy style and his protectionist rhetoric, there is remarkable uniformity over major issues like the military budget, massive tax cuts for the wealthiest, and reckless disregard for international agreements and treaty commitments.

It's worth stressing here that people generally assume that Barack Obama was a "left" Democrat. Republicans, of course, generally profess to see no difference between Democrats, Bolsheviks, and tribes of cannibals in a Tarzan movie. But Obama also repeatedly called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of a bipartisan "Grand Bargain" that he apparently wanted intensely. So Conor Lamb in his Pennsylvania race was to the left of Obama on Social Security and Medicare.

The two wings of the Democratic Party have more substantive differences. I'd have to bracket military policy here, though. The Democrats have spent so long trying to reassure everyone they are "tough on defense" that few of them are willing to criticize even a world-historical boondoggle like the "missile defense" corporate-welfare program. They mostly aren't willing to assert Congressional war powers under the Constitution in a meaningful way. There are exceptions. Sanders, Lee and Murphy Introduce Yemen War Powers Resolution 02/28/2018:

And even there, only one of those three Senators is elected as a Democrat! Although, of course, Bernie Sanders caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee - who represents my Congressional district - has obviously been a leader in this regard, challenging bad war policies and criticizing intelligence agency abuses:

But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Joe Manchin, even Diane Feinstein are generally firmly in the Bipartisan consensus in favor of constantly supporting the military-industrial complex and pretty much anything the Intelligence Community wants to do.

Here is the corporate Democratic Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Tom Perez on the Conor Lamb election, DNC Chair: 'Republicans Are Understandably Quaking In Their Boots' Velshi & Ruhle/MSNBC. He gives the safe, poll-tested answers in this interview withStephanie Ruhle, the kind that are guaranteed to make the listeners eyes glaze over in 60 seconds time:

Perez says that Lamb was "talking about" various issues including "pension security." Is it really too much to expect the DNC chair to uses a moment like that to say that Lamb campaigned against the cuts that Republicans will make to Social Security and Medicare unless we stop them? Apparently, it would be. But he rolled along with Ruhle in chatting about the horse race. Also, Tom, it probably not the best choice to say that African-American voters in Doug Jones' Alabama Senate race were the "linchpin" of the Democrats' success. I'm just sayin'.

Ruhle also picks up the Republican/corporate Dem theme that ludicrously says that Conor Lamb ran as a Republican. Ed Kilgore takes down the Republican spin in No Clear Winner Yet in Pennsylvania Special Election, But the GOP Is the Clear Loser New York 03/14/2018:
Yes, this is a special election; some might imagine that in a regular election, such as the one in November, more Republican voters will show up. The problem with that hypothesis is that turnout today was at full midterm levels. There’s no reason to think turnout patterns in November will be more favorable for the GOP, particularly given the massive Trump administration attention that this district got during this contest.

Another Republican rationalization we have already heard from the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito is that Conor Lamb is not a real Democrat (because he was nominated by a convention and didn’t have to win the votes of left-bent primary voters), and thus his performance does not show how real Democrats will do in November. But, by any standard, Saccone is a real Republican who ran more than ten points behind the normal GOP vote in PA-18. And Lamb was lifted to parity with Saccone by the very same labor movement — battered and diminished as it is — that will be fighting for Democrats in swing districts all over the country. Dismiss labor, dismiss energized rank-and-file Democrats, and dismiss the ability of the Donkey Party to find suitable candidates like Lamb, and you’re well on the way to underestimating the likelihood of a Democratic wave in November. [my emphasis]
Others suggested better lessons for the Democrats to draw from the experience:

Pierce expounded on the implications in his distinctive style (Conor Lamb's Victory Matters, and Paul Ryan Should Be Scared Esquire Politics Blog 03/14/2018):
There will be some attempt now to minimize what the voters in that district did on Tuesday night. Rick Saccone was a dullard of a candidate. (True.) Conor Lamb is personally going to run Nancy Pelosi out of national politics, so he’s not really a Democratic candidate. (Please to be giving me a break.) It’s a long way until November and Things Can Still Happen. (This theory depends vitally on the president* suddenly becoming Up To The Job. Yeah, right.) This is whistling very loudly past a very large graveyard. This was a Republican district. It was built to be a Republican district in perpetuity, which is why its days are numbered right now.

In the latter days of the campaign, the Republicans abandoned their economic pitch that was based on the president*’s ability to convince congressional Republicans to pass a massive plutocrat’s wet dream of a tax cut. This was supposed to be the magic bullet in this election. Instead, Saccone decided to let the traditional culture-war boogeypersons out of the closet.

On Monday, for example, Conor Lamb was a wild-eyed "libtard" who was going to let undocumented immigrant doctors perform abortions on your 10-year-old daughter in the middle of a mass gay wedding in Greene County. On Wednesday, according to those same Republicans, Conor Lamb was basically Mark Meadows in Democratic drag. Are the Republicans pretty well and truly fcked up as a party right now? Signs point to “Yes.”

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