Monday, October 17, 2005

Partisan War Syndrome

David Sirota writes an article on "partisan war syndrome" in which he attempts to identify the characteristics of a grassroot pathology that may be hurting the progressive movement.

Much of what Sirota has to say is well worth reading and considering. He identifies the tendency for the Democratic party to adjust the substance of it's message to the polls, rather than leading the polls. But I think he mixes apples and oranges when he includes the recent Paul Hackett "situation" into the mix of examples of partisan war syndrome, specific into the symptom he calls "delirium":
How does the Brown-Hackett controversy show us this? Because nobody - not even the critics - disputes that Brown has been one of the most effective, successful, team playing, outspoken and articulate heroes for the progressive ideological movement in Congress for more than a decade, while Hackett has no voting record on any issue at all.
The problem with Sherrod Brown entering the race never was his qualifications. It was the fact that Brown said no when invited to the race. Hackett was then asked and said yes.

As far as qualifications, this is nonsense. Resume's are nice, but certainly not the only criteria in chosing a candidate. That's classic Democratic political consultant nonsense, as Bush's candidacy so aptly has shown. And isn't Sirota engaging in a little partisan "delirium" in attacking Hackett's qualifications?
Even on his signature issue, Iraq, Hackett never supported withdrawing troops.
This is untrue. Hackett has changed his position since the House campaign. As the situation in Iraq has further deteriorated, Hackett has now advocated removing the troops.
An activist base motivated by ideology would have rejoiced that one of their ideological brethren, Brown, was running for higher office, especially against someone with so little record.
As John Kerry so effectively demonstrated, having a "record" is not always a good thing.
Remember the 2002 Pennsylvania Republican primary? The right-wing’s ideological base cheered when archconservative Pat Toomey decided to challenge moderate Sen. Arlen Specter.
This would be a fine comparison if Hackett were as ideological as Toomey was. If you put Brown and Hackett in the above comparison, who plays Toomey? Doesn't Sirota claim that Hackett is actually fairly conservative on the war? Besides, it's my sense that the backing from Hackett comes less from his ideological stance than his willingness to take a stand, confronting Republicans. And in the Brown-Hackett controversy, there is no incumbent being challenged within the party.
Instead, parts of the progressive base did the opposite, attacking the ideological champion; calling him “untrustworthy” for his tactical decision despite his years of steadfast trustworthiness casting the tough progressive votes; and venerating the other candidate with no ideology or voting record to speak of but whose “profile” they liked. Even Mother Jones magazine published an article on its Web site lamenting the fact that Brown’s candidacy meant Democrats were supposedly “shooting down” Hackett. The magazine, one of the supposed progressive ideological lions, then pumped up Hackett attacking Brown as a “very liberal Democrat” - as if its base readership should think that was a strike against him.
Let's see. Brown is begged to run for office and declines because the prevailing winds of running against DeWine are headwinds. Then another high profile candidate, Hackett, accepts the challenge (despite the headwinds) of running against an incumbant Republican in a swing state, investing a significant amount of money in the campaign. Then, with BushCo tanking in the polls and the winds changing, Brown opportunistically changes his mind and wants to run. Untrustworthy? You decide.

What Sirota has missed in this entire embroglio is the meta message that is sent by Brown. Brown's behavior is precisely what pisses off progressives like me...opportunistically pursuing politics rather than taking firm stands. The voting populace sees that (and the GOP trumpets it) and the image of wimpy Democrats is reinforced.

Also, Sirota engages in a favorite tactic of the GOP, eitherorism. I have little doubt that Brown is a fine representative of the progressive movement. He likely has taken tough stands and been a candidate that anyone on the progressive side could back. But does that mean that Hackett is not a good candidate?

Sirota may not like it, but when Brown crawfished Hackett and his supporters were faced with a choice. Hackett took some time to decide, pondering whether to instigate a primary challenge to a fellow Democrat. Hackett supporters immediately initiated the Democratic primary campaign. And in that campaign, Hackett painting Brown as more liberal may be the strategy. What would Sirota have Hackett do when running a campaign in Ohio against DeWine?

I think this is a case where David Sirota's loyalty to Sherrod Brown got in the way of his judgement making him sound more like the consultant class than a progressive. In writing an otherwise quality article on progressive strategy, he's included an example that just doesn't fit. It unfortunate that two quality candidates from the same party have to vie for the nomination.

But, that's politics.

Added later: The more I think about this the angrier I become. It was my understanding that when Hackett decided to stay in the race, the concensus was "may the best man win". Rather than owning up to promoting his candidate, Brown, Sirota attacks Hackett supporters as "delirious", "obsessive-compulsive" (incorrectly using the term btw), and "hallicinatory". Isn't it nice to be diagnosed as crazy for supporting a candidate from the same party as the accuser; a candidate who has something that Democrats desperately need....balls?

Tell me. Who is implementing a partisan war here?


At 7:12 PM, Blogger Desi said...

Excellent write up, Greyhair! When I read the article I was furious that Sirota would continue with the same baseless accusations against Hackett supporters. Especially in light of conversations I had with him that stated pretty much all of what my post on this included.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greyhair, interesting site. Sirota is wrong. I'm not sure that you're right, but I know he's wrong. Everyone needs to take a step back and think about why they believe the things they believe. It's amazing how many people just accept things because they get repeated over and over. Example: The Republicans stand for something and the Dems don't. This is partially true because the Dems don't stand for much, but what do the Repubs really stand for? Does anyone really know? They're pro-life, so. The Dems are pro-choice. They're for tax cuts for the rich. The Dems aren't. Without debating who's right or wrong you can see that they are both stances on the issues, so why do the Dems accept the label that they don't stand for anything? I can't think of one thing that the right stands for accept for something that a majority of people know is a mistake - that is that they support Bush's war unquestionably. That's not really a stance, it's just that their party is in office, so they agree with his decisions. If Kerry or Gore were in office then the Dems would agree with their decisions - would that mean that they are the party that stands for something.

The problem is the Dems and the media have been conned into believing this crap because the Republicans say it over and over, and the Dems, in their infinite weakness, go on the defensive instead of the offensive. They should be pointing out that the Repubs don't have a worthy platform either other than blind loyalty to the village idiot. Isn't no platform better than that? I'll be tackling this subject in more depth on my own website. Check it out.


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