Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Problem of Purges

Imagine my shock today when I found myself in partial agreement with Ed Kilgore over at New Donkey:
I respect Chris Bowers, but this time he's missing a very basic point. The DLC is not arguing against the right to "primary" incumbents; if Connecticut Democrats want to replace Joe Lieberman with Ned Lamont or anybody else, that's fine by me. It's the national effort to dump Joe, evidenced by the heavy involvement of national organizations like MoveOn and Democracy for America, that's objectionable. And as Chris knows, much of the progressive blogosphere is nearly as obsessed with the Lamont candidacy as it is with delivering a Democratic Congress this November, for reasons that have zippo to do with the vindication of the sovereign rights of Connecticut Democrats to choose whomever they want (has anyone other than Ned Lamont himself pledged to support Lieberman if he does win the primary? If so, they're pretty quiet about it)....

Primaries are fine. Purges are not, and I don't think there's much doubt which is which when it comes to the intraparty politics of 2006.
Kilgore is referring to the netroots push to unseat Joe Lieberman, something I've been talking about in previous posts. Kilgore's got a few things right, but other things wrong, and it matters why he's wrong.

Where he is most right is that the campaign against Lieberman has absolutely jack-shit nothing to do with CT voters being able to pick the candidate they want. It has to do with getting back at Lieberman for being a weasel and betraying Democrats. On a more sophisticated level, it has to do with punishing one of the perceived losers of the 2000 election, the loss that allowed Cheney & Co. into the White House. Al Gore has redeemed himself while Lieberman has gone on to capitalize on his party's loss, so Joe is left holding the bag. This is payback time, baby, and Holy Joe's getting it with both barrels.

He's also right that this is a purge, not a contest. If Lieberman wins the primary, as is likely, but not certain, the same group will continue to attack, preferring to create another Republican senator to reelecting Lieberman. This is a lady or tiger decision. Do we retain a Democratic seat, even if it means pairing that seat to a "lady" (someone besides us who gets the benefit of the relationship) or do we choose a tiger, deciding it is better to destroy what we desire than to allow it to be used for another's pleasure?

Kilgore's final point, that it isn't the business of a national group to determine a state's electoral outcome may be formally true, but it is violated in practice all the time - witness the $4.5 million the RNCC has dropped on the Busby-Bilbray race to try to control the outcome, or think of the way different national groups fund raise and petition. I don't find the actions of MoveOn or the Kossacks any more or less objectionable than any other interest group trying to sway public opinion. Frankly, I wish to hell they had bothered to poke their noses into the Busby race out here and done some frickin' work on behalf of a Democrat against the deeply corrupt San Diego Rethuglican oligarchy. I mean, c'mon folks, this should have been a no brainer.

Where Kilgore is wrong is in thinking that the netroots agitating is going to sway the people making the actual decisions, who are the 600,000 or so registered Democrats in CT. There's definitely some good awareness raising going on, but I'm still waiting for proof in polls. It doesn't matter if 100% of all Democrats outside of CT think Holy Joe should hit the road. If 50% + 1 inside the state don't agree, the weasel wins.

Tip O'Neil was right when he said all politics is local. The weakness of the netroots is the reason why it isn't grassroots - they are not dug into one area in sufficient numbers to be an effective voting block. Fundraising, because of the fungible quality of money, is a natural virtual activity. Voting? Not so much. Organizing and scheduling? Yes. Communicating with people who are not wired? Uh-uh. The insularity of the environment provides a sense of accomplishment that is not necessarily justified. I've been reading all of the "Nedrenaline" posts on various sites, and find a lot of rah-rah boosterism, but nothing tangible. Show me the numbers. The lack of poll numbers from the Lamont campaign is troubling. Were he gaining on Lieberman in internal polling, he would want to publicize it to try to sway undecideds and wishy-washy Joe supporters.

The other way Kilgore is wrong is saying purges are not fine. Sometimes, they are necessary, and Lieberman is as deserving a candidate as any of such treatment. Officials who backstab the party and persistently refuse to represent the will of the voters when the voters are acting in an eminently sensible manner need to be chucked out on their ears. This is doubly true in light of the "parliamentary era" of politics, where ideology and party loyalty are vital to fend off the extremisim of the right. Those who will not be team players are invited to find another team - and stop using our money, influence, and legitimacy to undermine our political objectives. It is not good for the health of the body politic to retain turds indefinitely.

On the other hand, failed purges are dangerous things, and the obsession of the netroots with ritualistically dismembering the real and imagined apostates is that they may deeply wound the beloved community, fatally undermine their own claims to authority and power, and create internal enemies who live for nothing save revenge on those who hunt them. Or, in other words, if you are going to go after some really big, bad son of a bitch, you better be able to defeat the sucker. Politics knows no fury like that of a "lady" scorned.

The problem of the "Dump Joe" purge is that there is more to lose on the netroots side than on Liberman's. And that's a bad political move. As much as we need to get rid of Holy Joe, there are other political battles that will provide better results for the amount of energy devoted to the cause.


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