Where is the establishment defense of Chafee and Akaka?
by Chris Bowers, Sun Jun 04, 2006 at 10:22:40 AM EDT
Cross Posted on Dailykos
In recent weeks, many "moderates" in the political establishment have come to the defense of Joe Lieberman in his primary campaign against Ned Lamont. For starters, two weeks ago, while lamenting that in a democracy people have to be elected in order to hold elected office, Stuart Rothenberg wrote
[T]here certainly ought to be a place in our political system for someone like Lieberman. His defeat, unlikely as it may be, would be a sad, sad chapter in American politics.
Last week, the DLC chimed in, decrying democratic primary challenges as "purges":This phenomenon is best illustrated by the nationally driven campaign to deny re-nomination to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), with MoveOn.org and Democracy for America (an organization founded by DNC chairman Howard Dean and now run by his brother, Jim) playing an especially active role in recruiting money and volunteers for the challenger, Ned Lamont.
We deplore this purge effort because Joe Lieberman is an outstanding and respected U.S. Senator.
The pushback against Democrats even using the legal, democratic, and American system of primary challenges has come from many other sectors as well, including The New Republic and many commenters in threads here at MyDD. The basic argument goes something like this: how dare they--how dare these left-wing activists even consider using the democratic process to try and unseat someone like Senator Lieberman! He should hold his position as long as he wants, no matter what the voters say!
Ned Lamont's campaign has generated quite a bit of press lately. In fact, Google News lists 341 hits for "Ned Lamont" in the last month. It is particularly interesting how much more interest this campaign has generated form the press than two other, arguably more serious (or at least more advanced) primary challenges against sitting U.S. Senators have generated. For example, in Rhode Island, the most "liberal" Republican of all, Lincoln Chafee is being challenged by hard-right Stephan Laffey and the extremist Club for Growth. Two recent polls (see Polling Report's subscriber section) have shown Chafee under 50%, and Laffey within single digits. However, despite the seriousness of this challenge, there have been only 39 hits in the last month on Google News for "Steven Laffey." That is only one-ninth the total for Ned Lamont, despite no poll in Connecticut showing the race particularly close. Further, in Hawaii, Ed Case is challenging arguably more progressive Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary, and polls indicate that the race might be close (although there are real questions about those polls). However, when it comes to this race, there have been only 49 articles on Google News over the past month.
It is also interesting how the same sources that are defending Lieberman have not editorialized in favor of Chafee or Akaka. The New Republic has no commentary on the Hawaii primary, and in its two pieces on the Rhode Island primary, it does not editorialize as in favor of Chafee ala Jonathan Chait in favor of Lieberman. Stuart Rothenberg's opening piece on the primary challenges in Hawaii and Rhode Island featured no editorializing at all. I guess he wasn't as bothered by incumbents being challenged from the right as he clearly was by incumbents from the left. I can't find a single word from the DLC about either the Hawaii or Rhode Island primaries.
This is a clear double-standard. A somewhat more longshot, left-wing challenge to a sitting U.S. Senator has generated far more news and more pro-incumbent editorializing from the political and media establishment than have two very threatening, right-wing challenges to sitting U.S. Senators. I believe that this double-standard can only be interpreted as a another example of the political and media establishment developing a narrative where liberals and progressives in America are portrayed as extremists, while conservatives are portrayed as mainstream. What other rationale could there be? Why aren't groups like the Club for Growth being lambasted by the political and media establishment for running a primary challenge against Chafee? Why isn't Ed Case being accused of trying to "purge" the Democratic Party of liberals? Why is the political and media establishment coming to the defense of Joe Lieberman and not Lincoln Chafee or Daniel Akaka, even though Lieberman's situation is less perilous than either Akaka's or Chafee's?
Those in power, even Democrats in power, despise the progressive movement more than they despise the conservative movement. They hate that the new progressive movement has made itself relevant to the national political scene in any, shape or form. They seek to continue and reify the narrative in our national political discourse that progressive, but not conservatives, are extremists.
If I had to postulate a reason for this, it would be, as Matt and I wrote in our paper last year, that the new progressive movement, especially the netroots, has developed independently of existing institutions of political and media power, developing new leaders, ideas and networks. By contrast, the right-wing movement rose to prominence by connecting established institutions of conservative power to the conservative grassroots. The progressive movement has truly developed outside of the existing the political infrastructure in America, and as such is perceived as a true career threat to those who make a living within that infrastructure. This makes our threats to their power structure true threats. It is more dangerous to Washington D.C. for Ned Lamont to become a Senator than for either Ed Case or Stephen Laffey to become a Senator, because Ned Lamont would mean that new people and new institutions themselves would be gaining power. If either Ed case or Stephen Laffey become Senators, it would simply be the same cast of characters in charge: the same consultants, the same staffers, the same media personnel, the same everything. These primary challenges, while more serious to the incumbents in question at this time, are non-threatening to the established infrastructure of either media or politics. That is not the case with Ned Lamont's challenge.
The progressive movement in America had been all but annihilated from the Washington D.C. power structure. The new progressive movement, fueled by the netroots, has given it new life and new direction. Its re-emergence is a serious threat to the national political infrastructure, which is why there is clearly a double-standard being employed in the media and political coverage of these primary challenges. If people such as the DLC, the New Republic, or Stuart Rothenberg have another explanation, I'd like to hear it. Check that--I don't want to hear it--I want to see it actually take place. Until they start to defend Daniel Akaka and Lincoln Chafee with the same vigor they have defending Joe Lieberman, I do not care what explanation they give. Until that happens, their actions will speak louder than any words they might offer.
CT-Sen, HI-Sen, Ideology, Media, netroots, RI-Sen