Donna Edwards Nabs Washington Post Endorsement

Well this is very good thing. The Washington Post is one of the local papers in the race, so the dynamic is more local than national in this case.  

REP. ALBERT R. WYNN has represented Maryland's 4th Congressional District since 1993, and in that time he has never faced a serious challenger. This year, in Donna Edwards , he does. Ms. Edwards, a lawyer and foundation executive with a distinguished record of civic activism, is Mr. Wynn's opponent in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary. Tough, articulate and knowledgeable, she is one of the smartest and most impressive newcomers in Maryland politics.

The 4th District, comprising parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, is heavily Democratic, a profile that meshes with Ms. Edwards's long involvement in liberal causes. She has championed a higher minimum wage, campaign finance reform and an array of environmental issues, and she fought for legislation to curtail domestic violence. Locally, she was an ardent opponent of National Harbor, the multibillion-dollar development underway in Prince George's, but she came around to supporting it when she was satisfied that it would include a balance of commercial, entertainment and residential components. Her assent removed one of the project's last major hurdles -- a fact that testifies both to her skill as an advocate and her openness to reasonable compromise.

Now it's up to Donna's last minute media blitz, the field campaign, and free media that's going to come out as the primary gets noticed.  Donna Edwards, Ned Lamont, and Jennifer Lawless are part of a need breed of aggressive and progressive East Coast politician, accomplished non-candidates who are turning to politics as a vehicle for successful change.

I've written about Donna here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  So MyDD readers have had a bit of a jump on her primary story.  Not being in the district, it's hard to tell how this will play out.  Movement progressives have already played a big role in shaking up the status quo in Connecticut; this is just confirmation that the winds of progressive change are growing to gale force.

Update: Let me spell out what this endorsement means. The biggest hurdle for any candidate is to appear 'viable'. Viability is an ephemeral quality, prone to spin and bullshit, but it's basically the idea that a candidate has a shot at winning a race. Political people want to spend their time and money on races that can be won, so a key challenge in politics is convincing enough donors and political influentials that a race is real and can be won. Once a candidate has become 'viable', money and support is unlocked by establishment groups whose primary interest is in not being embarrassed. The Washington Post endorsement means that Donna Edwards is now a real and viable challenger to Al Wynn. That's huge.

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Confirmation of Busby Memo Conclusions

I guess this shouldn't be a surprise (hat tip Bluejersey).  From FDU polling on the NJ Senate race, we have the following numbers.  Now FDU kind of sucks, but the numbers are so stark that there is something to what they polled on.

In the study, half of the respondents were asked questions about President Bush and the war in Iraq before answering questions about the Senate race, and half were asked about the Senate race first. Among those respondents who were asked about Bush and Iraq first, Menendez held a two point advantage, 41 to 39 percent. But among the respondents who were not primed to think about the war in Iraq, Kean held an 11 point advantage, 47 to 36 percent.

That's confirmation that Bush and Iraq work to Democratic advantage.  Now let's look at an overlooked one of our conclusions, a test of the October surprise where we pit terrorism versus Iraq.  For this I'll turn to Quinnipiac's poll on 9/11.

American voters disapprove 53 - 39 percent of the job President George W. Bush is doing. Approval ratings on specific areas are:

    * Disapprove 54 - 40 percent of his handling of the overseas war on terror;
    * Approve 53 - 42 percent of his policies to prevent terrorism in the U.S.

By a 48 - 39 percent margin, American voters would like the Democrats to take control of Congress in the November elections.

When voters hear Iraq, they think Democrats are strong.  When voters hear nothing or they hear terrorism, they think Republicans are strong.  There will be an October surprise of some sort, either a ramping up of Iran or just jawboning.  We know it.  So let's just get ready and make sure that this election is about 'the overseas war on terror', ie. Iraq, and not who's tough enough to turn America into a complete security state.

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The Other, Tougher Lamont Campaign, in MD-04

 I've written a bit about the Donna Edwards campaign, which is in some ways as important as the Lamont challenge, but much more difficult.  My attitude is that Connecticut was never about Lamont or Lieberman, it was always about accountability and changing the incentive model for political actors and journalists.  That has happened, somewhat; the party has lurched towards the progressive side fairly dramatically, even though we may not notice it because the shift has seemed somewhat slow to us in the blogs.  What we're fighting against is a right-wing machine that smacks people who do left-wing things.  Democrats, Republicans, journalists, scholars, and educators get annoyed, harrassed, attacked, or threatened if they do something that the right-wing doesn't like.  The reactionary right has built a structure where the press self-censors, politicians discount left-wing options before even broaching them, and activists assume Democrats will lose before the elections have happened.

Fighting this is not easy, and it's not a short-term battle.  The lack of accountability on Lieberman allowed him to form alliances with the right-wing without penalty.  That's no longer the case.  Whether it's Nicco Mele, Joe Lieberman, George Allen, or Democratic media buyers, we're holding people accountable for not following popular progressives principles.  We're holding our friends accountable, and our opponents accountable, because accountability is not about partisan politics.  It's about being strong, principled, and professional in how we organize our society.

It's now Al Wynn's turn.  Wynn is not only a viciously reactionary Democrat who voted for the war and has aided Bush at nearly every turn, but he's also brutish in his local political work in a way that Lieberman is not.  Wynn sits in an influential place at the Congressional Black Caucus, which is split between strong progressives and DLC corrupt Bourbons like William Jefferson.  If Democrats take the House, the CBC will dominate the next Congress, as its senior members sit as ranking members of many influential committees.  That means that the incentives within the CBC should be of deep interest to progressives looking for the power to affect policy.

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Peaches and California Politics

San Francisco has awesome peaches, juicy, firm, fresh, just great great peaches.  I'm a peach fan.  And now a San Francisco fan.  

This is a wealthy city, with hybrid car following sports car following luxury car, and there are techies and yuppies and hippies and freaks and homeless people all over the place.  It's incredibly diverse and super-hip, and I'm not sure I'm cool enough to be here.  Scratch that, I can be here, but I'm on probation.  You see I purchased a salmon-colored shirt this afternoon, and about fifteen minutes after I made the purchase, I was told that I'm on some sort of watch list.  San Francisco actually has fashion police.  

That last part is not true, though I did purchase clothing colored with a slightly pale and sickly color.  As ugly as that new clothing might be, and as much mockery as I might soon be getting from my friends back east, I have been eating delicious food for a few weeks now, and tomorrow it's going to be 75 and I'll have more great coffee and yummy brunch food and also I'll probably go hiking or something.  So there.

But you didn't come here to read about peaches and the ill-fitting clothing I wear.  Unless you're my Dad, who sometimes reads the blog.  Hi Dad.  

You came for the politics.  So here goes.

California politics is really really messed up.  You can tell that Reagan was here, because the place is ungovernable, full of debt, and has a completely dishonest political debate where good men like Phil Angelides run horrendous campaigns against seriously bad people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who incidentally settled a lawsuit today with a woman he apparently groped in private and then smeared in public so he could be Governor.  And he'll probably be reelected, unless Angelides finds something to run on.

California is relatively small in terms of its political structure.  It is very gossipy, horribly expensive, and gerrymandered.  The Democratic machine prevents effective progressive messaging from getting through, and so Republicans tend to control the Governor's mansion.  Los Angeles and San Francisco are massive donor and talent magnets for Democrats, but these national political centers are somewhat disconnected from the state and local scene.

Here are three names I hear again and again.  Howard Rich, a billionaire New Yorker who keeps funding ballot initiatives in California.  Gail Kaufman, a Mike McCurry-like Democratic consultant who ran the union drive against Arnold's 2005 initiatives and then sold out to big business.  And Gary South, a Bob Shrum-like figure who masterminded Steve Westly's phenomenally self-indulgent primary disaster, and is known as the king of mean.  I don't know that much about these people, but it does seem like they are gatekeepers of one sort or another.

Also, California is ungovernable.  Proposition 13 denies the government needed revenue, term limits allows government by consultants and out of state billionaires, and a two thirds requirement to pass the budget means that little can actually get done.

There are lots of initiatives on the ballot this time.  One is called proposition 89, or 'clean money', and it's public financing.  One is called proposition 90, and it would basically destroy the state and make environmental regulations, union protection, consumer protection, building new airports, off-shore drill bans, or anything else impossible.  But it sounds good because it is known as the eminent domain initiative, and it has backing from really rich people who buy lots of great PR.   Direct democracy is sweet!

In the next few years, I imagine there's going to be a sustained campaign to overturn Proposition 13.  Progressives are taking over the party, and that's going to have serious consequences down the road.  In the meantime, the stakes are low, and the infighting is grand and petty.  How very very different from Democratic DC.

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Dismantling the Liebermachine

I find it quite ironic that those best positioned to understand the implications of Lieberman's downfall are the most apt to describe the race as unimportant or meaningless instead of the momentus event it really is.  I would throw into this TPM reader DK, who see this race as just one more D seat in the Senate.

It's not.  You see, Capitol Hill is a small place, and it's a place where there's a certain incestuous cycle of staffers, lobbyists, journalists, and politicians.  It's a community, with its own rules about who you can talk to, what can be said in polite company, and who you can bribe.  There's a partisan divide, sure, but there's a much bigger divide between those on the inside of the Hill and those of us who aren't.  We get our news from the New York Times, but they know the personalities involved and the real story.  Many Dodd staffers were Lieberman staffers, and vice versa.  Puncturing this bubble is a really big deal, because it changes how laws are passed.

Every bill that comes before the House and Senate faces a clear set of right-wing pressure points.  The first and most powerful one is the Republican K-Street Project, which can whip all Republicans very quickly and effectively in the House, and nearly as quickly in the Senate.  This is the machine that forces Republicans to obey the wishes of a right-wing leadership class, through the carrot of cushy corporate jobs and the stick of vicious primary challenges from the Club for Growth.

On the Democratic side, the pressure is just as intense, but more subtle.  When a bill is introduced, a network of consultants, most of whom have corporate clients, begin to chatter about how taking a liberal position could weaken the Democratic Party.  This is supplemented with a strong PR strategy by right-wing temporary coalition groups who put out networks of surrogates and ads to create a powerfully framed environment.  Then business lobbyists come and visit Congressional offices, and make threats, attempt legislative bribes, or put out false but extremely persuasive pieces of information.  There is often little real counterpressure, because liberal single issue groups have decided not to hold politicians accountable and do not cooperate with each other on issues not directly related to their vertical.  

Within the Democratic party, resisting a bill is an exercise in holding the caucus together.  The long minority status of the Democratic Party has allowed the development of bad faith actors within the caucus, who cut deals with right-wing groups and sabotage any possibility of resistance.  Al Wynn is one such actor; Joe Lieberman is another.  On key vote after key vote, these actors have sabotaged the progressive position through fake bipartisanship.  It's no surprise that Lieberman's former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Enron; Lieberman himself is responsible for many of the corporate accounting scandals over the years because of his embrace of various financial lobbies.

One irony of the Lieberman race is that all the single-issue groups have endorsed Lieberman, and if you look at donations, so have the lobbyists.  Indeed, this isn't a fight between 'the left' and 'the right' as it is traditionally defined, since no one would put NARAL on the right or even in the center.  This is about creating a disincentive towards bad faith actors and corrupt lobbyists on the left.  

The pervasive lack of accountability among Democrats is a real weakness for progressives, and the fact that there is some measure of accountability in the form of potential primary challenges means that there will be a behavioral change on the part of many members of Congress.  No longer will they be able to listen to former staffers turned lobbyists, because they know that Lieberman's example could be their own.  No longer can they take for granted their safety in safe districts, because Donna Edwards isn't the only principled and connected progressive around.  And some of the tools and methodologies we're developing can be used to effectively damage Republican candidates, as we saw with the internet's mauling of George Allen after his macaca comments.  Accountabiliy works all around.

The Lieberman challenge (and the Wynn and Lawless challenges) are about changing the revenue model of bad actors within the party and on the left and making it unprofitable to push a right-wing agenda.  It's fairly clear at this point that Democrats will not take back either House without a progressive message, so getting rid of these bad actors actually helps a Democratic takeover.  But more to the point, if Democrats do takeover a House of Congress, it's not like the right-wing pressure is going away.  It's not like it's going to be easy to pass bills, since ripping New Dems and Blue Dogs from the leadership and having them be essential GOP caucus members is quite possible given the setup I've described.  There should be an incentive system to discourage that kind of behavior.  In fact there must be such an incentive system, or a Democratic Congress will simply be more competent at driving this country off a cliff.

So if you care about the Democratic Party being a functional opposition party, you should care tremendously about the Lieberman challenge.  And if you care about the Democratic Party being a functional governing party that can get legislation passed, you'll care even more.

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