Democrats Need A Choice

Brendan Skwire says the race between Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter isn't great -- but it could be worse if top Dems have their way.

By Brendan Skwire
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Jun. 7, 2009

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Joe Sestak looks to challenge Arlen Specter in the Democratic Senate primary. But will Dem bigwigs push Sestak out before voters can?

So we might have a real Senate race after all.

In another sign of his determination to challenge Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary, Joe Sestak just told me in an interview that not even a personal plea from President Obama himself could dissuade him from making the race.

Sestak also said that he wouldn’t back off even if the major unions reached a deal with Specter on health care and on the Employee Free Choice Act and endorsed Specter in the primary.

And in an ironic twist, Sestak also revealed that a few months ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had commissioned a poll testing him running against then-Republican Specter in a general election — and that it showed Sestak winning. Specter, of course, is now the DSCC’s candidate.

Progressive Democrats, who've been grumbling about yet another coronation thanks to the brain trust of Ed Rendell and Charles Schumer, are pretty psyched at the possibility of some competition for Specter, a man motivated to join the party primarily out of naked self-interest.

That was certainly my reaction as well when I saw the news at Young Philly Politics. And that's despite my antipathy toward the Congressman Sestak for supporting the unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act of 2008. You may recall this brilliant piece of shit our oh-so-wise-and-serious Congress squeezed out on America's face last year: Not only does it it allow "the government to conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing", it prohibits the individual states from investigating, sanctioning of, or requiring disclosure by complicit telecoms or other persons. Isn't it nice to know the Fourth Amendment doesn't matter anymore? And that no matter who wins the Democratic primary, Verizon's protection from lawsuits matters more than your rights?

No, my excitement for Mr. Sestak stems primarily form the fact that T.J. Rooney, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, has made it clear that he'd rather not have a primary AT ALL. As has Rendell and everyone else rushing to roll out the red carpet for Arlen.

That’s right: Mr. Rooney thinks we shouldn’t have a primary because it’s “costly and divisive”. How’s that for a big middle finger jammed up the nose of the electorate, never mind a denial of the basic concept of, you know, democracy. I don't even know what TJ Rooney looks like and this guy wants to make my choice for me, and oh yeah it's Arlen-freakin'-Specter? I don't think so.

So no, I'm not about to forgive Sestak for his atrocious vote on the FISA Amendments Act.

But I'll eat the dead cat I found in my backyard this morning, without Tabasco sauce, if I'm gonna vote for Arlen Specter, who is exponentially worse than Sestak could ever be. Arlen's the guy so utterly devoid of conscience, self-awareness, or integrity that he walks out on the Senate Floor in late November 2006 to announce that he'd oppose the Military Commissions Act because it repealed habeas corpus, the foundation of our system of justice... and then voted for it anyway the very next day.

And indeed that is Specter's record: Saying one thing and doing the other. When you look at his record, it's not as "moderate" as the Pennsylvania Republicans seem to think it is. Oh sure, Specter will let women have abortions (although he's happy to put reproductive freedom at risk by voting to confirm Samuel Alito and John Roberts), but in general he spent the past eight years voting with his fellow Republicans on just about everything of consequence. The war in Iraq? Specter voted for it. The Patriot Act, and its renewal? Specter voted for it. The Bush tax cuts? Specter voted for them.

Meanwhile, Rendell -- the Democrat who helped bring you the pro-life, anti-stem cell research Bob Casey and is currently trying to jam slots parlors down the throats of Philadelphians -- is telling Joe to butt out.

"Arlen Specter has the support of the President and the Vice President, a President who's got a 90 percent approval rating among registered Democrats in Pennsylvania. Joe Sestak does not want to be one of the candidates who ran against Bob Casey in the Democratic primary, when the whole governmental establishment was for Bob Casey. He doesn't want to be marginalized, he doesn't want to get 15, 18 percent. Joe should run for Congress again, establish some seniority, his time will come. He's a terrific guy, his time will come, but it's not this year."

You know, because Arlen "I won't support the Employee free Choice Act and I'm not so hot on taxpayer funded healthcare either except when it's for me" Specter is the better Democrat.

Personally, I'm not so sure how many Democrats are with Ed on this one. Number one, the reason for Specter's switch has nothing to do with principles. It's nothing like the Jeffords jump from 2001, when the senator from Vermont turned his back on an ascendant Republican party and a highly popular Republican president.

Second, the publicity surrounding Specter's switch has made it very clear to EVERYONE that he jumped purely out of self-preservation.

Third, the senator went out of his way not only to tell his new Democratic constituents he wouldn't be a reliable vote, but to prove it, voting no on Obama's budget, promising to block the Employee Free Choice Act, and reiterating his opposition to Dawn Johnsen, Obama's choice to run the Office of Legal Counsel. Yes, I know Specter says he's open to EFCA now, but as any Pennsylvania observer will tell you Arlen says a lot of things.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, outside of FISA, Sestak isn't that bad. He's been consistently outspoken on the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, which seems to put him to the left of Obama. Currently he supports a health care plan similar to the Massachusetts Plan, and came out on Firedoglake in early May in support of a public plan, if tepidly. According to at least one Delaware County voter and activist I spoke to, Sestak is educable on the issue. (The fact that he showed up for a second visit at Firedoglake, a blog that fought the FISA changes agressively, is a testament to the man's willingness to listen and actively engage with people who disagree strenuously with him.)

So for any Democrat that's been paying attention, -- i.e., the Democrats who vote in primaries, which tend to attract the hard-core party faithful -- the choice should be straightforward and easy. Do we want an unreliable carpetbagger who joined the Democratic party to save his skin, rewarding those who would deny Pennsylvania voters a real race; or Admiral Joe Sestak, the underdog who won in Delaware County and has been standing up (on most issues) in ways progressives can embrace?

I know who my choice is gonna be.

Brendan Skwire blogs daily at Brendan Calling. This is his first column for PW.

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Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Anonymous said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 03:08AM

“If I were still a Pennsylvania voter I would be pissed about Rendell and Specter. Seriously pissed. I sure hope that Sestak perseveres, and wins the primary fair and square. Unless 'ol Arlen quickly straightens up and flies right, vigorously supporting the issues that matter to PA Dem voters - and we all know the chances of that happening - he's just a placeholder wasting oxygen and taking up office space that an actual Democrat should be inhabiting.”

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2. brendancalling said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 08:21AM

“When i wrote this piece, one very important puiece of information wasn't available: the fact that 63% of Pennsylvania Democrats WANT arlen tro face a primary:
(pardon the pdf).

Someone tell TJ Rooney...”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 09:31AM

“I find it less and less compelling to support the Rendell/Casey/Nutter machine, and their ramming of Specter down our throats is just one example. The Democratic Party in Pennsylvania is not looking so democratic these days.”

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4. seand said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 10:31AM

“Great piece, brendan. Too bad you got scooped on Arlen being called in to try fill in Old Dirty Bastard's shoes in that other news story on the right.”

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5. McGovern said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 12:28PM

“Info that voters need to know and have before more rights disappear incl the right to vote! Thanks for writing and publishing.”

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6. brendancalling said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 12:30PM


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7. Anonymous said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 01:10PM

“Great info. Thanks, keep up the great and very informative work.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 03:19PM

“Great info - I think Skwire did a good comparison.....makes me think....”

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9. frankdawg said... on Jun 8, 2009 at 04:56PM

“great piece Brendan, dead on & well said.

Congrats to PW for this fantastic addition!”

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10. KinMO said... on Jun 9, 2009 at 04:25PM

“Great post Brendan. Dead cat be damned!!”


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