As a former New Englander, I was pretty interested when Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley for the Senate seat Ted Kennedy held for decades. Conservatives are trying to spin the defeat as a rebuke to Obama's left wing agenda, but I disagree: it was a combination of the party base's rebuke of the Democratic leadership's pro-corporate agenda and a hearty helping of anti-incumbent fever among all voters.
There are lessons for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in the Massachusetts debacle, if only state leaders would open their eyes. Right now, they're heading for a whopper of a defeat.
For example, the Democrats' perceived fealty to Wall Street in 2009 is what Obama is trying to correct with his crackdown on banks. Meanwhile the very visible hostility toward a low-cost public health care plan among some Senate Democrats is killing so-called moderates like Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, who's now hated by the right AND the left. And when voters see Democrats like Nebraska's Ben Nelson getting special deals in exchange for a vote, they can smell the bullshit from coast to coast. It's not as if the Democrats in Massachusetts just woke up one morning and decided to elect a Republican: they got sick of insider, unresponsive state politics, and took their disgust out on a national party that seems determined to compete with the GOP to see who's more corrupt.
One of the many things that drives Pennsylvania voters crazy is the utter lack of transparency. It seems we're always passing sunshine laws of one kind or another, but when it comes to deciding who to support for national office, it seems no one told the insiders club at the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, who chose Arlen Specter for us, and has fought doggedly to keep Joe Sestak out of the race. No one I know is happy about this. Yes, you have Bob Casey traveling around and talking the guy up; yes, you have Arlen himself making uncharacteristically left wing votes in an effort to curry favor with voters; yes, even Barack Obama is campaigning for the guy. Yes, this union and that has endorsed the senior senator.
To all of this, I say "so what?" There was a similar pattern in Massachusetts and it didn't help Martha Coakley a jot. Party big wigs endorsed her. Didn't help. The Kennedys themselves begged voters to support her. Bupkes. What the voters saw was an establishment candidate and they didn't like it.
And if the national Democratic Party looks like they're too tight with corporate interests, Pennsylvania makes them look like the model of rectitude and dignity. You've got Ed Rendell up to his eyeballs in casino-sleaze, a number of Democrats (and Republicans) caught up in Bonusgate, and a ridiculous decision to make natural gas extracted from the state's Marcellus Shale reserves tax-exempt -- even as libraries and human services agencies from all over the state saw budget cuts and in many cases simply closed their doors.
The past week or so in Pennsylvania should give the party some food for thought: Pat Toomey, who is nothing short of a lunatic, is WAAAAAY ahead of Arlen Specter. As I noted at my personal blog, "Sestak actually has better numbers: yes, Toomey leads among registered voters by 28-16 percent with 51 percent undecided, and with likely voters around 41-19 percent with 37 percent undecided. But that’s a lot of undecided votes, probably because the voters don’t know Sestak as well as they know Toomey and Specter."
And believe me, voters know Arlen very well. Republicans have long viewed Arlen as disloyal to the party and not sufficiently conservative: if you're wondering why Arlen's been running to the left lately it's just as much because he knows he's not going to pick up any conservatives as it is his competition with Sestak. But Democrats know him too: as an opportunist whose primary constituency is himself; the guy who can't make up his mind on the Employee Free Choice Act; the guy who tormented Anita Hill. The list goes on and on.
Then you have Specter's seeming sense of entitlement: as the Sestak campaign is fond of reminding voters, Specter doesn't see the need for more than one debate. That's right: one lousy debate, which I guess is understandable when you look at Specter's record.
Not that this has stopped the senator from trampling on Sestak's campaign: you may not have heard about this, but at last week's Pennsylvania Progressive Summit, hosted by Keystone Progress, Specter refused to debate Sestak, and then rushed the stage Kaye West style and began "berating Congressman Sestak 'for lying about [Specter's] record.'" You can watch the whole bizarre video here. This is the person the establishment Democrats have picked for us. Impressed?
I'm not. I'm not impressed with the state Democrats' "no primary" decision: primaries are what keep the party honest. And I'm not impressed with Ed Rendell's administration, or for that matter the state party. And though my constant complaining may lead you to believe otherwise, I've been a Democrat as long as I can remember.
Pennsylvania's Democrats are restive right now: there's real worry that Toomey can win.I f the Party keeps pushing insider, hand-picked candidates while trying to deny voters a choice, Democrats may just stay home, dealing Specter a primary win, and a loss in the general.
You’ll never guess who’s making calls for the Dem.
Cut and run
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Time to Plan Your Urban Garden
Is Arlen Specter Even Trying?
Arlen Specter's Phony Justice