Sunday, October 31, 2010

You Can't Sell Your Soul If the Devil Ain't Buying

cross-posted at Dagblog

The election is the day after tomorrow, and I'm basically done looking at predictions of the results. Foreknowledge is the beginning of folly, and no matter how the day goes I'm going to do the same thing on Tuesday and after Tuesday. Win or lose, you keep your eyes on the prize.

But there's one thing just about every prognosticator agrees on: Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) is toast.

Lincoln, of course, is a "moderate" Blue Dog. She has clearly felt that the Obama Administration's agenda would hurt her back home in Arkansas, so she's gone out of her way to water down key bills, especially financial reform, and essentially run against her own party:

She takes strenuous pains to distance herself from the White House, trumpet her centrist credentials and assert her independence from her Democratic colleagues.

Her reward for watering down those votes that she was afraid would cost her re-election? She's an incumbent who can't even get to 40 percent in the most recent polls.

And that brings me to the political lesson of the day, this October 31: You can't sell your soul if the Devil ain't buying. Every voter that Blanche Lincoln was trying to appease is voting against her anyway. Why shouldn't they? She signaled over and over again that their political philosophy was right, and that she herself was uncomfortable with Democatic policies. Maybe the votes that Lincoln would pick up by making a strong case for Democratic principles and the good that Democratic policies did for the average Arkansas voter wouldn't have been enough to re-elect her. But clearly she couldn't win without those votes.

Sometimes the Devil won't pay for your soul. He'll just take it for free. You might as well do the right thing instead.

The post-election pressure to be more compromising and more moderate and more "Clintonian" already started ramping up last week. The next six hundred times you hear that talking point, remember Blanche Lincoln: a classic Clinton Democrat, with Bill Clinton himself stumping for her personally, getting stomped 2-1 in Arkansas. If that's what winning looks like, let's look at some losing strategies, please.

And before you say it's impossible for a Democrat to win in a state like Arkansas, let me point out that Lincoln's seat has been Democratic since Reconstruction and that the state's other Democratic Senator, Mark Pryor, was re-elected two years ago by an 80-20 margin. Lincoln hasn't lost a tough hold. She's given away a stronghold.

Moving to the "middle" by meeting the hardest right-wing candidates in living memory halfway isn't going to help Democrats survive. Conceding the basic principles of the "conservative" argument simply means conceding to them. You can't say, "Big government is a problem, but we need to do some practical things out of necessity," anymore. And you can't make so many concessions to your policies that the policies don't work, because the opposition will just hang the failed policies around your neck. If the Republicans decide next week to oppose all childhood vaccinations and claim that they cause autism, you don't try to appease them by weakening the MMR vaccine until it stops protecting kids against measles, mumps and rubella. Doing that would destroy the case for vaccinating kids in the first place, and look like an admission that the crazy fact-free case against vaccinations was true.

Plenty of Democrats are going to take that "centrist" advice. Lots of them already believe it in their souls. And most of those centrists, frankly, are going to end their own careers. Do you seriously think that Ben Nelson is going to be re-elected in 2012 for being the least Democratic of the Democrats? He's going to be run out of Omaha on a red-state rail, and a real Republican will replace him. If your political purpose is to pull Obama to the right, a Republican is always, always going to do it better. The question is whether more progressive Democrats are going to follow Ben Nelson on the same cliff.

I'm all for pragmatism. But pragmatism isn't pragmatism if it doesn't get results. And I understand why any working politician is going to think about his or her own political safety. That's the nature of the beast. But at a certain point, cowardice won't keep you safe. If you want to survive, you have to push forward and fight for every step. There's no guarantee of winning that way. But you're guaranteed to lose doing anything else.

No comments: