Primary Colors: Why Not Black And Blue?
I had a bit of my optimism restored Thursday night, and I may actually have renewed faith that the Democratic Party can be reformed. I met Mark Wilson who is running for a U.S. Senate seat here in Washington State, challenging the seat currently held by Maria Cantwell. Wilson is a true progressive with an agenda that speaks to my best hopes for the future of our country, something Ms. Cantwell wouldn’t recognize if it bought her dinner and took her dancing. I was invited to sit in-studio for Thursday's live broadcast of Moral Politics and Mr. Wilson was the featured guest. I was impressed not only by his position on the issues, out of Iraq now, end the war on drugs, repeal the Patriot Act, end corporate welfare, but I was most struck by his candid nature and ability to speak so easily to the issues I believe the American people, red or blue, care most about. There is nothing timid about Mark Wilson, and he is exactly what this state and this country needs. The bonus is, he already looks like a Senator! Not in that cheesy Linsey Graham, Bob Ney, preacher hair way, but dapper like Russ Feingold and Barack Obama.
Three weeks ago I went in search of any information I could find on a possible challenge to Cantwell’s disappointing leadership, but I came up empty handed. Perhaps this is a sign that my research skills are slipping, but I think it illustrates just how difficult it is to break past the Democratic Party machinery and change it from the inside. Why shouldn’t all challengers have equal footing within the state party apparatus? Why not list our choices on the state party website like a menu of options? When the primaries are reduced to automatic support for the most “electable” candidate before an effective challenge can even be mounted, we are left with compromised candidates that stake out the middle ground with a vengeance to the detriment of the party and the country. We as voters must be willing to throw caution to the wind and cast a vote for what we want rather than accepting what is consistently the lesser of two evils. As the Democrats keep saying, “We deserve better.”
Who cares if a contentious primary leaves the winner a little bloodied? If they can’t win the practice match, they’re not ready for the game. If there is any hope of saving the Democratic Party (a possibility I only marginally entertain, but want deperately to believe in) it must be tackled in the primaries. Terry McAuliffe rammed John Kerry down our throats because he sold the party on the idea that “electability” took precedence over everything else. How did that work out for us? In retrospect, progressives and liberals realize that sticking to our guns and voting for Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean would have been the better choice. Perhaps we would have lost anyway, but we would have lost with our integrity in tact and with a message and a candidate we could have been proud of.
Casting a vote for the “good of the party” is an idea that has firmly taken hold, but voting for the frontrunner, the “electable” candidate, the best shot at victory has led us to this point, in the minority and saddled with leaders that lack progressive ideals, let alone a core set of principles worth fighting for. Kerry folded when he should have raised the stakes. There were too many questions and literally unbelievable vote tallies in Ohio and Florida, yet despite his vow to fight it to the bitter end, he caved and left the Greens and the Libertarians to do the heavy lifting of challenging fraudulent election results. We chose Kerry because we were told he could win, but until our elections are made fair and open, the greater consideration is who has the backbone to stand up and scream, “FOUL!” I am happy to report that Mr. Wilson also spoke directly to this issue, calling Maria Cantwell’s failure to join the Congressional Black Caucus in challenging the electoral votes from Ohio, a squandered opportunity to lead. He’s very diplomatic.
In 1996, I was working for a progressive non-profit and Adam Smith was running for a Congressional seat here in Washington State. He came to plead his case in order to gain our help and support and I kid you not, he stood up and sold himself as “acceptable”. If I remember correctly, he joked that his slogan should be “Adam Smith, he’s alright”. The sad part was, we backed him, and that was when we had a Democrat in the White House and control of Congress. Adam won his seat and the Democrats learned that being okay was good enough to win. Ten years down the line we have lost the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. It’s hard not to think that our low standards played a significant role in our fall from grace. Okay won’t cut it anymore.
If the choice is between losing by 48% to 52% (get used to those numbers because the electronic voting machines and vote counters love to spit them out) with an acceptable candidate or losing 40% to 60% with a principled, progressive candidate I can be proud of, I know which choice I’ll make. Continuing to lower our expectations will only lead us further down the road to obscurity. Democrats are marginalized now, but just wait, if we continue on dropping our ideals along the side of the road, we’ll be obsolete in no time. That is unless we take a stand in the primaries and vote our best hopes rather than our worst fears. I know that’s what I’ll be doing come primary season when I happily mark my ballot for Mark Wilson, the next U.S. Senator from the great state of Washington. If your research skills are better than mine, you may be able to find a Mark Wilson in your state too. Go ahead, give it a shot.