Is “What We Can Get” Good Enough?
In the April 10th issue of New York Magazine, Ryan Lizza walks us through the Democrats’ dream of reclaiming control of the Senate this November, in his must read article, “The Bush-Cheney Era Ends Here”. There are eight competitive races across the country, two seats currently held by Democrats and six held by Republicans, and if the Dems can win all eight races, they’ve got their majority and all that comes with it. As support for the President dwindles, Republicans are bracing for the worst and Democrats are starting to think this dream could actually become a reality. For those of us who want so badly to reclaim our own party by wrestling it away from the moderates and conservatives who currently dominate it, it’s tough to figure out if stopping the bleeding now is a good enough reason to put our plans on hold.
The article follows Chuck Schumer, currently heading the DSCC, on the warpath to take back the Senate. Schumer has been a masterful fundraiser and has managed to ward off possible GOP challengers in key states by bringing in the dough early, but he has also actively recruited anti-choice candidates and even pushed Paul Hackett out of the race in Ohio (after actively recruiting him to run) when his second choice Sherrod Brown changed his mind and decided to seek the seat. This kind of ruthless strategic maneuvering is exactly what we need in order to take control of the Senate, but it also may weaken the long-term health of the Party.
The debate rages within the Democratic Party about whether or not the numbers matter more than the ideology. I understand the value in taking a pragmatic approach, especially considering that taking control of the Senate means Democrats will be chairing committees, able to bring important legislation to the floor that has been sitting dormant for the past five years and finally have the subpoena power that will allow them to really investigate the Bush administration and GOP corruption. That’s a pretty powerful motivator for sending even moderate and conservative Democrats back to the Senate, although I remain unconvinced that it’s the best long-term strategy for the Party.
Reading Lizza’s article, he almost had me convinced that I should get behind Schumer’s plan to take back the Senate, regardless of his tactics, but then he lost me at the end when he put forth another scenario:
"Some Democrats, however, have been flirting with a slightly altered version of the dream. Wouldn’t it be better, they wonder, if they came close to winning back the Senate this year, but accomplished the task only in 2008? After all, a slim Senate majority would make it difficult to govern, perhaps giving Bush the opportunity to turn the new Senate leadership into a useful foil, just as Bill Clinton did to Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, and thereby revive his presidency. Furthermore, this alternate dream scenario goes, in 2008, there are 21 Republicans up for reelection and only 12 Democrats. Wouldn’t that be the moment for Democrats to come sweeping back into power?"
This alternate dream has the added benefit of giving liberals and progressives a chance to exert our will before the election in ’08. Most of us have accepted that Bush will serve out the remainder of his term, so the carrot of impeachment is not as enticing as it once was. And with such a sad showing of unity during the Alito confirmation, many of us are acutely aware of how devastating moderate and conservative Democrats can be to the things we care about most. Having a Democratic majority in the Senate does little if those Democrats are anti-choice and will vote to confirm right-wing Bush appointees anyway. I can only accept so much in the name of Party unity and I’d rather have Republicans voting to restrict our rights than watch Democrats help them do it.
I have stated in the past that I would rather lose by a large margin with a candidate that actually represents the ideals I believe in, than lose by a slim margin with a merely adequate one. But the climate has changed and it’s no longer a choice between losing and losing badly, now there is actually a chance to win. I’m not sure that the new math changes my opinion, but the possibility of a tourniquet made of an adequate majority is becoming harder and harder to resist. But with Senate incumbents enjoying a reelection rate of around 80% (and it’s even higher in the House), we better be ready to live with these barely adequate, anti-choice Democrats for years and years to come. A tourniquet will stop the bleeding, but it certainly won’t solve the problem.