Posts Tagged ‘Blanche Lincoln’

On Labor, Primaries, and Pressure

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I wasn’t really planning on writing on this silly spat between the White House and organized labor over the Democratic primary in Arkansas, but there’s a few different angles I want to address. For starters, while I’ll agree that this never should have been said publicly, and if the White House finds out who the source is they probably ought to relieve them of their duties, let’s get one thing straight; the White House official is right.Labor has every right to do what it wants with its money, but it definitely wasted its resources in this race. For one thing, Halter was hardly a progressive lion, and likely wouldn’t vote much differently than Lincoln in the Senate. For another thing, Arkansas just isn’t a state where labor has a lot of clout, making their backing somewhat less valuable than it might have been elsewhere. Indeed, much of Lincoln’s campaign was premised around attacking Halter for being pushed by national labor unions.

On the other hand, there’s the argument that the message was sent anyway; that incumbents better not cross labor less they make your life miserable. Perhaps, but I think the people pushing this line the hardest are looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. The bottom line is that incumbent re-election rates are very high in the U.S., and they’re downright astronomical for sitting Senators in primaries. And, of course, Blanche Lincoln is now a mark in favor of re-election. So even if we assume that labor or other factions of the party can give an incumbent a headache in the primary, the simple fact remains that the incumbent is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary, and much more likely to get beaten in a general election (especially if they’re in a conservative state) than in a primary. For someone who’s only concerned about getting re-elected, this isn’t really a tough call to make at all.

On the other hand, there’s the notion of the White House’s ability to pressure Senators, which Greenwald raises again in typically dense fashion. Yglesias and Bernstein dispose of the nonsense in good fashion, but I’d simply add that, again, there’s a very simple balance of power here; while troubled incumbents may want White House backing in elections, it’s at least technically possible for them to win without it. On the other hand, the White House can’t get its agenda through Congress without sufficient votes from members. With 40 Repuplicans lined up to oppose his agenda no matter what, Obama had to keep every Democrat on board for healthcare reform. If Blanche Lincoln refused to support the bill, that was it. There was no clever way out of things; it was get Blanche Lincoln to support the effort or give up on comprehensive reform. Period. The leverage between individual Senators at the tipping point of votes and the White House is always going to tilt in favor of the Senators (at least in domestic policy) because they have votes in the Senate, and you have to get votes in the Senate to pass bills. The question is how do you get those votes. Greenwald wants to imagine a world where you get them by beating marginal Senators with sticks until they’re cowed like powerless children into doing what you want them to, but that world quite simply doesn’t exist. Senators just aren’t powerless, and thanks to the filibuster, they’re holding the trump card more often than not. The national party or various factions of the party might be able to make life difficult for them, hell they may even be able to slay the dragon, but that vote in the Senate means that the Senator is going to be able to return the favor and then some as long as they have it.

And losing primary challenges does nothing to alter that balance.

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The Benefits of Wacking Blanche

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Yesterday, Jon Chait couldn’t figure out what the benefits of running a primary challenge to Blanch Lincoln, given that she voted for the Affordable Care Act and she actually is representing a fairly conservative state. Today I think he’s much closer to figuring out the logic:

I could see an argument for deploying challengers wherever you can find them just to throw the fear of God into Democrats in Congress. Perhaps the fact that Lincoln is almost certain to lose makes her an especially good target. There was a scene in “The Untouchables” where a federal agent, played by Sean Connery, is trying unsuccessfully to get one of Al Capone’s hireling to talk. So he goes outside the room, picks up the corpse of one of the bad guys, starts interrogating him as if he’s still alive, and then shoots him. The bad guy inside the room, unaware that the colleague that Connery shot was already dead, immediately becomes terrified and starts blabbing.[…]

If you’re not following my analogy, the progressives are Sean Connery and the corpse is Blanche Lincoln. If you’re going to make an example out of somebody, why not pick somebody who’s already (politically) dead? Or so the logic might go.

That’s pretty much the way I’d look at it. Lincoln is almost certainly going to lose anyway, so even if Halter is too liberal for the state, you’re not actually losing anything; the Republican candidate comes out on top either way. And it’s not as though Lincoln is a model Democrat. Yes she voted for the ACA, but she watered it down quite a bit as part of a bloc of conservative Senate Democrats, she flip-flopped on EFCA as soon as Democrats got 60 seats in the Senate, and as the Senator from Wal-Mart and Tyson, she’s not exactly hostile to corporate interests. And for what? Pretty much anyone could have told you she was going to lose her seat no matter what, so if she wanted to, she could have been a solid vote for the Democratic agenda.

There’s a bit of an incentives issue here too. If progressive groups look at Senators seeking re-election from states like Arkansas and give them the freedom to do whatever they have to do to get re-elected, there’s nothing stopping them from running as far right as they can. On the other hand, if they think they have to worry about primary campaigns as well as general election campaigns, that goes a long way towards keeping them on the reservation. And if they’re going to lose their seat anyway, then from a national standpoint you want to get something out of them on their way out, namely their vote on the party’s agenda while they’re still holding the seat.

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