Getting Comfortable with Disagreement

cross-posted on Dailykos

Simon Rosenberg at NDN and the New Politics Institute is a brilliant guy who introduced me into politics, and I'll always be grateful to him for that.  He framed a lot of my thinking about the party, and one point he made is that Democrats have traditionally been tremendously uncomfortable with disagreement whereas Republicans have traditionally loved to argue and debate.  He was of course right, and you can tell by watching the Republican primary and the Democratic primary.  

Here's Sam Brownback challenging Mitt Romney.

Have you seen anything remotely similar to this on the Democratic side?  The Obama campaign will send a memo highlighting subtle disagreements with Clinton, and candidates will present different plans.  But when push comes to shove, there's just this, I don't know, fear of seeming different.  Obama will not even broach a disagreement with Clinton, for some weird reason.  John Edwards is putting forward the most ambitious rhetorical campaign, by far.  He's attacking the frame of the war on terror, calling it a bumper sticker slogan and genuinely going after the whole intellectual edifice of the right.  Clinton and Obama are not doing that, though Obama occasionally makes stabs in that direction.

But why is he so uncomfortable with the fact that he believes different things than Clinton?  Here's what I mean, from the South Carolina debate:

Senator Edwards, you made a high-profile apology for your vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution. You have said, quote, "We need a leader who will be open and honest, who will tell the truth when they made a mistake." Was that not a direct shot at your opponent, Senator Clinton?

Former Sen. John Edwards: No, I think that's a question for the conscience of anybody who voted for this war. I mean, Senator Clinton and anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they've voted the right way. If so, they can support their vote.

Why couldn't he have just said yes?  I mean, it is a direct shot at Clinton.  It's not an 'attack', but it's a disagreement.  And that's FINE.  That's democracy.  Here's what he could have said.

Yes.  Senator Clinton is a good person, but she thinks the vote to authorize the war was correct.  I don't.  As President, she has said she will keep troops in Iraq.  I think that's a bad idea.  Senator Clinton and I have different ideas about America's place in the world, and it's good for the party to have this debate.

Watch the Brownback video, where he challenges Romney on a whole range of issues.  What's wrong with disagreeing and arguing based on that disagreement?  Nothing.  And yet, I'm convinced that a fair number of base Democratic voters do not believe that disagreement within the party is ok.  Take, for instance, the notion that Democrats need courage.  Do you think that Steny Hoyer or Rahm Emanuel are cowards for voting to fund the occupation?  Perhaps they are, and perhaps their decision was cravenly political.  But what if they genuinely disagree with us on the vote.  Maybe they have different ideas about national security and executive authority, ones we don't agree with.  Or let's take the notion that the problem with Democrats has something to do with a lack of messaging capacity.  We can't say one thing clearly and simply.  Maybe that's true.  Or maybe Democrats have different ideas about stuff, and it's not actually a messaging problem so much as it is that we disagree.

I'm a partisan Democrat, and will be for the foreseeable future.  But I believe in the power of ideas more than the power of political parties, which is why I never hesitate to make criticisms of anyone based on their arguments.  It's really quite silly to pretend that we all agree on stuff, and also that it's necessary to all agree on stuff to win elections or wield power.  The way you govern is you work through your disagreements by acknowledging them openly and submitting them to scrutiny.  That's called pluralism, and it's the basis of the scientific method and political liberalism.  

It's ok to disagree.  It's ok to run primaries against people based on good faith disagreements.  When I talk about Hillary Clinton being principled about her hawkishness, I am not any less inclined to want to see her defeated in a primary.  But that's because I don't agree with her ideas, not because she's this or that as a person.  It's really remarkable how many supporters of hers read into her ideas their own liberal instincts instead of trusting what she says.  And when John Edwards refuses to acknowledge that he disagrees with Hillary Clinton, while obviously dancing in the media with a high profile apology that implies a whole lot of disagreement with a whole lot of people, he's avoiding the argument the party needs to have.  Edwards is putting forward real and different ideas about America's place in the world.  He disagrees with Clinton and Obama about a bunch of stuff.  That's fine.  There's no reason to hide it.

Seriously, watch Sam Brownback's video clip.  What he does in that Youtube clip suggests a healthy party structure.  Republican Presidential candidates are willing to fight with each other to see who comes out on top, to see who's more persuasive.  In lower and mid-tiers of the party, the GOP isn't having a debate, just as there is a real debate on the left in some areas of the party (though not really on the Presidential level).  But it's instructive to see what a party that's comfortable with disagreement looks like, and to compare that to what we have.

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Al Wynn Launches Campaign With Harold Ford Keynote

This is very significant. Wynn launched his campaign for reelection to Maryland's fourth district, bringing Fox News contributor Harold Ford to headline the announcement.  Here's what Ford said:

Ford, meanwhile, offered scathing criticism of how President Bush has managed the war, but specifically noted "I don't think we can leave Iraq right away." Ford went on to say, "As much as didn't do it right, we have to get it right because there are people over there who want to do us harm."

And Wynn loved it.

In an interview, Wynn called Ford "a tremendous young talent in our party." Wynn said he believed Ford made it clear he wants the United States out of Iraq, but "he also made it very clear that we need to think beyond cliches. My race is not going to be a bunch of cliches...We're going to talk about issues, substance and policy. We're going to try to bring some depth to how we deal with the 21st century."

Wynn is pretending to change his stripes, and a lot of progressives are falling for it.  Wynn is one of the key backers of the removal of the estate tax, and he's a genuine corporate corrupt Democrat.  I'll have a lot more on this soon, but I would encourage you, if you think he's changed, to take a look through his FEC filings this year.

Walmart, AT&T, Bellsouth, Firstenergy, T-Mobile, Pfizer, Edison Electric, Progress Energy, Sallie Mae, the US Chamber of Commerce.

The US Chamber of Commerce! This is the group that is protesting dictionary-makers about the word 'McJob', trying to get them to change the word to "reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding ... and offers skills that last a lifetime."

I wonder, does Al Wynn support Walmart's hiring practices?  Does he support changing the definition of a McJob?  Does he believe in global warming?  Does he believe in anything that he isn't paid to believe in?

This is going to be a very different race from 2006 in a lot of ways, mostly because Donna is a legitimate candidate and Wynn is going to run a race not based on inevitability.  I wonder if he's going to violate FEC rules this time, as he often does.  Or maybe his staffers are going to beat up Edwards volunteers, or perhaps he'll brag about stealing the election in a committee hearing.  Who knows?  The question around this race, though, is always going to be 'follow the money'.  

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MA 05 Special Election: A Progressive Pickup?

I've been surfing around BlueMassGroup today, looking at the different candidates running to replace Marty Meehan in the Massachusetts fifth district.  I used to live near that district, and I love Mass politics.  Lynne made a pretty compelling case for Jamie Eldridge.  I'm interested in special elections like this because this is when we get to move another progressive candidate into Congress.  Marty Meehan was not in the progressive caucus, but this is a safe blue seat, so we should push to have the next Democrat from MA-05 come out as a strong progressive.  Right now, it's the Blue Dogs and New Dems that are running the House, with a small bit of input from progressives and a fair amount from conservatives.  That should change, and in this special, we can move one more seat into our column.

All of the four candidate websites are web 2.0 enabled, with links to sites like Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, and Twitter on their main campaign pages.  All four are blogging on BlueMassGroup to communicate with activists.

I'm curious if anyone's asked these candidates the question of whether they will join the progressive caucus.  I'm also curious about what you think of the four candidates running: Niki Tsongas, Eileen Donoghue, Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold

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Partisanship is not Enough

wapost poll.jpg

The poll is from the Washington Post.

Progressives are in a bit of a bind these days.  The Republicans are still sadistic extremists, and with the challenge to Hagel in Nebraska, they will remain that way for at least another few cycles.  Despite the victory in 2006, liberal Democrats are still cut out of power and policy-making.  House Democrats want to fund abstinence only education, Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher and Michigan Democrat John Dingell are trying to block California's actions on global warming, the CBC is sucking up to Fox News, Hillary Clinton is saying that she understands the war on terror because she is from New York and that we are safer since 9/11, and lobbyist and blog-hater Steve Elmendorf's business is exploding.

Abortion opponent and religious theocrat Jim Wallis may not have been quite right when he said"The Religious Right and the secular Left both lost on Election Night", but he wasn't far off.  Democrats haven't been able to restrict Bush in a possible attack on Iran because they can't get a majority to vote against yet another war.  And then there's the big betrayal, of course, on Iraq.   This piece by Mark Udall should give all of us pause in our strategic understanding of where we are in the party hierarchy.

Opponents of the war claimed moral high ground by voting against funding, knowing all the while that a presidential veto saved them from the consequences of actually scaling back the equipment and medical supplies that sustain our soldiers, while advocates of the war shed tears and thumped their chests about defeating "terrorists" without ever explaining how deploying our soldiers to referee a civil war does anything but weaken our national security.

Meanwhile, labor looks strategically unwise.  Three weeks after it's become clear that the Democratic front-runner's chief strategist profits from union-busting, two labor leaders, James Hoffa and Bruce Raynor, wrote a tentative whiny note to Clinton asking her to consider their concerns.  She promptly told them in PR-speak to go fuck themselves, and they don't seem to care.  And this has real consequences - here's a high level Democratic staffer talking to a business lobbyist on the Employee Free Choice Act in Roll Call:

"My pitch to the business community was, `You want a lot from us, but you're now siding with the hard right,'" said the second senior House Democratic aide. "This card check bill is never going to see the light of day, and this is what you're going to spend your political capital on?"

This is in Roll Call.  Roll Call.  Labor is the pillar of the progressive community, and is openly being dismissed as irrelevant.  And that's before getting to Rangel's utter betrayal and moral corruption in his trade deal.

The progressive movement on the internet isn't recognizing these realities either.  Read the op-ed above; Mark Udall thinks we hate the troops, and he's going to be coming around to us for cash in his Senate bid in Colorado.  And a lot of people are going to give it to him.  

Now, this might sound depressing, and it is.  But it's also a reality of politics these days, and it's the consequence of 35 years of organizing by the right wing and only around eight years on our side.  The people in charge of the political system are the swing votes and the people that those voters want to work with.  Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel have positioned themselves to be this swing vote, and they have chosen to basically throw some crumbs our way (minimum wage) while voting with the Republicans on the big issues, like Iraq.  

This isn't permanent.  In four to six years and after a few more losses, it's possible that the GOP is going to realign around a more moderate agenda, and in the meantime we can broaden out and build bridges between progressives and independents.  We can learn to educate and/or cut off people like Udall, and encourage labor to stand up harder for workers.  But that hasn't happened yet, so moderate patsies like Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer are still large and in charge.  We are still losing credibility among antiwar independents (see above graphics), and Bush is retaking the initiative as leader.

We're going to get there one day.  I date the beginning of the open left to the fall of 1998, when Moveon was founded in response to the Clinton impeachment.  We've taken huge steps forward with our primary challenge to Lieberman and our new crop of freshmen in 2006.  And we've branched into policy, and now have a few inside players on a few key issues.  

The ultimate point here though is that we are not a partisan movement and should no longer think of ourselves as such.  We are an ideological movement.  We have ideas, and want to see those ideas driven with power.  This means that we need to get down to the hard work of disabusing ourselves of candidate-centric politics, and work to create primary challenges wherever possible, as well as keep building forums for the dissemination of new ideas.  Udall may or may not be a good guy, though certainly he seems like an immoral coward.  I could probably not bring myself to support him, though I wouldn't blame others if they did.  But the point is that Udall has been persuaded that conservative ideas work, even if he's a Democrat.  And that's what we have to tackle.

Update [2007-6-8 18:34:3 by Matt Stoller]:: Democrats.com has a list of candidates who voted against the McGovern amendment and possible primary challengers.

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Happy Birthday Charlie Rangel!

Someone just forwarded me this invitation.  I love birthday cake!

From: Heather Podesta <heatherpodesta@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2007 14:44:35
To: XYZ
Subject: Mr. Chairman -- Keep the Party Going

Dear Friends,

Please join us on Wednesday, June 13, at 8:00 am for a breakfast honoring Congressman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY). Rep. Rangel is Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. We are thrilled for this opportunity to celebrate and honor a truly dedicated and hard-working public servant. Serving as Dean of the New York Delegation, Charlie is the fourth-longest serving Democratic member of the House. He is also celebrating a 77th birthday on Monday.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be an intimate and belated birthday party. The event will be held at the Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 North Capitol Street, and the suggested contribution is $2,500 PAC and $1,000 personal. Checks can be made out to "Rangel for Congress." Please forward this invite to someone who may also be interested in attending or contributing.

Thank you for your consideration,

Heather

Here's who Heather Podesta is.  Yes, Podesta should be a familiar name.  She's the wife of big name lobbyist Tony Podesta, who is the brother of Clinton White House Chief of Staff and current Center for American Progressive head John Podesta.

Progressives have a lot of work ahead of us.

Oh, and if you have $1000 for a breakfast or $2500 from your PAC, I'm sure it's going to be yummy. They'll probably have bacon. Mmmm.

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More Insider-itis from Ron Wyden

Back in April, I pointed out that Senator Ron Wyden was being exceptionally nice to his Republican counterpart in Oregon, Gordon Smith, whose Senate seat is one of our top pickup opportunities in 2008.  I quoted Wyden's chief of staff Josh Kardon saying the following:

"Just as Sen. Smith has supported the Republican nominee in both of his last two races, Sen. Wyden will support the Democratic nominee for 2008, but he won't campaign against Gordon, and he will continue to work with Sen. Smith on the state's behalf for the next two years," Kardon said.

Kardon graciously came on to MyDD and responded with a post making the argument that this was a basic issue of style and tone.  Wyden doesn't go negative on anyone.  Wyden consultant Kari Chisholm furthermore came on to MyDD and made the claim that Wyden will do everything he can to make sure that Smith is defeated in 2008.

Now I like Wyden, even listing him as a favorite politician of mine a little less than a year ago.  But here he is again, today, playing the same game of insider-itis and protecting Gordon Smith by doing a joint bipartisan press release.

"Fulfilling the nation's commitment to rural counties, protecting natural treasures like Mt. Hood, improving access to quality health care and guaranteeing educational opportunities for everyone - these are not Democratic or Republican goals," Wyden said. "These are Oregon goals, which is why for the last decade, Senator Smith and I have collaborated on an agenda that puts partisanship aside and puts Oregon first."

This is what Senators do.  They compliment each other.  And it's kind of nice when it's on the Senate floor, and the civility brings a sense of an ancient gravitas.  But that's not what this is about.  This press release is featured on Gordon Smith's web site on the front page; you can be sure that he's going to run ads quoting Wyden's comments about what a great bipartisan guy he is, and pointing out that Smith voted against Bush on Iraq.  And with Wyden promising not to criticize Smith, those ads are going to work.  If Wyden isn't going to criticize Smith as a surrogate should, the least he could do is not go out of his way to compliment him and give him bipartisan cover.  But again, Wyden doesn't seem to care about winning the Senate seat and strengthening our ability to pass progressive legislation.  The criticism I wrote in my first post has been strengthened by Wyden's ill-considered and somewhat selfish statement.

It's a basic choice, if you want to put progressive policy through the Senate you try to get progressive Senators elected to replace conservative ones.  If you want to maintain the status quo then no progressive policy is going through the Senate in the next ten years.  There's just no middle ground, as much as Wyden might like to carve some.

Update [2007-6-8 16:36:34 by Matt Stoller]:: Loaded Orygun has more.

What really chaps me about this particular statement is that everyone KNOWS Gordo hasn't done dick about county timber payments, yet Wyden offers him the opportunity to take credit for it by associating Smith with the process to restore them. What exactly he may be thinking to do this, I haven't the least idea. What he should be saying is that Smith needs to be pressuring his friend the President to stop threatening to veto the bill and get on board with the plan. Of course that would require Smith himself to be on board, which he has declined to do until the cameras are rolling.

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Thanks to Our Advertisers

These advertisers keep us in business.  And what do you know, they aren't half bad.  So here they are, with much gratitude from those of us who can eek out some money from MyDD and keep the content pumping.

The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform:  These are the good guys, if you judge by who makes up the coalition members.

John From Cincinnati:  This is a new show on HBO replacing the Sopranos.  It better be great, because it's replacing, well, the Sopranos.

The Architect:  Here's more on Karl Rove's impact on politics, from those in Texas who knew him best.  I happen to think Rove's overrated as a strategist, not because he's not brilliant but because the GOP is a machine with lots of skilled people that work well together.  It's bigger than any one man.

Dennis Kucinich for President.  I'm annoyed at his Fox News hugging, though I heard a bunch of people in Hawaii say that he's the only one in the debates who makes sense.

Representative Earl Blumenauer:  He's doing good work on the farm bill, and we desperately need someone in there.  I'm tired of being poisoned.  Sign the Food and Farm Bill of Rights. I did.  I used to think that these petitions didn't matter, but they are in fact a serious legislative tool to indicate support.

Courtyard by Marriott:  If you're going to stay in a hotel and the choices are comparable, you might as well stay in one that supports the blogs with advertising.

Representative Tom Allen is challenging Susan Collins.  He's titling the ad 'Re-Defeat Lieberman' because of Lieberman's support for her.

Protectpolice.org:  This is a coalition of police groups and Mayors working for gun control legislation.  It's a very tough uphill battle, but it's funded by Bloomberg and so there is a shot of it moving the debate.

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Why Back a Presidential Candidate in 2008?

I have a question.  Why are you backing a candidate for 2008?  I ask this in all seriousness.  I backed Kerry, then Clark in 2004 for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I thought that was how to make change in the political system.  I didn't know about all the other stuff out there, and I really really wanted to beat Bush.  I'm not sure I was right, but that's what I did and why I did it.  Given that there are many ways of making change, including backing a local council race, a primary candidate for a Congressional seat, doing journalism, working on an issue, or any number of other ways of being involved, why the hurry to back one specific candidate for a Presidential contest that is extremely difficult to affect as just one person?

I'm not sure it's a bad choice, mind you.  I'm just curious why you're making that choice.  

Please, if you don't mind, try to focus less on why your guy/gal is teh awesome and more on why you think that choosing now, this early, is useful for your political goals, whatever they may be. Also, 'because it's fun' is a totally reasonable answer. For many of us, politics is still a hobby and should be fun.

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Ah!!! A Lamont-Style Purge!!

I'll just follow up on my earlier post on Chuck Hagel's right-wing primary challenge by pointing you to a bunch of quotes assembled by Ned Lamont blogger tparty on how the establishment reacted to Lieberman.  Just Google 'Lieberman purge' and you'll find 201,000 entries.  Googling 'Lieberman purge Stalinist' alone brings up 33,400 entries.

I happen like this one, by Al From. titled 'The Return of Liberal Fundamentalism'.  Or this one, from the Bull Moose Blog.

It is not the goal of the left to prevail, but rather to purify. That is what the Lieberman Purge Attempt is all about. Actually, this is very much an ideological movement that is driven by a neo-isolationist, MoveOn.org, Pat Buchanan-lite imperative to rid the Democratic Party of the centrist hawks.

If you want a fun little research project, do some searching and reread some of the coverage of Lamont's challenge.  It's pretty easy to find quotes talking about the left's Stalinist purge of Lieberman.  

The point is simple - if the establishment went crazy over the use of a democratic primary campaign against Lieberman, with us being called 'Hezbocrats', then a genuinely centrist establishment would be equally panicky about a challenge from the right against a Republican like Hagel.

But right now, the establishment is silent.  Remember, it wasn't just the DLC speaking out over Lamont.  Dick Cheney, George Bush, and William F. Buckley were consistent advocates of Lieberman.  They helped keep the notion of liberal extremism into the pundit class.  

Liberals should do the same thing, and point out that the Republicans are split on Iraq between extremists and moderates like Chuck Hagel.  I mean, there's a primary going on for the soul of the Republican Party, just like there was last cycle in Connecticut in 2006.  

Chris Matthews, David Broder, Chuck Schumer, and Rahm Emanuel ought to be pointing this out.  That they aren't speaks volumes.

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A Reverse Lamont: Where's the Media?

Diarist ptmflbcs at Dailykos alerted me once again to important chapter in the story of the modern Republican Party: the current right-wing primary challenge to Senator Chuck Hagel by Attorney General Jon Bruning.  This is something of a Lieberman-Lamont story on the GOP, only in reverse.  But the parallels aren't perfect, and illustrate well the differences between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, as well as how the media treats the two.

Order Taking Republicans

First of all, Chuck Hagel isn't particularly moderate.  His voting record was in virtual 'lockstep' with President Bush in 2004.  On domestic policy grounds, he is exceptionally loyal.  So what is the story here?  Obviously, partly it's Iraq.  Hagel has been a critic of Bush on Iraq, and even voted against Bush on the supplemental, providing an important margin of victory for the supplemental that Bush then had to veto.  While Democratic officials can vote against the party line and even lash out against the base without consequence (Mark Udall did it again today), Republican officials are not given the same latitude.  This quote, from Roll Call, on the difference between lobbying the two parties, is illustrative:

"Republican lobbyists are used to walking into an office and just saying, `I'd like you to do this,'" said one Republican operative who regularly lobbies across the aisle. "With Democrats, you really have to hone your arguments, and you really have to sell them on policy."

In other words, Republican officials are order-takers.  Hagel is not.  He isn't on Iraq, even going so far as to suggest that an impeachment of Bush might be on the table.

GOP Party Elites

The Republican Party establishment is much more receptive to primary challenges from the right than the Democratic Party is from the left.  Remember the immense carping about Ned Lamont?  The wailings of purges from insiders, the fear of the crazy liberal left?  None of that is happening on the right.  In fact, despite constant suggestions from the media that the GOP is about to abandon Bush on Iraq, there are four possible challenges against moderate Republicans on the issue of Iraq.  Iraq or no Iraq, the authoritarian conservative movement continues apace.

On a local level, you can see this in action.  Ned Lamont was a total outsider, a businessman with virtually no history in politics.  In 2006, John DeStefano and Dan Malloy, two popular mayors from the two large cities in Connecticut, both declined to run against Lieberman, choosing instead a ridiculous and futile race against the immensely popular Governor, Jodi Rell.   They didn't just choose to run against Rell, they entered a primary in order to figure out who would lose to Rell.  Only a non-political type would dare challenge Lieberman, even though he is more right-wing on Iraq than all but the most extreme neoconservative Republican.  In Nebraska, the situation is reversed.  Hagel may in fact have two challengers, a sitting Attorney General named Jon Bruning and former Rep. Hal Daub.  Both Nebraska insiders and DC insiders like Dick Cheney don't like Hagel, and are no doubt smiling at the primary challenge.

GOP Base

Here are polling numbers from Jon Bruning, one of Hagel's possible challengers.  Bruning is leading Hagel by 47-38, though to be fair these are Bruning's numbers (The Nebraska Dem party has numbers on the race as well).  Compare them to Lamont's challenge to Lieberman at a later date in the cycle, where Lamont trailed by 65-19.   Certainly much of this is name recognition, but it's very difficult to see all of it as such.  Lieberman was simply very popular among Democrats, and Lamont had to make his case forcefully and repeatedly to win.  And he was certainly helped by a lot of missteps by Lieberman during the primary campaign.

These are also base voters, which suggests that it's not just the party elites who are receptive to primary challenges.  Note also that Lieberman has to be challenged, there had to be a debate before his numbers moved.  With Hagel, the base voter in the Republican Party has already decided that he is not loyal to Bush and thus must be removed from office.  The reason we can't crack Republican unity is because the elites and the base voter in that party are both convinced that loyalty to Bush are absolutely bedrock values, maybe even part of their identity.  Without even having a real argument, GOP voters are willing to ditch a Senator that is with them on 98% of the issues.

Where Is the Media?

With thousands of stories on the Lamont-Lieberman circus in 2006, it's worth noting that there has been basically no reporting on Hagel's precarious position.  I did a Google search for 'Chuck Hagel poll' to see if there's any more data on the Bruning challenge, and there are more results on Hagel's possible Presidential run.  In fact, Hagel's extreme jeopardy in his home state is more likely to lead to his retirement or Presidential run than a reelection bid in 2008.  It's something of a travesty that the GOP rejection of Hagel in Nebraska, both from base voters and party leaders, isn't widely reported.  This is a really big deal.  The Republican Party isn't going to move away from Bush in 2008 during the primaries at all, because base voters have invested their identity in the President to the exclusion of anything else.  How else can you explain an exceptionally loyal voting Senator in Nebraska immediately losing out of the gate to a primary challenger with relatively low name recognition?  

There is a narrative that the country is increasingly unhappy with the Iraq War and George W. Bush, and that the GOP is going to move away from both.  This narrative started meekly in 2003, but has stepped up in frequency over the years until it's become routine for press reports to say that GOP candidates are 'bashing Bush' on a regular basis, even as anyone watching the GOP debate would note that the level of extremism is the same as it has been for twenty five years.

The rubber hits the road in primary contests and elections.  Chuck Hagel is in trouble because he doesn't take orders like a good GOP shill.

Beyond Red and Blue States

These kinds of primary challenges have been around since 1978, when a whole bunch of liberal Republicans were knocked out of power by the New Right direct mail groups.  And the power these groups generated, the total takeover of the Republican Party by an extremist and authoritarian movement, is extraordinary.  In 2008, we will have seen 30 years of conservative primary challenges.  Thirty years. This kind of authoritarian politics is so accepted that the media doesn't even remark on it anymore.  Think about it.  Chuck Hagel and Dick Cheney are in a bloody brawl, there's a right-wing primary on Iraq where the person in step with the country but out of step with Bush is getting thrashed, and the GOP establishment takes the other side.  And there's not really any media discussion about what this means for the country.

But in the most important respect, there is a real debate in Nebraska itself.  While it's painful to deal with the immense party discipline this kind of lockstep authoritarian base and establishment engenders, we can assure ourselves that the conservative movement is no longer going to work for the GOP.   Though Nebraska is a red state, 57 percent of Nebraskans want a timetable for withdrawal, and only 37% want to give Bush's surge a chance to work. That means that Democrats can make inroads in unusual places like Nebraska, much as they did in Kansas in 2006.  This is a map that is being rewritten, because independents are moving into the Democratic column on the war, even in red states.

The country is getting tired of order taking psychotic Republicans that work only for the interests of big business.  And while in a normal environment, we'd see the Republican Party respond and shift towards a more moderate stance, the opposite is actually occurring.  The party is running primary challenges against those who are in step with the mainstream precisely because they are in step with mainstream dislike of Bush's policies.  That's not a winning formula, but it's also an important piece of the public debate that we need to hash out.  Just what does it mean that the Republican Party is as extreme as it was in 2006?  It's time that an iota of media coverage be devoted to the right-wing primary purges.

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