Taibbi Explains Why Dems Are Losing: It's Not the Sierra Club

Friday, August 04, 2006

Earlier today I went off on Paul Krugman for his Kosesque soliloquy on why the Sierra Club (NARAL and other left-leaning issue groups) should put aside their non-partisanship and stop endorsing non-Democrats. Krugman's point, like Kos's, is that we should support Democrats at all costs because Republicans are ruining the country. The reason I can't sign on to this idea, aside from the fact that it means asking organizations to violate their own charters and stated goals to become nakedly partisan, is that it ignores the fact that Democrats are also ruining the country. Krugman implies that Democrats keep losing because they are not mimicking the soul-less authoritarianism of the Republican party. When a reader responding to today's column writes that she's in a dilemma about voting her conscience because she likes Chafee's voting record but does not like the rest of the party or want it in power, Krugman responds:

The strength of the conservative movement is that it rarely agonizes about such things.

So the poltical left would be "stronger" if we stop voting our conscience and become mindless party cogs?

But my disagreement with Krugman on this is not simply about the importance of principle. I think he has misdiagnosed the cause of the Democrats losing streak. We need to stop blaming the voters for the manifold failings of the Democratic Party. Matt Taibbi absolutely nails the Democrat problem in the new issue of Rolling Stone. In his analysis of the Lieberman/Lamont race in Connecticut, he offers some of the most targeted, insightful analysis of the larger problem I've read to date. He pulls apart Lieberman's black church "I met Dr. King" stump speech and exposes the cynicism of his DLC, faux populism.

The scene says everything you need to know about the modern Democratic Party. It spends its weekdays sucking off the Pentagon and Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry, and on the weekends it comes out and spends five minutes getting teary-eyed for the "I have a dream" speech and thinks you owe it your vote because of it. Some party members agree, but quite a few don't, which is why Joe Lieberman—the hawkish one-time vice-presidential candidate who has made himself the most visible symbol of the "new" Democrats—is facing a surprising primary challenge on August 8th. Like Lieberman himself, the "I was there in the Sixties" act is finally getting old.

"I hate the Sixties, and I'm tired of hearing about it—what have you done for me lately?" says Regina Meade, one of the churchgoers. She shakes her head. "I lost a cousin in the war. Twenty-nine years old. What about that? What about that?"

While Lieberman is one of the most vulnerable of the old guard Democrats, his campaign is emblematic of a much deeper problem. That so many beltway Dems have run to his rescue, despite his smooching with Bush, should tell us everything we need to know about where Democratic Party alliances really are. As Taibbi states, they're not with voters.

Of course it's fairly obvious where it's coming from. Even the most casual Democratic voters understand by now that there is a schism within the party, one that pits "party insiders" steeped in the inside-baseball muck of Washington money culture against . . . well, against us, the actual voters.

The insiders have for many years running now succeeded in convincing their voters that their actual beliefs are hopeless losers in the general electoral arena, and that certain compromises must be made if the party is ever to regain power. [emphasis added]

This defeatist nonsense is sold to the public in the form of beady-eyed party hacks talking to one another in the opinion pages of national media conglomerates, where, after much verbose and solemn discussion, the earnest and idealistic candidate the public actually likes is dismissed on the grounds that "he can't win." In his place is trotted out the guy the party honchos insist to us is the real "winner"—some balding, bent little bureaucrat who has grown prematurely elderly before our very eyes over the course of ten or twenty years of sad, compromise-filled service in the House or the Senate.

This "winner" is then given a lavish parade and sent out there on the trail, and we hold our noses as he campaigns in our name on a platform of Jesus, the B-2 bomber and the death penalty for eleven-year-olds, consoling ourselves that he at least isn't in favor of repealing the Voting Rights Act. (Or is he? We have to check.) Then he loses to the Republicans anyway and we start all over again—beginning with the next primary election, when we are again told that the anti-war candidate "can't win" and that the smart bet is the corporate hunchback still wearing two black eyes from the last race.

That's why the Democratic Party is imploding faster than a Republican Party that has detatched itself from discernable reality. Not because the Sierra Club, NARAL, and some kooky Independants aren't behind the Democratic Party right or wrong.

Taibbi goes on to describe, in dirty detail, Lieberman's corporate whoredom, but he could be describing any one of a number of beltway Democrats.

He is everything a Washington insider loves in a politician. He is pompous, pious and available. Routinely one of the very top recipients of campaign donations from the insurance, pharmaceutical and finance sectors, and a man whose wife, Hadassah, is a pharmaceutical-industry lobbyist for Hill and Knowlton, Lieberman has quietly become one of the greatest allies corporate America has in Washington.

For example, Lieberman, who as chairman of the DLC in the mid to late Nineties presided over an organization heavily subsidized by companies such as AIG and Aetna (the latter of which also contributes lavishly to his campaigns), sponsored a bill that limited auto insurance suits by permitting the offering of lower rates to consumers who forfeited their right to sue. He has fought for similar anti-lawsuit laws for tobacco, for HMOs, for pharmaceutical companies. Victor Schwartz, general counsel for the American Tort Reform Association, once bragged that "if it were not for Lieberman, there would never have been a Biomaterials Access Act"—a 1998 law that protected companies like Dow Chemical and DuPont (also big DLC contributors) from lawsuits filed for the production of defective medical implants. Yes, that's right: Joe Lieberman fought for the principle of manufacturing faulty fake tits with impunity.

In a move that was perfectly characteristic of everything he stands for, Lieberman in 2001 offered a piece of legislation, S. 1764, that purported to provide incentives to companies that develop medicines to treat the victims of bioterror attacks but, more important, extended the patent life of a wide range of drugs for several years, delaying the introduction of more cost-friendly generic drugs. Shilling for the socialist subsidy of drug companies while masquerading as a Churchillian, tough-on-security Democrat in the War on Terror age: That's Joe Lieberman, and the modern Democratic Party, in a nutshell.

Taibbi expounds further in the first installment of his new web-only column, in which he demonstrates the curious parallels between the DLC and neoconservatives like David Brooks. The column is worth reading if only for commentary like this:

Brooks worships the status quo because he has no penis and wants to spend the rest of his life buying periwinkle bath towels without troubling interruptions of conscience.

But his larger point, that the DLC has gnawed away the core of the Democratic Party and turned it into a party of corporate toadies, bent on convincing the 91 percent of Democratic voters who want us out of Iraq that they are the lunatic fringe.

The DLC are the lowest kind of scum; we're talking about people who are paid by the likes of Eli Lilly and Union Carbide to go on television and call suburban moms and college kids who happen to be against the war commies and jihadists. On the ignominious-sellout scale, that's lower than doing PR for a utility that turns your grandmother's heat off at Christmas. And that's pretty bad -- but with enough money and enough of the right kind of publicity their side still might win in the Lamont/Lieberman primary on August 8th.

Which tells you just about everything you need to know about the modern Democratic Party. Why is anyone surprised that the Republicans never lose?

I, for one, am less and less surprised. Mr. Krugman and Markos Moulitsas can blame the Sierra Club if they want, but it seems like a race to the bottom of the self-defeatism pond to me. We need to stop assuming voters are idiots who need to be shepherded into the Democratic flock, regardless of whether or not party leaders demonstrate that they can actually lead us back from the cliff.

Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.

Think about that for a minute. The Democratic Party can't win against a party represented by the obvious insanity of a Senator who compared environmentalism to Hitler's "big lie" and it's the Sierra Club's fault? A party that can't make hay of what Republicans have become and offer a reasonable alternative doesn't deserve to win.