Monday, November 16, 2009

Tea Baggin' Bennett vs. Putting Pressure on Matheson

Personally, I'm a fan of primary challenges. Sometimes even the threat of a primary challenge is enough to get an elected official -- especially a congressional representative, always more responsive to public opinion and pressure -- to rethink their positions. We should never assume a representative is casting votes purely to represent his or her constituency. Sometimes representatives do lose touch, and a primary challenge can be one hell of a wake up call.

But I'm also a fan of surveying the landscape of electoral possibilities and political realities, as opposed to "ideological purity tests" similar to what we are seeing from the Tea Bagger crowd in opposition to Sen. Bob Bennett and every other Republican who has ever once voted against the lock-step (also hypocritical, inconsistent, and for the most part imagined through "red state eyes" agenda of the wingnut) conservative agenda. I believe the tea party "movement" will prove to be the best thing to happen to Democrats in 2010, and I think there is a lesson there for those of us who find ourselves -- justifiably -- disappointed with Jim Matheson.

This isn't an argument for moderation. Moderation is overrated and, like bipartisanship, a vague goal employed more often as an excuse than as a route to good policy or representation. There is too much at stake to pat ourselves on the back for the "big tent" and hope that that alone will maintain the popularity of the Democratic Party. The party needs to show leadership, and poll after poll tells us that. But there is an argument to be had for intelligent strategy. Tea baggers hates them some Bob Bennett sooooo much, and why? A TARP vote and maybe some 2005 vote against constitutional bans on flag burning. The horror! So what are they going to do? Their going to send up Eager (with Joe the Plummer!) and Tim Bridgewater. Brilliant! An Eagle Forum jack-boot, and a John Bircher! All in the name of ideological purity.

With that in mind, the idea of a more liberal primary challenger for Matheson raises several important questions, and "pros" and "cons" of challenging the seat from the left. Con: A more progressive Democrat could win the primary, but would most likely lose the general if the Utah GOP stood up to the tea baggers and ran a moderate Republican. Pro: Matheson isn't necessary to the national majority, and on several key issues has voted like a Republican anyway. Con: Matheson's vote may be more important with a slimmer majority post 2010, and therefore worth hanging onto. Pro: On key issues, he's voted like a Republican. See where this is going?

Outside of these questions, we have "internal" questions to ask. Is Matheson a boon or a boost to the state party? What is Matheson doing to "turn" his district, if anything? (Assuming we aren't willing to accept the status quo forever).

Watching the damage Club for Growth, Freedomworks, and tea baggers are doing to the future of the GOP, we should be wary of implementing a similar strategy within our own party for the sake of ideological purity alone. That said, we shouldn't be willing to "settle" for the votes a representative casts simply because "he's our only Democrat," and a primary challenge is one sure way to tell a representative enough is enough. Has Matheson crossed that line? He voted for the Stimulus, and supported -- over the years -- countless good legislation in vote and in sponsorship. But he also opposed cap-and-trade legislation, pushed for oil-shale exploration, and not only opposed health care reform legislation in the House, but actively campaigned against it on Fox News more than once. Progressive punch gives him a 70+ "lifetime" rating, yet on several key issues, a moderate Republican and a conservative Jim Matheson would play the same role for a Democratic "agenda" over the next few years. But Republicans aren't running moderates in 2010, and that matters. So how many key votes crosses the line? 1? No, that's tea bagger territory. 2? 3? 4? Maybe somewhere in there.

Another "matter" to be considered here is Matheson's influence on the state level. If his influence nationally is marginal for a Democratic agenda, even sometimes working against, his role in the state, we are told, is the converse. But is this true? What did Matheson's vote against health care reform gain the state party? Could health care reform be used as a boon to base fundraising in a year that has for the most part been dry? Could threats from tea baggers screaming about death panels be used to galvanize Democrats in the state? With Matheson in opposition roughly 2/3 of the time since the election, could fighting for White House be employed as an energizing tactic for volunteers and activists going into 2010? Not without at some point crossing messaging with Matheson. How does this help down ticket Democrats who will own health care and cap-and-trade just as much as Matheson, whether they support it or not?

I want to say that again: We are going to own the White House's agenda in 2010, whether we agree with it or not.

So we assume all the negative, and cannot capitalize on the positive, all in the name of standing behind "our only Democrat"? In a nutshell, yes.

I'm oversimplifying greatly here, and with the help of the rest of The Sidetrack, we'll dig a little deeper into Matheson on the Federal Level and Matheson on the State Level in the next few days, but as a prologue to those posts, I throw all this out.

I'm as frustrated by Matheson's opposition to the House health care bill as anyone. But my frustration stems more from a feeling that it's simply bad strategy, and comes at too high a cost to the state party than it is ideological differences with Jim. And while I'd probably volunteer in a primary challenge campaign, even offer up a donation or two, I'm not convinced it's the best way forward. Giving up the seat just to maintain ideological purity is too close to having a tea party for my taste. But ignoring bad votes, bad strategy, and pretending everything Jim does is good for Democrats in Utah is just as unappealing.

More on this tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe we can wait for a fourth district, and hope that the legislature will put the Democrats in it. Then we might be able to send a Utah progressive to Washington.