Monday, October 25, 2010

With Friends Like These

By Taylor Sias

One week from today, many experts expect Democrats to lose control of the House of Representatives. Even Democrats acknowledge the likelihood that the GOP will win the 39 seats required to oust Nancy Pelosi from her speakership of the House. Prospects for the upper house are only slightly rosier, with a best case scenario of a slim 51-Senator majority. But when you consider the tenuous partisan loyalties of Sens. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, even a win on election night may not be enough.

This preface brings me to the heart of next Tuesday’s elections. The vast majority of competitive elections do not involve liberals and progressives. Especially in the House, the result will hinge on elections between incumbent, conservative Blue Dog DINO’s (Democrats in Name Only) against reactionary tea party candidates.

The 2006 and 2008 elections brought gains of 31 and 21 seats, respectively, in the House of Representatives. Democrats won nearly all the competitive races, effectively wiping out the GOP in the Northeast and even taking some traditionally Republican seats in the Midwest and South. However, the election of Democrats in years which favored Democrats nationally did not tilt the ideological leanings of these districts. Voters remained conservative, in spite of breaking with the Republicans during these two cycles.

Take for instance the case of Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler, who won North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District in 2006. Shuler represents a district that voted 52-46 % for John McCain in 2008. This rural district in Western Carolina has an R+6 partisan index, as calculated by the Cook Political Report. That particular seat had been held by a Republican, Charles Taylor, for eight terms. As a congressman, Rep. Shuler has voted against Obama’s health care bill and stimulus package. Shuler even voted against the TARP bailout, which was proposed under President Bush. In looking at the 109 contested races, as categorized by the New York Times’ Nate Silver’s 538 blog, contest after contest consist of incumbent Democrats running in purple or even dark red districts. For every fire-breathing liberal like Florida’s Alan Grayson, there’s a Bobby Bright (AL-02) or Gene Taylor (MS-04) who oppose President Obama on the Stimulus, Health Care, and the Energy Bill, but want voter enthusiasm to carry them to re-election. They are hoping that Democrats will forget that they oppose a President whom they support, and Independents will vote for a DINO against an authentic conservative Republican.

Just today, we learned that the aforementioned Gene Taylor is hardly a Democrat at all. The Mississippi congressman, already on the record for opposing Nancy Pelosi for Speaker should Democrats hold the House, stated that he voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Taylor’s reasoning, “Better the devil you know.” Taylor is also “disappointed”, that Pelosi has veered too far to the left. CBS News rates his re-election as “Probable Democrat”. The strategy of Rep. Taylor and many others is simple – vote against your party and hope voters will forget he’s a Democrat and vote for him out of name recognition. However, it’s more likely that the tea bagging Republican electorate will vote against anyone with a “D” after his name, even if it includes conservatives like Gene Taylor.

Finally, in another damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t election, there’s the special election to replace the deceased former Sen. Robert Byrd in the state of West Virginia. If there was a state that has not warmed to President Obama’s, it’s the reddest of the red states deep in the heart of Appalachia. Obama won just 42 % of the state’s vote in 2008, and his disapprovals have risen to 69 %. Democratic Governor Joe Manchin is attempting to keep this race in the blue column. Manchin, a conservative pro-life governor who has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce and NRA, is fending off Tea Party favorite John Raese. The Republican, Mr. Raese is famous for intentionally mispronouncing the names of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Energy Secretary Steven Chu in an attempt to make them sound foreign. Raese also commented that he wished more people made their money the old-fashioned way, by inheriting it, Raese joked. Manchin made news today by refusing to support Obama or any Democrat for the presidency in 2012, and will not endorse noted liberal firebrand Harry Reid (pause for comedic irony) for Party Leader in 2010

The sad truth of this election is that there is no winning if you’re a liberal Democrat. If the party hangs on, it will be on the backs of DINO’s who’ve shown no real interest in supporting a Democratic agenda. If the Republicans hold on, we’ll be stuck with Sen. Mitch McConnell and his newly stated #1 legislative goal of defeating Obama in 2012. I predict we’ll hear echoes of cheers from the right about how this election was a defining moment for the right, and how terrible President Obama and the liberals are. If that does happen, wouldn’t it have been nicer for Democrats to have actually been liberal and lose? The most probable result for Nov. 2 is that Democrats will have supported a watered-down health reform bill without even a public option, and wind up getting throttled as too liberal and extreme. Talk about going down without a fight. One axiom might prove true, though. The “enthusiasm gap”, which has become the new buzzword for pundits, may rear its head in the results. We’ll see if Harry Truman’s famous quote, “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the Real Republican all the time”, proves true.