Many of us inhabitants of the liberal blogosphere like to say that we are part of the “reality-based community,” the implication being that our counterparts on the right are not. And yet, the right’s growing dominance over the past couple decades suggests that at least when it comes to electoral politics it is they who are more grounded in reality than us.
Conservatives now hold the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and a majority of governorships and state houses. And while 2006 is shaping up to be a year of political sea change, it has more to do with Republican arrogance, incompetence and corruption than with well planned and executed Democratic strategy.
Liberal Democrats simply aren’t as politically calculating as conservative Republicans, as ruthless or relentless, and certainly not as rigidly and blindly unified. Too bad.
For with the GOP teetering on the edge of the volcano, now is the time for progressives to practice a little realpolitik, join hands… and shove the bastards in! But no… we have to engage in our usual bullshit in-fighting over who is or is not ideologically pure enough… all the time losing sight of what should be our overriding objective: seizing power.
Case in point, Sen. Maria Cantwell and the constant chatter from WA’s angry left, bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t meet our unrealistic expectations… all this wailing and gnashing over her failure to stop a war she couldn’t stop or her refusal to join a filibuster that could not win. And then there’s The Stranger’s Cienna Madrid and her fellow environmentalists over on Slog, who just can’t hold back their contempt for the environmental record of one of the most reliably pro-environment members of the Senate.
Cantwell’s transgression? She “welcomed” Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne’s nomination to be Secretary of the Interior, telling the New York Times that he “understands the Northwest and a lot of Interior issues,” and has “stood up to the administration” over nuclear waste cleanup at a federal facility in Idaho.
Oh Cienna… get real.
Not only is it absurd to suggest that this one comment should negate a five-year environmental record that has made Cantwell’s reelection the number one priority of the League of Conservation Voters, but the ensuing comment thread brouhaha showed a total lack of understanding of exactly what it is we elect our senators to do.
Don’t get me wrong… I really like Cienna. She’s funny, she’s foul-mouthed, and she sure can string a handful of unrelated words together into a coherent and entertaining sentence. No wonder she has a horde of admirers in The Stranger’s forums: talent is a turn on.
(Too bad I’m way too old for her. Unless, of course, she has a thing for older men… in which case I’m only about ten years too old for her. Ah well.)
But while Cienna’s a great writer… she’s also young… and so her passion and prose sometimes gets ahead of her analysis. And in this particular case her ire was certainly disproportionate to the political reality.
See, the reality is that the GOP holds a 10-seat majority in the Senate, and that Gov. Kempthorne is not only a former senator, but one who was well-liked by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The reality is that, evil or not, Kempthorne is going to be the next Secretary of the Interior, and there is absolutely nothing that Cienna or me or even Cantwell can do to stop it.
Cienna and others are outraged that Cantwell would greet Kempthorne’s nomination with such a welcoming statement, but she did so — so aides tell me — not only because she genuinely believes that he is somebody she can work with on issues important to Northwest voters… but because she has no choice. The reality is, he will be confirmed, and thus she will have to work with him, whether she wants to or not.
Sure, Cantwell could have greeted Kempthorne’s nomination with a big, fat “fuck you” — and perhaps that would have given people like me and Cienna a bit of passing pleasure. But what would it accomplish? The first time Cantwell went to Kempthorne on some real life issue that effected real life people in Washington state, she likely would have gotten a big, fat “fuck you” in return.
See, that’s the way things work in Washington… the Washington Sen. Cantwell works in, not the Washington in which she campaigns for votes. No, she may not be the best politician in the world, but she’s a damn fine legislator, and it should be pretty clear to her critics by now that she’s not going to do or say anything that interferes with her ability to do her job. It should also be crystal clear that while she’s reliably progressive on most issues (Progressive Punch rates her at 88.93% compared to current progressive darling Russ Feingold’s 89.56%,) she’s never going to be a Paul Wellstone.
Now… would I personally like Cantwell and the rest of the Democratic party to be a lot more stridently progressive? Hell yes! But the reason we have a war in Iraq and a Supreme Court packed with right-wing justices — and a “weasely, incompetent chode” like Kempthorne running Interior — is not because Democratic senators like Cantwell fail to take bold, symbolic stands… it’s because they’re in the fucking minority!
Welcome to my reality-based community.