Dreams For Democratic Backbone Die Hard
You will recall that I caught some heat from within the ranks at the beginning of this month for suggesting that the public doesn’t share our level of concern over the Bush Administration’s data mining and snooping activities against everyday Americans. I also said in that post that the Beltway Democrats, especially in the Senate, are against taking a stand on the issue of NSA snooping prior to the midterm elections because they would rather focus on issues where the polls are more favorable (gas prices, Iraq, need for change) than taking a stand on principle regarding domestic surveillance, only to get bludgeoned by Rove for being weak on national security.
Several bloggers took issue with me, and let me have it for allegedly “quivering with caution”, and suggesting retreat, rather than browbeat our representatives to fight on principle. What got lost in the back and forth was that although I have wanted our representatives and senators to be more aggressive on many fronts for years, as evidenced by many posts here, I realized a while ago what others are now seeing, that such battles on principle are not in the DNA of almost all Senate Democrats (except Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer). Wishing for it and banging the table for it won’t make it so. It just isn’t there with Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Chuck Schumer, Jay Rockefeller, Joe Biden, Pat Leahy, and for that matter Barack Obama. Dick Durbin is capable of it, and would make a great Majority Leader, but for every Durbin there is a Harry Reid, who is more conservative than many of us realize and who in truth is really a transitional figure from the Tom Daschle days until the Democrats can retake the Senate in 2008. And let’s not talk about Hillary, whom I think stands only for what gets her votes in 2008.
As a group, our senators are risk-averse. They are a fearful group and not willing to do a frontal assault on Bush unless the issue has broad public support, and has GOP support inside the chamber. They were bitch-slapped repeatedly since 2002 for being weak on national security, and are now focused on doing whatever is necessary to pick up more seats this November and aren’t willing to expose their flanks. This is not a mystery, and should not be a surprise to center-left bloggers. Almost all Democratic senators are playing the long game, and their political courage will be dictated by how many of them will be in the chamber in January 2007. If Chuck Schumer can play it safe and pick up enough seats this November to put Democrats back in charge, then you will see more courage and less risk-aversion. You will not see a Majority Leader Reid either. But if Schumer is able to only pull the Democrats close, say a 3-4 seat pickup, then the risk aversion will continue until 2008, when the early polling shows that the Democrats will easily retake the Senate.
There are far too few Russ Feingolds, Barbara Boxers, and Dick Durbins in the upper house and far too many Dianne Feinsteins, Joe Liebermans, Joe Bidens, and Jay Rockefellers. This is not news. Dreams of an aggressive Senate Democratic caucus die hard. But this has been a fact of life since 2002, and won’t change in the Senate for awhile. Waiting on "Profiles in Courage" moments from this group of Senate Democrats isn't in the cards, in part because of the risk-aversion mindset of the caucus, in part because we don't have the media infrastructure to maintain an offensive, and in part because these folks are playing a long game and hoping to back their way into the majority in January without exposing their flanks now to the already-successful attacks on national security. Again, there should be no surprises about this. This doesn't justify why the consultants and the Beltway Democrats behave this way, but until there are more safe Democrats in the Senate, and more splits inside the GOP caucus, looking for stands on principle from the caucus is unfortunately futile.