D.C.'s Entitlement Ideology: Establishment Insists Incumbents Are Entitled to Uncontested Primaries

by: David Sirota

Wed Apr 29, 2009 at 14:00


In light of Arlen Specter's party switch, Rachel Maddow had former Rhode Island GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee on her show last night to discuss political moderation and contested primaries. During the interview, Chafee (perhaps inadvertently) articulated a very crass sense of entitlement that courses through our political Establishment:

"...the tremendously successful fundraising juggernaut that pours the money into these primary races against moderate Republicans in particular. I saw it happen to me in 2006, largely responsible for my loss in the general election...this is America, anybody can run for office.  It's the money that pours in that really makes these primaries destructive...Primaries run-up your negatives and they cost you money."

While I'm not defending the ideology of the right-wing Club for Growth that helps raise money for conservative primary challengers, I am saying that Chafee's comments are gross. He's pretty clearly saying that incumbent lawmakers and other cornoated frontrunners shouldn't have to face primaries - and if they do have to face them, those primary challengers are doing something wrong for having the nerve to be well-financed.

Remember, Chafee is not only a guy who had his senate seat handed to him by his father,* he is actually complaining about his supposedly Big Money primary challenge in 2006, despite his having outspent that primary challenger by more than 2-to-1. So what he's really saying is that he believes what makes primaries "really destructive" is money "pouring in" specifically to challenger candidates, but supposedly, it's not "really destructive" or bad if an incumbent like him "pours in" enough D.C. cash to grossly outspend and crush all primary challengers.

That is the definition of entitlement.  

David Sirota :: D.C.'s Entitlement Ideology: Establishment Insists Incumbents Are Entitled to Uncontested Primaries
These incumbents, whether Chafee, Specter or Joe Lieberman, genuinely feel it is some sort of awful affront to democracy when they draw well-funded primary challenges who can make a primary election a genuine contest, even though the definition of democracy is contested elections.** I mean, Chafee is literally complaining that "primaries cost you money" - as if it's awful that an incumbent should have to deal with a primary. And yet, we're supposed to simultaneously believe it's perfectly fine for an incumbent to leverage their office and votes to raise truckloads of special interest cash that then lets them grossly outspend any primary challengers who come their way.

So again, while I despise the Club for Growth (and while I actually preferred Chafee to his primary opponent and while I think the Club for Growth is certainly hurting the GOP), I also despise the entitlement ideology that says D.C. politicians have some sort of right to be shielded from democracy via an uncontested primary election. And remember, this is the ideology that is not only thrown at conservative activists, but at progressive ones, too (anyone recall the vitriol thrown at the Lamont campaign?)  - and it will likely be directed at the progressive Accountability Now project in the near future.

No politician should be entitled to an uncontested election - primary, general, special, or any other kind. And the good news is that based on a new story in the Politico, it's clear that simple truism may be seeping in.

The newspaper reports that despite the D.C. Democratic Establishment aligning to try to shit on Pennsylvania Democratic voters and crush a primary challenge to Specter, a serious primary challenge may be moving forward:

One man in an interesting spot today is Neil Oxman, Ed Rendell's political advisor and media consultant who is working for the man who was, until today, Rendell's favored candidate for Senate, Joe Torsella.

Torsella, now, is defying his old boss and staying in, and Oxman said in a brief interview that he thinks his client can beat Specter in the Democratic primary, if he decides to stay in the race, despite the power governor's decision to back Specter..

"Specter has a record and his record is -- for Democratic primary voters -- not a very good one," he said. "I don't think it matters what Joe Biden or Harry Reid or any Washington guy says. Specter a record of votes, and they have not been particularly good ones, for the last 20 years."

Oxman is right on - the palace drama in the Senate over Specter's change may make lots of news, but I'm guessing the working stiff in Pennsylvania doesn't care whether Washington hacks want a Specter primary challenge or not, and doesn't care whether those hacks think incumbent senators (even those from the other party) are entitled to be shielded from democracy. I'm guessing that if there is a primary challenge to Specter, there's a good chance the core Democratic voters who have been voting against him for years will continue voting against him, as they should.

* In light of that royal succession-style ascent, I guess it's not shocking that Chafee despises the whole electoral process.

** By the way, this is the same entitlement ideology that justifies politicians opposing public financing of elections. Incumbents believe they shouldn't have to be in a system that lets a challenger raise a roughly equal amount of money as them. In other words, incumbents believe their incumbency means they should have a right to an unlevel playing field.


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isnt it great (0.00 / 0)
how their are many things to focus on, but the politicians usually pick the wrong one,

Chafee sees a problem with money pouring into primaries, and he says to  solve the problem lets not have a primary,

He can easily say lets limit the amount of money involved in politcs, ,

Which choice would make our country better, less democracy or less money involved in politcs?


whatever you think people owe you, that is what you owe people


This presents still another test (4.00 / 3)
for progressive organizations such as MoveOn.

Do they back the demonstrably worst Democratic Senator -- now, indisputably, Arlen Specter -- in his re-election bid simply at the say-so of Obama, Reid, and the Democratic leadership, or do they choose to primary him?

If such organizations refuse to primary the detestable Arlen Specter, what kind of credibility will they ever have on primarying any other Democratic politician?  


Your last sentence is too long. (4.00 / 2)
If such organizations refuse to primary the detestable Arlen Specter, what kind of credibility will they have?

Fixed.


[ Parent ]
I focus on a different part of Chafee's argument (0.00 / 0)
It's the line about money "pouring in" -- i.e., organized out-of-state ideological interests (the Club for Growth, MoveOn, etc.) seeking to intervene in a state's politics and kick an incumbent around when there may not be as much will within the state itself.

Look: Ned Lamont had most of his money from in-state (i.e., his wallet), but Pat Toomey raised 52% of his money from out of state directly, and when you count the CfG 527 spending it was overwhelmingly an externally funded race. I'm pretty sure the same is true of Stephen Laffey's bid in Rhode Island in 2006.

So: while we may all agree that incumbents are wrong about primaries in general being a bad idea, the argument that these primaries ought to be primarily motivated by in-state resentment (and money) does have a bit more purchase.


Well, except for one thing... (4.00 / 4)
Lots of incumbents raise a HUGE percentage of cash from out of state (usually from NY and D.C.)...off the top of my head, I recall both Max Baucus and Conrad Burns raising a huge amount from out of state (you can't raise $12 million inside of Montana - it's basically impossible).

So by the same measure, why is it OK for incumbents to raise a huge percentage of their cash from out of state, but not challengers?


[ Parent ]
fair enough. (0.00 / 0)
Everyone raises money in NY and DC.  

[ Parent ]
The notion has merit... (4.00 / 1)
...the solution is so cumbersome as to be in the realm of impossible.

If you were to limit funding or direct action from external (out of state) individuals, groups and orgs, how would you deal with multi-state orgs, particularly those outside political/campaign finance regulation but with free reign to be hugely influential in campaigns, ie media entities.

What stops an Org from setting up an office in the state in question and channeling their actions through that office, a candidate need not have lengthy unbroken residence in most states to run, would the rules be different for political orgs?  

Would the incumbent also be prohibited from such external funding (PACs, Senate Campaign Cmte, national individual donors)?

But further, these 100 men and women in the US Senate swear an oath to preserve and defend the US Constitution, is it not the right every citizen living under that great document to challenge (with activism, $$, whatever means legally available) any Senator failing to uphold that oath?

How bout we just publicly finance elections and eliminate all of this complexity and poor Mr Chafee's suffering.


[ Parent ]
I wasn't arguing that it needed a solution ... (4.00 / 1)
... and I think the First Amendment would frown upon such a thing.  Even with public financing, however, there's still going to be independent expenditures.

[ Parent ]
I know you weren't... (0.00 / 0)
But with:

So: while we may all agree that incumbents are wrong about primaries in general being a bad idea, the argument that these primaries ought to be primarily motivated by in-state resentment (and money) does have a bit more purchase.

You didn't acknowledge that there is no way to ensure "in-state resentment" isn't created by external forces/dollars.


[ Parent ]
I'm still not sure (0.00 / 0)
why we allow corporations to give money to politicians.  

we haven't since 1907. NT (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
Unless they form PAC's (0.00 / 0)
...or you know circumvent the law by channeling the money through their employees.

[ Parent ]
PACs are funded by voluntary employee contributions (0.00 / 0)
You can't punish employees for not giving.  There are laws against that; harsh laws, too.  

[ Parent ]
it needs to be said that this is far worse than Lieberman -- he ran in a contested primary and lost -- (0.00 / 0)
voters in PA aren't being given the choice CT voters had --

what the entire Democratic Party (DC and PA and DNC) is doing now is not just welcoming Specter as a Democrat -- it's ensuring his re-election in every possible way without even giving Democratic voters any choice about who they want.


also -- PA Dems have voted for Specter repeatedly in general elections and not for the (D) challengers -- (0.00 / 0)
he wouldn't still be Senator without their votes every single election. Casey too, no?

This has to be at least partially why Rendell and others think running him as a Democrat is fine and dandy and won't cause outrage in PA, no?


related (and funny) -- "Specter Knows Who His Friends Are" -- April 17th -- CQ Politics -- (0.00 / 0)
http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/ey... --
... The pro-Specter senators, who donated from either their candidate committees or their leadership PACs, include Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky; John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Senate GOP Conference chairman.

Specter's campaign report also showed that he received funds from committees linked to Richard C. Shelby of Alabama; Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia; Bob Corker of Tennessee; Michael D. Crapo of Idaho; and George V. Voinovich of Ohio, who's not seeking re-election next year.

Orrin Hatch of Utah gave to Specter from both his campaign committee, Hatch Election Committee, and his leadership PAC, OrrinPAC.

... it's evidence that many of Specter's colleagues, who are in danger of losing their filibuster power in the 2010 elections, see Specter as their best shot of retaining a Republican-held seat in a state that has been trending Democratic. ...



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