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.
|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.