Wednesday, May 8, 2013

sex and the double standard

By now, everyone knows that Mark "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" Sanford is back in Congress after winning a special election last night. While the district is bright red, many Democrats (including myself) thought that we had a chance to pull this one off. We had a rockstar candidate (who piggybacked on her brother's name ID) and they had a deeply flawed candidate with more baggage than an airport. However, the voters ultimately decided that the R next to Sanford's name was good enough to revive his political career.

Like many, I like to follow political sex scandals. They are amusing to even non consumers of political news. Some of them are so silly that if you made it up, nobody would believe it. When I saw The Campaign last summer, when Will Ferrell's character posted pictures of his dick to Twitter, it almost seemed made up, but yes that really did happen. They happen on both sides of the aisle. Some of course are more sleazier than others (I would rank Mark Sanford up there in terms of sleaziness). They also happen on both sides of the aisle. For every Mark Sanford there's an Eliot Spitzer. What is different is how the various parties handle the sex scandals and how the party that preaches 'family values' gets away with it.

Within a year of each other, two politicians that hold statewide office (one a governor of a blue state, the other a senator from a red state) get caught with prostitutes. When Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer (who I voted for in my last NY election) was caught, he resigned his office within a week. His party punished him by stripping him of his superdelegate status at the national convention that year. Contrast that to Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana. The senator secluded himself for a week and then his party and constituents forgave him. He never resigned his office, in fact he easily won re-election in 2010 with 57% of the vote. (Note, even though Governor Spitzer left politics, he has since made a comeback as a media personality).

To use another bipartisan example, two politicians seeking the presidency both cheat on their wives who have cancer. Very sleazy indeed. However, only one of them is still in the spotlight (granted, years after the scandal) and his party took him seriously. Newt Gingrich's adultery was the not the only scandal that plagued him throughout his career. He was cheating on a wife with cancer and actually served her divorce papers while in the hospital. This is a man who finished 3rd in the presidential primary in 2012, many years after his scandal was public. On my side of the aisle, we also have a presidential candidate who cheated on his (now late) wife with cancer-- John Edwards (who I will admit was my first choice in the 2008 primary, but now I feel I dodged a bullet). Because he's a sleazeball, he was punished by his party (his speaking role at the convention was taken away and any hopes he had of a cabinet appointment were as well), and five years later he remains out of the spotlight. Will he pull a Newt and make a run for president down the line? I'll eat my shoes if he's taken seriously as a contender. I think that the party leadership and base would (rightfully) turn his candidacy into a laughingstock.

Newt Gingrich (who won Mark Sanford's Bible Belt state in the 2012 primary), David Vitter, Mark Sanford, and to throw a Democrat in there, Bill Clinton. All of these guys have survived a sex scandal. With the exception of Anthony Weiner (who is interested in running for mayor of New York City), it seems that the Republicans are more likely to (sometimes successfully) run candidates that have been caught in a sex scandal while the Democrats punish most of their sex scandal candidates. So what is next for the party of family values? After Sanford's victory last night, it seems that the sky's the limit for sex scandal plagued Republicans. So who's the next GOP comeback kid? Larry Craig (last seen in an airport men's room)? Mark Foley (last seen auditioning for "To Catch a Predator")? John Ensign (last seen paying off his mistress's parents)?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

from progressive to blue dog-- my own evolution

I am not much of a blogger anymore, as anyone who reads a date can tell (my first post in 2.5 years). I'm still a Democrat, but I would not longer self identify as the Outspoken Liberal. Having worked on four Democratic campaigns in rather conservative districts, my own views have become more conservative over time. Maybe this is an attribute to getting older (aka being on the wrong side of 30), but I see it more as leaving the liberal bubble that is the New York metro area and being sent to what Sarah Palin famously referred to as the "Real America." (I am sure that I just lost even more of my progressive credentials by quoting Sarah Palin.) What sparked me to come out of blogging retirement is the growing civil war within the Democratic Party between Progressives and Blue Dogs. On one forum I frequent, several posts can be summed up by the following sentence-- 'Rah rah Progressives, boo hiss Blue Dogs." I haven't looked at profiles to see where many of the posters are from, but my guess is that many are from liberal enclaves like parts of New York and California.

Since my last blog post, I'm not focused on issues as much as I once was. As a campaign staffer, I am focused on my next race and what it takes to win that race (with the exception of labor, which lead me to Wisconsin in 2011). What I have learned is that in many districts (even more now due to GOP gerrymandering), an ideological Progressive is simply not electable. When I interviewed for my first race in 2010 (a Blue Dog district), I was asked if I was okay working for a Blue Dog congressman. My response was that I'd rather have a Blue Dog who votes with the party 85% of the time than a Republican who votes with the party 0% of the time. This holds true for me now more than ever, having been to four Blue Dog districts in four different states. While I am not on a race this year yet (I have my fingers crossed that this changes soon), if I had my choice I would go to a Blue Dog district. I like the challenges that Blue Dog districts present and I feel they're a good fit for me.

There's been a purity move in politics on both sides of the aisle. On the Republican side, you have the tea party movement, who primaries the establishment (sometimes successfully) with extreme conservatives (more on this below). On the Democratic side, the purity movement is not as widespread and vocal. You have groups like Progressive Democrats of America aka PDA (I went to a conference of theirs before working on campaigns and while I agreed with what they stood for, I was extremely turned off by their tactics), who spend their time and effort into going after Democrats because they're not liberal enough. An example of this was complaining about the healthcare bill (prior to passage) because it was not single-payer (even though single-payer could not pass). Instead of accepting a baby step in the right direction, they fought it and made the perfect the enemy of the good. Perhaps they'd be a lot more successful if they spent half as much effort going after Republicans as they do Democrats.

When ideological purists are nominated in primaries, you have races that one party should have held or picked up go to the other side. If not for the tea party, we would have a Republican controlled Senate right now. But the tea party gave us candidates like Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell and Todd "legitimate rape" Akin. As a Democrat, I made the popcorn, sat back, and enjoyed the show as the GOP squandered these opportunities to lose races they should have won. As a political professional, I learned the lesson that a candidate is only as good as the district he/she is running in. If the candidate is too ideological for the district/state, he/she will not win period.

A good example of this is Richard Mourdock, a tea party Republican that primaried a longtime GOP senator in the red state of Indiana. At the end of the day, Indiana voters decided that Blue Dog Joe Donnelly was a better fit to represent them than the extremist Mourdock. If PDA had stepped in and decided that Joe Donnelly needed a liberal primary challenger (primary voters-- especially in states with closed primaries--tend to be the most ideological voters), then we would probably be looking at Senator Mourdock.

As a Democrat, I want the most progressive ELECTABLE candidate to represent the district. The keyword here is electable. The last thing I want my party doing is nominating our version of Todd Akin and turning into a laughingstock. 2014 (and 2013) is looming and we've worked too hard to blow our chances. As for Progressives who would like to see other Progressives elected, in many districts that is a long-term strategy. I will have a future post on that.