Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Calls for the Most Delicate Judgment

Ezra Klein came under fire from Scarecrow at Firedoglake today for pointing out that (1) Arlen Specter moved to alignment with mainstream Democrats because of a primary challenge, and (2) Joe Lieberman moved away from alignment with mainstream Democrats because of a primary challenge. Ezra responds here.

A couple of points to make here. First, as written before, gaming these things out is sometimes very difficult. Take NY-23. It appears extremely likely that, had national conservatives stayed out, Republicans would have taken the seat yesterday. The new Member would have been a moderate Republican in the House, but she would have voted with Republicans far more than Bill Owens will. On the other hand, she also would have remained in the House more or less forever, and it's certainly possible that a more conservative Republican (Hoffman or someone else) will wind up representing this district as early as 2011. On the other other hand, had conservatives ignored NY-23 and Scozzafava won, Republicans would have had more impressive bragging rights today, and it's possible that a less ambiguous good day for the GOP might have made a difference in any recruiting close calls right now (as good potential candidates try to anticipate whether next year will be a good year to run or not). On the other other other hand, just the fact of the challenge might convince some potential good GOP candidates from running, because they don't really want to risk having to explain to their kids why they're being accused of bestiality. So it's not always easy, in other words, to know what's the best thing to do. Especially since we're talking about limited resources: is it better for liberals to devote limited time and energy into a primary against Blanche Lincoln, or a general election campaign against Chuck Grassley?

All that said, the second point is where I really disagree with the FDL poster. It might be true that liberals who went after Lieberman in '06 carefully weighed the risks, and made the correct choice (FWIW, I think so, in this case). But in politics, choices have consequences, and, yes, one of the consequences of the CT '06 Senate race might be that liberals lose out on health care reform years later. My feeling is that if you don't want the responsibilities of your choices, you probably shouldn't be involved in politics (although that's a political choice, too, with its own set of consequences. Such is life in a democracy).

To be clear: Joe Lieberman, of course, bears responsibility for his own actions. If he or anyone else said that he's absolved from that because of the primary challenge in '06, that would be wrong. From the point of view of liberal activists, however, they wounded the king and couldn't kill him, and they have to live with what they've done.

Politics is a tough game.

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