As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama Dumping On Primaries

The President of the United States is also the leader of a political party, so the notion that it's somehow scandalous for Barack Obama to "sway" the midterms elections is faintly ridiculous. I am concerned about his attempts to close off the Democratic primary process, however; I'm assuming plenty of Clinton loyalists tried to pressure him not to run, either.

The White House's willingness to engage emerged with a surprising bang. Democratic campaign operatives grumbled that Mr. Obama got involved in a special House election in upstate New York both late and grudgingly. But at the insistence of Sens. Menendez, Charles Schumer (D., N.Y) and Kirsten Gillibrand herself, Mr. Obama stepped in this month to head off a primary challenge from Rep. Steve Israel to Ms. Gillibrand's New York Senate race next year.

Israel's Chief of Staff has denied the report that Rahm Emanuel threatened to have the President campaign in black neighborhoods in New York for Kirsten Gillibrand if Israel ran against her, and that Israel would lose any ability to set policy in Congress. But the facts are that Obama's people wished to avoid a primary in New York, he made himself known, and at least one challenger demurred as a result. Now, I don't particularly like Steve Israel, but it's not my decision to make. We're seeing the same dynamic in Pennsylvania with Arlen Specter, as Democrats pressure Joe Sestak to stay out of the race:

When it comes to sorting out who gets to run for Senate, the chair of the DSCC -- currently New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez -- is the heavy. So it shouldn’t be taken lightly that the DSCC commissioned a poll pitting Specter against possible primary challenger Rep. Joe Sestak. The lopsided result -- a Specter lead of 56 percent to Sestak's 16 percent -- sends a pretty loud signal to the congressman. Remember, nobody made the party release these results, and indeed, if you want to get technical about it, the DSCC didn't actually "release" them; they just became public somehow.

Of course, just a couple months ago, Sestak was the DSCC’s best hope of mounting a credible general election campaign against Specter. But as is often the rule in these situations, the party is going with the incumbent, who’s viewed as a likelier winner. Menendez could scarcely send a louder signal to Sestak, at least not without decapitating a horse and doing some nocturnal breaking-and-entering.

This is of course coordinated from the very top. And it's profoundly at odds with the small-d democratic model of the voters choosing their representatives. Primaries are the lifeblood of a political system, in my view. They breathe life into the stodgy old system of the status quo. When a politician gets out of line or out of touch, a primary opponent can hold them to it. When they fail to represent the expressed will of the constituency, a primary opponent can step in. This should not be suppressed but celebrated. Nobody should choose the options for the public. Not even the President.

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