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Making Sense of Chris Van Hollen’s Criticism of Progressive Activists Fighting for Obama’s Agenda

van-hollen-question.thumbnail.jpgWe invited DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen over to FDL today to talk about Wednesday’s incendiary Politico piece by Alex Isenstadt. In what Van Hollen’s office claims were out of context remarks, Isenstadt seems to have framed Van Hollen as "calling on liberal groups to back off in their efforts to target moderate Democrats who have been skeptical of President Barack Obama’s ambitious budget." Van Hollen couldn’t make our chat today but his office claimed a NY Times report on the same day by Kate Phillips more accurately– less Drudgily– described what the chairman was saying.

First off, no one is attacking "moderate" Democrats, just the really
reactionary ones who vote with Republicans as a matter of course on
core issues– like the budget, which saw 20 Democrats, including
right-wing Blue Dogs John Barrow (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Bobby Bright (AL), Travis Childers (MS), Parker Griffith (AL), Frank Kratovil (MD), Jim Marshall (GA), Jim Matheson (UT), Mike McIntyre (NC), Walt Minnick (ID), Harry Mitchell (AZ), Glenn Nye (VA), and Gene Taylor (MS) abandon the Democratic leadership and line up behind Republican clowns Boehner, Cantor and Ryan.

Allies of Van Hollen’s tell me, off-the-record, that he’s all for progressive groups encouraging support for President Obama’s agenda. Of course what he doesn’t want– and what many Democrats don’t want– is a situation where any Democrats wind up being defeated by Republicans, who will be just as bad on the core issues and much worse on other issues– the ones that give the Democratic Party the power it strives for above and beyond the principles it may or may not represent. “What I’ve been warning people very clearly is, beware of forming a circular firing squad,” Van Hollen said. “We believe people should be focusing their efforts on expanding the Democratic majority, and that should be their singular focus."

Van Hollen indicated that he had communicated that message to people associated with the liberal groups in question.

Van Hollen was quick to point out that during the 2008 campaign cycle, the conservative Club for Growth ran damaging ads in then-Maryland Rep. Wayne Gilchrest’s primary race. The effort, he said, wounded the more moderate Gilchrest and paved the way for a more conservative and ultimately weaker general election candidate to win the nomination.

Ironically, it did progressives no good at all since the Democrat elected is a reactionary Blue Dog, Frank Kratovil, who frequently votes with the GOP, as he did on the president’s budget. In fact, this is what lies at the heart of the disconnect between the reasonably progressive Van Hollen and grassroots progressives Outside-the-Beltway.

As many of us Outside-the-Beltway have come to learn– the hard way– being a Democrat in and of itself is not necessarily that much of a virtue. Oh, sure, it helps the Democrats control the agenda (and the best parking spots and corner offices for themselves) but the massive Democratic majorities in the House haven’t lived up to expectations of progressive activists. Democrats whose primary interest is representing the aspirations of ordinary working families are constantly dickering and compromising with Republican-like so-called "Democrats," mostly Blue Dogs, who always put the corporate and special interests ahead of working people.

There are currently ten of these so-called Democrats who, on crucial issues, have actually voted more frequently with the GOP than with the Democratic Party! They are, from bad to worse (all radical right Blue Dogs) Zack Space (OH), Gene Taylor (MS), Harry Mitchell (AZ), Dan Boren (OK), Chris Carney (PA), Heath Shuler (NC), Jason Altmire (PA), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Joe Donnelly (IN), Travis Childers (MS)– and with 2 other, Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN) and Gabby Giffords (Blue Dog-AZ) voting exactly evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Five Democratic freshman haven’t cast enough critical votes to be rated yet but undoubtedly reflexive aisle-crossers Walt Minnick (Blue Dog-ID), Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL), Parker Griffith (Blue Dog-AL) and probably Ann Kirkpatrick (Blue Dog-AZ) and Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog-MD) will easily wind up on the same list.

It is Van Hollen’s job to build as big a partisan Democratic Party caucus in Congress as possible. That is very different from building a caucus that stands behind the values and principles espoused by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Strom Thurmond was once a Democrat too and, more recently, so were Jesse Helms, Richard Shelby and Phil Gramm. Their Democratic Party– which looks remarkably like the Democratic Party of John Barrow, Bobby Bright, Joe Donnelly, Walt Minnick and Travis Childers, is a danger to everything we believe in and to everything that makes the Democratic Party even just the lesser of two evils.

Joe Donnelly represents an Indiana district that leans Democratic. Obama won it with 54% of the vote. But Donnelly consistently opposes Obama’s entire agenda for change. He doesn’t deserve to be re-elected. Even if a more horrible Republican wins in 2010, in 2012 there will be at least a chance a moderate Democrat will take back the seat. This week Van Hollen’s DCCC launched radio ads against half a dozen vulnerable Republicans who voted against the budget, Mike Castle (DE), Ken Calvert (CA), Bill Young (FL), Thad McCotter (MI), Charlie Dent (PA), and Mike McCaul (TX). Excellent targeting but the ad would be just as effective if it were to run in South Bend, Elkhart and Kokomo and point out Donnelly’s voting record. Listen:

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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Howie Klein spent much of his life wandering around the world living in places like Afghanistan, Nepal, Holland and Morocco. He moved backed to America when Richard Nixon resigned and promptly helped start the first punk rock radio show in the country and then a DIY punk rock record label. His adventures in the music business ended a couple of years ago when he retired as president of Reprise Records. He began blogging almost immediately, starting Down With Tyranny. Jane taught him html while he held one of her dogs at a party. He is a raw foodist, lives in L.A., swims and hikes every day, thinks Howard Dean could be a president as great as FDR and will never be completely happy until Bush and Cheney are behind bars.