Donna Edwards' win in the MD CD-4 was big news, welcome news, to the progressive community and the netroots who backed her -- big time. We've succeeded in ousting a corrupt and so-called "moderate" Democrat in favor of a much more progressive and left-leaning one. Congratulations are in order for Ms. Edwards, her campaign staff, and her supporters.
While we're celebrating, though, it would be a good thing to bend our brains around the meaning of Edwards' win when it is coupled with the other "upset" in Maryland yesterday: Representative Wayne Gilchrest's loss in the Republican primary to a "real conservative" backed by James Dobson and the Club for Growth. (Though I have always voted for the doomed Democrat in previous district elections, Gilchrest is my representative in Congress and I have on several occasions contacted his office to express my views.) Teacherken notes the Gilchrest defeat in passing, but he does not reflect much on its meaning. Other than that, I've seen little mention of the two upsets together. So, follow me after the break for some noodling.
Gilchrest had two opponents, both on his right, in yesterday's primary. Andy Harris, the chap who won, had outraised Gilchrest by $1, 095,618 to $567,192. His other opponent also raised more money -- a total of $600,556. So the forces arrayed against Gilchrest raised and spent nearly 3 times the amount the incumbent was able to raise. I'm guessing, but don't really know, that the defense from the republicans' congressional campaign committee was pretty anemic. In any case, Gilchrest -- who has been anti-war, pro-environment, and for a Republican rather pro-labor -- represents the mirror image of the Wynn battle. We (progressives) won with Edwards. But did we also lose with Gilchrest?
Of course it is possible that that democratic candidate for MD-01 will now have a shot and could therefore increase our majority in the House. Andy Harris is very right-wing and the district has supported the moderate Gilchrest through a lot of previous election cycles. But looking at his loss that way might be missing the forest for the trees. (Moreover, Harris won his primary with 30,853 votes out of a total of ~70,000 votes cast in the Republican primary; Kratovil won his primary with 26,284 votes with a total of ~65,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary in this CD. MD-01 is in fact heavily Republican and looks to remain that way despite the best efforts of my husband and myself after we moved into the district in 2003.)
What strikes me most about the pair of changes, taken together, is that we're all becoming more partisan, not less, and that our elation at unseating Wynn has to be understood that way. Just as the elation of Red State bloggers (see Moe Lane's post One that Breaks a Little Our Way. A Little) and the Club for Growth celebrates the defeat of a moderate by a conservative.
So how do these events fit into the Obama-crafted frame about post-partisanship? I don't think they do. In fact, I would argue that what we are seeing is some cognitive dissonance: Obama supporters wanting to believe, or wanting others to believe, that there is an important, MODERATE, constituency out there whom he can attract and on whom he can base his mandate for change while at the same time they work hard (and successfully) to make the Democratic party more progressive.
Or put this problem another way. If Wayne Gilchrest were to run as an Independent, would we (in the progressive blogosphere) support him the way Republicans fought to elect Joe Lieberman? Would a Republican we can work with be worth it to us? Enough for us to pour our money and our energies into defeating Harris (and also Kratovil, who won the Democratic primary)? I don't have any idea whether Gilchrest would even consider such a thing nor do I know enough to be able to guess at its probable outcome. I'm just putting this forward as a thought-experiment.
The whole "post-partisan" rhetoric, frankly, makes me nervous. I don't think it is the way the world works, at least not now. (For an interesting account of why it seemed to have worked in the 50s, see Paul Krugman's account in Conscience of a Liberal.) It does not speak to me in any specific terms -- I can't quite get what it actually might mean in practice. What I do believe is that we cannot negotiate with the Andy Harrises, Karl Roves, Dick Cheneys, George Bushes, leadership or foot soldiers in the House and Senate, and so on. We're just fooling ourselves, I'm afraid. We cannot afford to disarm unilaterally. And that's what I fear we are doing when we don't recognize the meaning both of our own behavior (in ousting Wynn) and our opponents' behavior (in ousting Gilchrest). These are two sides of the same dynamic and they portend sharper divisions to come.