Exterminate the Brutes


Glenn Greenwald, hands still raw from his campaign against Barack Obama's FISA vote, makes the case for purging conservative Democrats.

Democratic leaders must learn that they cannot increase their majority in Congress by trampling on the political values of their own base. It's crucial that they understand that they will not gain seats, but will lose seats, the more they accommodate the right's agenda. That, in turn, will happen only if progressives target for defeat selected members of the Democratic caucus who are responsible for that right-wing-enabling behavior. That is the only way to eliminate the incentive for the Democratic leadership to continue to follow the strategy of increasing their own power by mimicking Republicans. Those who disagree with that—who object that it is oh-so-terrible to cause the defeat of any Democratic incumbents, no matter how complicit and irrelevant—have the responsibility to identify what alternative strategy they think should be pursued in order to alter the behavior of the Democratic Party in Congress.

Defeating scattered, individual Democratic incumbents—even if it means that a Republican wins—will result in nothing negative. What is the difference—specifically—if Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel have a 43-seat margin of control rather than a 56-seat margin? There is no difference. Far more important than the size of the Democrats' majority is the question of who is dominating and controlling that majority.

Greenwald envisions a smaller, more effective, Viet Cong-like Democratic majority. Thoreau is skeptical, and so am I, if the goal is a Congress that votes Greenwald's way on privacy issues. The majorities for telecom immunity were built not by caving in to Blue Dogs, but by lobbying, legal bribery, and political gamesmanship. If you want to see how money affected the vote, look at the number of black Democrats, from some of the safest districts in the country, who voted the wrong way. They're basically unbeatable, and they want to vacuum up campaign donations anyway, so they made easy marks for telecom lobbyists. A version of Greenwald's theory has been tried out in these districts, and between the first and second FISA bills, sure enough, some safe-seat Democrats switched their votes because they were terrified of challenges from the Left.

UPDATE: Hm. Greenwald responds.

Those who want to change those statistics by finding ways to undermine and defeat incumbents are disruptive purists who are just like Communists.

Believe it or not, I wasn't using "Viet Cong" as a pejorative description. I was just looking for a way to describe brutally effective guerrillas who brook no dissent and defeat wealthier but less-organized forces. I credit the idea Greenwald is talking about here with changing some minds in the Democratic conference, actually.