The Democrat that is representing the California 10th congressional district has learned a lesson that Joe Lieberman knows all to well: blogs have power. Up in Northern California, the political career of Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Alamo) is at risk because of a very close-knit group of political bloggers.There are websites dedicated to kicking Tauscher from office, and she is regularly the subject of criticism on Daily Kos or Calitics.Ã¢â‚¬Å“We will have a candidate (for the 2008 election), and there will be a primary,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga told the Contra Costa Times regarding TauscherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seat.
And even though Tauscher is not directly related to the Orange County political world, I wanted to see if there were any connections to be made, or lessons to be learned. So I spoke with the managing editor of Calitics, Brian Leubitz:
Mike Lawson: WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the big deal? So Tauscher is more conservative than weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like for her to be. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at stake?
Brian Leubitz: Really, if you look at Ellen Tauscher, she doesn’t even score that badly on traditional Ã¢â‚¬Å“liberalÃ¢â‚¬Â scorecards. I see the heart of the problem as this: her rhetoric and her disdain of the grassroots.
She apparently doesn’t like the base of her party. Her comments like we won’t run off the Ã¢â‚¬Å“left cliffÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“you have to do a kabuki danceÃ¢â‚¬Â for the voters are ridiculous. Voters don’t pick their representatives so that they can have the satisfaction of reading all the great stories about them in the DC gossip rags.
She needs to tell every one of her constituents exactly what she is doing to represent their interests in the House. And while other Congressmembers have worked to grow the party activist base, Ms. Tauscher seeks to marginalize them. It’s just very disheartening to see a Representative who doesn’t respect her own base.
Of course, there are several issues where Ms. Tauscher can do better. We are all aware of her strong support for the awful bankruptcy bill and her statement that she’s never seen a free trade pact she didn’t love.
Mike Lawson: It appears that the mainstream media is reacting to this story as it develops in blogsÃ¢â‚¬â€instead of creating the buzz themselves. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unique about this story?
Brian Leubitz: I know it’s easy to see blogs as a forum to merely mock the media, but in many places they are a real source for first hand reporting. I know you guys do that here at the Liberal OC, and it happens all over the blogosphere. So, we’ve been working to point out the inconsistencies in Rep. Tauscher’s statements and her actions. We’ve gotten some video, and we are following up on every statement and distortion that she makes.
The media has shown in the last twenty years that they have abdicated their role as leading the public. There is no modern day Edward R. Murrow. Few journalists, other than perhaps Keith Olbermann, have showed any willingness to go out on the proverbial limb to call out injustice. Journalists are more comfortable these days having others do the really hard work, and they just come in when the getting’s good. (See the CA-11 race, I can’t tell you how many times I saw McNerney ridiculed as unelectable.) So, we are giving them something to talk about now.
Of course, having the support of Big Orange (dKos) doesn’t hurt either. And with the formation of They Work For Us, there should be even more attention paid to these primary challenges.
Mike Lawson: Would it be easy to elect a very progressive Democrat in the 10th? CouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t it be said that in some districts it is pretty tough to elect a Dem. unless he or she is a moderate one?
Brian Leubitz: Yes, there are some seats where you just have to grin and bear a Ã¢â‚¬Å“moderateÃ¢â‚¬Â Dem, but this is a solid Dem seat. I’m sure you are fully aware of the redistricting battles we’ve been having. Well, CA-10 is another of our big advantage seat. CA-10 is a D+9 (Cook score) seat, substantially more blue than any seat with a Republican representative. I believe Chris Shays is the Republican with the bluest district, but that’s only a D+6 or so.
In the redistricting after the 2000 census, John Burton made CA-10 substantially more blue. Tauscher was in a tiff with Pelosi, one of the many, and Burton wanted to give Pelosi some flexibility with Tauscher. He put more red into CA-11 in order to make CA-10 a safe Dem seat. In the 2004 election, CA-10 went for Kerry at almost 60% clip. No Republican that I know of could win such a seat. Wait…maybe Abe Lincoln, but I don’t think he’s coming back to run for CA-10.
Mike Lawson: How do you respond to people that say Ã¢â‚¬Å“a moderate Democrat is better than a moderate RepublicanÃ¢â‚¬Â and that this infighting is counter-productive?
Brian Leubitz: Again, I think the concept of a linear lineup is artificial and a really poor descriptor to boot. If progressives are ever to regain power we must begin to grasp what Frank Luntz has grasped for a long time, that Ã¢â‚¬Å“moderatesÃ¢â‚¬Â are really Ã¢â‚¬Å“biconceptualsÃ¢â‚¬Â that favor a conservative world view on some issues and a progressive world view on others.
Luntz has worked to reinforce the conservative frame; we must work to push the deep frames that progressives use. This is one of the things that really is most troublesome about Tauscher and her ilk; they reinforce conservative frames and give cover for the Republicans to take more extreme positions.
But I don’t take electoral success as an afterthought, it has to be front and center if you want to ever achieve success. Our real failure in evenly drawn districts has been the failure to focus on a set of values that illustrate to voters the authenticity of the candidate and give voters the opportunity to trust the candidate.
Look, I think it’s painfully clear that voters don’t vote based upon Ã¢â‚¬Å“issuesÃ¢â‚¬Â, we vote based upon a combination of moral world views, authenticity, personality and perhaps an issue now and again. However, even when issues come into play, they are typically representative issues for the candidate’s entire world view. So, our past electoral failures aren’t entirely due to our failure to run a candidate that is moderate enough, it’s because we failed to communicate our values. So, look at Tauscher’s neighboring district, CA-11. McNerney didn’t win by Ã¢â‚¬Å“moving to the rightÃ¢â‚¬Â for the general election, but rather by going with his Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mr. McNerney Goes to WashingtonÃ¢â‚¬Â squeaky clean honesty. Voters felt that they could trust Jerry.
But all that said, sure I prefer Dems over Republicans. If we have control of the institutions we get to control the agenda. This is especially true with progressive leaders like my own Representative Pelosi in the leadership. And sure, I’ll accept the occasional Ã¢â‚¬Å“moderateÃ¢â‚¬Â Dem when necessary. We’re not going after John Barrow in Georgia or John Spratt in South Carolina here, although they are problematic at times. This district deserves better though.
Mike Lawson: Why should Orange County Democrats care about whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happening way up in the 10th?
Brian Leubitz: Well, amongst other things, CA-10 is the front line in the push to reestablish progressive frames. But more than that, it is an opportunity to demand better representation. After all, that is really her job. Even given the power which incumbents now wield, last time I checked we do not give up the right to change our mind based upon changed conditions.
She represents the people of CA-10 and that district has changed since her original election. Our democracy gives the voters the option of choosing a new Representative when they are not satisfied with their current employee, regardless of whether they are in your party or not. Democracy is not the two-party system alone and we shouldn’t be scared of primarying one of our leaders if they disappoint us.
Of course, Tauscher’s support of Rubinomics (as proclaimed by Katie Merrill, her campaign manager), which I guess led her to support credit card companies over working Americans in the bankruptcy debate, wouldn’t be missed either.
Mike Lawson: Speaking of Katie, I remember that she did some bitching to Markos Moulitas [of Daily Kos] back in December and started a domino effect of criticism. What could be done by politicians (and their handlers) to better the relationship between bloggers and politicians?
Brian Leubitz: Well, I suppose Merrill could have at least attempted to understand the media before determining that it had no useful impact.
That story basically runs like this: she declared herself a luddite who did not understand the Internet, but she apparently saw enough to determine that the netroots were a yappy vocal minority like any other. I don’t think that politicians need to kneel at the alter of any particular blogger or something like that. Rather, just make an effort to engage the netroots. Post a diary, talk to some bloggers. It’s really cheap exposure, and contrary to the right-wing media inspired meme, we are not really a big group of angry hippy-wannabes. Talk about your progressive values, and we will respect you.
Mike Lawson: On the flip side, what could bloggers do to facilitate amicable relationships with politicians?
Brian Leubitz: This is a really great question. I think sometimes people start up a blog and expect to immediately become famous or something like that. It’s just not that simple. I think the number one thing that we need to do is educate electeds and their staff so that they understand the medium better. Towards that end, we are working on creating a presentation for Ã¢â‚¬Å“ludditesÃ¢â‚¬Â about how blogs and the blogosphere operate. You get people to engage by providing an honest forum.
You have to be judicious with the use of the stick and make good use of the carrot. Offer to help politicians get involved with the netroots, make it easy for them to get active.
Mike Lawson: Make a prediction for meÃ¢â‚¬â€what role will bloggers play in the 2008 elections?
Brian Leubitz: Haha, I’m not much of a prognosticator, but I do think the importance of peer-to-peer political communication is growing. Blogs are best when they balance an offline and online strategy to get the community involved. I think in that way, they will extremely involved as organizing tools.
To read more about the Tauscher story, visit the Calitics page on the topic.