Thursday, June 10, 2010

Good Bit By Klein About Labor and Blanche Lincoln

I gave Ezra Klein a lot of hell over health care. I won't take that back: my opinion then remains my opinion now.

That said, I do think that he has the right of it on labor opposing Blanche Lincoln:

Without getting into the political wisdom of the White House taking aim at a major ally in advance of the midterm elections, it's worth actually asking whether the White House was right. Did labor really "waste" $10 million mounting a close but ultimately unsuccessful primary challenge against Lincoln?
You can argue it both ways, I think. But what's hard to argue is that the money was wasted because Bill Halter lost by 3,000 votes rather than winning by 3,000 votes. It's conventional wisdom by now that the Arkansas seat is likely to flip to the Republicans no matter who is holding the flag for the Democrats. This is a bad year for Democrats and that's a bad state for Democrats. Labor wasn't pumping money into the race because they thought it was their best opportunity to replace a senator who was cool toward labor with a friendlier legislator. They were pumping money into the race because it was their best opportunity to show other senators that relying on labor to get elected and then opposing its agenda while in office could have consequences for your career.

In that way, Arkansas represented the right race precisely because it was a tough year in a tough state and the Democrat was likely to lose: Lincoln was vulnerable to a primary challenge because the electorate was cool toward Lincoln, and the fact that Lincoln was likely to lose in the general made it unlikely that the effect of the primary would be to replace a Democrat with a Republican. 

Insofar as they wanted to prove that they could and would make an incumbent's life hell, they did it, and they did it in a low-consequences state. Going forward, when they march into someone's office and threaten a primary challenge if they don't stand with labor on this or that, the officeholder will think back to Lincoln's very-bad-year and listen. That was the point of labor's challenge. Electing Halter in Arkansas really wasn't. And so though you might believe that labor is wasting its money when it focuses on legislative politics rather than organizing, it doesn't make much sense to say they wasted their money if you're trying to get them to spend that money on other races. In order for labor political spending to make a difference, they occasionally have to do things like this to make sure no one takes them for granted.
Bolding is mine. Yes, that was the point: to show Congressional Dems that they cannot take labor for granted. The Obama administration certainly does, which is why they made that ridiculous comment. Congress now knows that they do not enjoy that same luxury.
The problem the Dems have is that they still think that the only job of progressives is to deliver seats to the Democratic party. After that, their work is done, and they should be grateful for whatever scraps get tossed their way—scraps from the feast that the Dems always lay out for their favorite corporate lobbyists.  The unions may not get EFCA, and the Dems may actively work to keep the guys who are killing EFCA in office, but at least they aren't as actively anti-union as the Republicans, right?

No, that's not good enough. It never was. Hopefully labor sticks to their guns and remembers that in the months and years ahead.

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