Capitol Idea: Primary Danger

The forces that propelled a political breakdown between Democrats and Republicans which rendered the notion of bipartisanship nothing more than quaint and unattainable is so complete that it has moved on and metastasized.

The phenomena fueling the disunity now has manifested within each party, wearing away at the internal cohesion of each. For proof, just listen how often the word “primary” is used as a verb. It means: to attempt to oust an official of one’s own party in favor of another of the same party who is seen as more acceptable. As in, “We’re going to primary Sen. So-and-so over her vote on immigration reform.”

Once an obscure term used only by operatives inside the Beltway, it’s now part of the regular lexicon of political activists everywhere. (As this afflicts Democrats and Republicans alike, the better angels of my nature would suggest that my GOP friends also take heed of the problem. On the other hand, my partisan impulses tell me that if the Right wants to engage in cannibalism, who am I not to pass some barbeque sauce?)

The phenomenon of “primarying” – is that even a word?? – lawmakers traditionally has been undertaken among Democrats to elect folks more to the Left, and among Republicans, those further to the Right than whoever presently is in office.

To be clear: there can be good and rational reasons for partisans to replace one lawmaker with another through a primary.

But the extent that even the threat of it has become overused in absurd ways can be illustrated by liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas’ promise to primary Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Now, no one could ever accuse Kucinich of not being liberal enough. So, try to follow this: you have one liberal vowing to defeat another.

That’s what makes Moulitsas’ threat truly bizarre in the Machiavellian thought process that led to it. He wanted to defeat Kucinich for being too liberal — specifically, because single-payer advocate Kucinich opposed President Obama’s healthcare reform plan. Moulitsas wanted Kucinich to support it.

Of course, Kucinich this week went on to do just that –- he reversed himself Wednesday and pledged to vote for the current reform plan despite nagging reservations.

Kucinich’s change of heart had nothing to do with a half-baked, empty threat by a blogger and everything to do with the sit-down the Ohio Democrat had with the leader of the free world.

And it was what Kucinich said Wednesday in announcing his decision. Not so much his vows to keep fighting for single-payer, or anything having to do with healthcare itself for that matter.

Kucinich hit the real crux of the problem, which takes us not to policy reform of any kind but rather to those malignant forces that are splintering us into ever-more-isolated islands politically.

“The fear that this legislation has engendered has deep roots, not in foreign ideology but in a lack of confidence, a timidity, mistrust and fear which post 911 America has been unable to shake,” Kucinich says.

“This fear has so infected our politics, our economics and our international relations that as a nation we are losing sight of the expanded vision, the electrifying potential we caught a glimpse of with the election of Barack Obama,” he adds. “The transformational potential of his presidency, and of ourselves, can still be courageously summoned in ways that will reconnect America to our hopes for expanded opportunities for jobs, housing, education, peace, and yes, health care.”

That Kucinich’s progressive credentials are unassailable and his single-payer bona fides are beyond dispute give his words their weight. This is no politician spewing so much double-talk to hide a flip-flop.

To the contrary, Kucinich speaks the truth.

The publisher of On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered government and Washington for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington.

Bookmark and Share

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.