Unfortunately, it comes from someone who should know better. E.J. Dionne lets his hysteria get the best of him in today’s Washington Post column, transforming a special election into a cartoon version of fascism, and managing to both mangle the facts and indulge in a little obvious hypocrisy. It’s hard to find a poorer start to a professional column than this:
Tuesday’s elections were a rebuke to the right wing and a warning to Democrats.
They were also a timely reminder that President Obama needs to tune up his celebrated political organization and find a way to make Americans feel hopeful again.
The night’s biggest loser was the national conservative political machine — the wealthy tax-cutters at the Club for Growth and the Palin-Limbaugh-Beck complex. The Beltway Right shoved aside local Republicans in an upstate New York congressional race, imposed their own candidate who didn’t even live in the district, and went down in a heap.
Where to start with this nonsense? First, Dionne calls this the Beltway Right, even though the three people he mentions — Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh — don’t work or live anywhere near the Beltway. Palin lives in Alaska, Limbaugh in Florida, and Beck in Connecticut. Furthermore, “Beltway” (which comes from the freeway system that encircles Washington DC) usually means “establishment,” hardly an accurate description of the three people Dionne wants to castigate here. In fact, it was the Beltway Republicans who insisted on backing Dede Scozzafava — the RNC, the NRCC, Newt Gingrich. (The Club for Growth does work in DC, but hardly qualifies as “establishment”, or strictly speaking Republican either. Only in the geographic sense is it in the Beltway).
Dionne then accuses the Right of “imposing” Hoffman on NY-23 voters. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but not to make up their own set of facts. Hoffman entered the race long before Palin, Fred Thompson, or Dick Armey took an interest in the contest. In fact, Hoffman is a Republican who tried to get the local GOP’s endorsement in their “interview” process, and decided to run on the Conservative Party ticket when that didn’t work. It would be much less inaccurate to say that the local GOP “imposed” Scozzafava on NY-23.
And what was the great sin of what Dionne laughably calls the Beltway Republicans in this race? Backing a conservative candidate and raising money for him. How fringe a candidate was Hoffman? He won almost half of the votes in the race, only losing by three points to the Democrat, who failed to win a majority in the race. Does that sound like someone “imposed” on the voters of NY-23 by eeeevil “Beltway Republicans”, or a candidate who resonated well with the local voters?
Given Dionne’s distaste for outsiders, he must have been absolutely appalled by Ned Lamont’s attempt to buy Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat, fueled by activists outside of Connecticut in 2006 enraged by Lieberman’s support for the war in Iraq. Right? Not exactly:
Mourning the fact that Democrats would “purge a man like Joe Lieberman” — that word “purge” has a nice Stalinist ring, doesn’t it? — our vice president went on to say this:
“The thing that’s partly disturbing about it is the fact that, [from] the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al-Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task.”
The rejection of Lieberman made Cheney wonder if “the dominant view of the Democratic Party” is “the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home.”
Wow! I bet the 145,000 free citizens of Connecticut who voted for Lamont will be shocked to learn that they were really sending signals of “retreat” to “al-Qaeda types.”
Just as much as the 57,000 voters who cast their ballots for Hoffman would be shocked to learn that they’re all Beltway Republicans looking to “impose” a candidate on their district. And as for teaching politicians a lesson through insurgent campaigns, the Dionne of 2006 certainly thought they were a great idea. He also thought it made sense for a party that wanted to go on offense:
But Lieberman’s troubles are, even more, about a new aggressiveness in the Democratic Party called forth by disgust with the Bush presidency — an energy comparable to the vigor that a loathing for liberalism brought to the Republican right in the 1970s and ’80s.
Like the earlier generation of conservatives, today’s Democratic activists are impatient with accommodating the powers that be. They demand that Democrats stop trying to chase a “center” that has veered ever rightward since 1980. Instead, they want to haul that center back to more progressive terrain. That’s why so much of the political energy in Connecticut seems to be with Lamont. …
Elections, however, are about more than logic and historical trends. If Lieberman survives this primary, it will be thanks to voters who would gladly have cast a protest ballot against him but never really wanted him to lose. Such voters — and, yes, I identify with them — are frustrated with Lieberman’s accommodationism but like and respect him and hope he might learn something from Lamont’s challenge.
What — no faux outrage over “Beltway Democrats” or Air America hosts and out-of-state bloggers backing Lamont? In 2006, Dionne had better perspective and did better work. The Dionne of 2009 desperately needs to connect with the Dionne of 2006.