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Yes, Halter and Sestak are challengers from the left

Let's be clear about this: Bill Halter and Joe Sestak, in broad terms, represent challenges from the left, and their success is fueled by the energy and intensity of liberal activists.

There's a meme bubbling that this isn't really true -- that it's not because of any genuine liberal challenge to the Dem establishment that Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln are suddenly at risk. For instance, in his generally excellent column today, E.J. Dionne hints at this: "While Sestak does enjoy some support from progressive online groups, it's impossible to cast the race as a left-vs.-center showdown, especially since Sestak supported Obama's surge in Afghanistan while Specter, trying to curry favor on the Democratic left, opposed it." Other commentators have suggested this in various ways, too, arguing that if Lincoln and Specter are in trouble, it's because of generalized anti-incumbent fervor.

That's true, but it's only part of the story.

Dionne's column is primarily about skewering the bogus notion that there's an equivalency between the ideological "purgings" we're seeing on right and left. And he's right.

But there's another key point here: Halter and Sestak are mounting generally liberal challenges to their incumbent foes -- and despite this fact, there's still no equivalence between them and the ideological purgings we're seeing on the right.

That's because Halter and Sestak are trying to pull Lincoln and Specter in line with the Democratic mainstream, which neither represents. Lincoln and Specter are enjoying Dem establishment support despite being ideologically to the right of mainstream Dem positions.

Their challengers are fueled by an energetic grassroots effort to let the Dem establishment know this isn't acceptable. The Tea Party brigade, by contrast, is pulling candidates to the right of mainstream Republicanism. Therein lies the difference.

Dionne points out that Halter doesn't embrace the "liberal" label. That's true, but he is ideologically more liberal than Lincoln on various issues. Lincoln opposed the public option; Halter favored it. Environmental groups see Halter as more reliable on climate change. Yes, Halter has equivocated on the Employee Free Choice Act, but he has said he favors a compromise on it. Yes, labor is pouring millions into Halter's campaign partly to prove they're a force to be reckoned with, but that's hardly the only reason.

Dionne argues today that Specter and Sestak "occupy essentially the same philosophical space in the Democratic Party." If that's the case, it's because Sestak's challenge has forced Specter to join him in that space on various issues. Sestak's support for the nomination of controversial nominee Dawn Johnsen prodded Specter to support her. Specter embraced the public option and the Employee Free Choice Act after he began facing a primary challenge.

Specter voted against Elena Kagan for Solicitor General and won't say whether he'll confirm her to the Supreme Court. Sestak supports her. The whole premise of Sestak's campaign is that he's long held mainstream Democratic positions on a whole host of issues while his opponent has held Republican ones. And this argument happens to be true.

No question, it's an oversimplification to say that Sestak and Halter represent a uniform liberal challenge. But the larger storyline is clear: The energy animating these two challenges is rooted in the case that reliably mainstream Democrats are preferable to candidates like Specter and Lincoln, who have wandered off to the Democratic reservation on specific issues. That, at bottom, is a challenge from the left.

By Greg Sargent  |  May 17, 2010; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  2010 elections , Climate change , Health reform , Joe Sestak , Senate Dems , Senate Republicans , Tea Party  
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Next: Liberals were right about futility of bipartisanship

Comments

Righto, Greg. And per my earlier diatribe, the true political center in this country right now is occupied by so-called Liberal Dem Senators like Brown, Whitehouse and Cantwell. The purported Centrist Dems like Lincoln and Specter are actually Republicans, or what Republicans will be when (if) they recover their sanity. The fact that Halter declines the label "liberal" in AR is hardly a surprise. Look at his positions not his label; those positions are clearly Left of Lincoln, just as Halter is to Specter.

Posted by: wbgonne | May 17, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

wbgonne, I saw your earlier post, and agreed with it -- it was one of the things that encouraged me to write this one.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 17, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Hey, if it wasn't for the false equivalency argument, the prognosticators would have nothing to talk about on this issue. As one of those agitating FROM the left since before the 2008 election, I have been predicting just such a scenario that is playing out with Halter and Sestak. The MSM has totally ignored this story until the last day or two. They have dutifully pushed the meme that "liberalism" is a bad word and cannot possibly yield political victory.

Does the MSM not realize the importance that liberals played in getting Obama elected POTUS?

If for no other reason than it would drag the MSM media away from their "liberalism is political suicide" mantra, I hope Sestak and Halter both win. Well, that and a whole bunch of other reasons.

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 17, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Greg, PPP stated that Sestak is being held up by conservative democrats. I think he had a +28 conservative advantage when it came to that. I guess the question is, are liberals funding these candidates or just disaffected conservative dems (note these are the same folks who are disappointed with Obama).

Posted by: calchala | May 17, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

This is great. Thank you wbgonne and Greg. I hope this point is further analyzed in the coming weeks and months. It certainly is accurate in my opinion, as well as being a beltway CW destroyer. And ya gotta love that!

Posted by: Ethan2010 | May 17, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Bad News

http://www.progressiveblue.com/diary/5247/major-endorsements-for-blanche-lincoln

Posted by: MichaelConrad | May 17, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Your point about the Democratic mainstream is right on the money.

Posted by: MichaelConrad | May 17, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

This is unbelievable and way way WAY OT, but as usual I can't wait for Happy Hour so here goes:

*A New Clue to Explain Human Existence*

Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory are reporting that they have stumbled onto a new clue that could help unravel one of the biggest mysteries of cosmology: why the universe is composed of matter and not its evil-twin opposite, antimatter. If confirmed, the finding portends fundamental discoveries at the new Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, as well as a possible explanation for our own existence.

[...]

Sifting data from collisions of protons and antiprotons at Fermilab’s Tevatron, which until last winter was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the team, known as the DZero collaboration, found that the fireballs produced pairs of the particles known as muons, which are sort of fat electrons, slightly more often than they produced pairs of anti-muons. So the miniature universe inside the accelerator went from being neutral to being about 1 percent more matter than antimatter.

“This result may provide an important input for explaining the matter dominance in our universe,” the team’s leader, Guennadi Borissov of Lancaster University, in England, said in a talk Friday afternoon at Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill. Over the weekend, word spread quickly among physicists. Maria Spiropulu of CERN and the California Institute of Technology called the results “very impressive and inexplicable.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/science/space/18cosmos.html

Just incredible. And as the first graph suggests, the science that is sure to come out of the new Large Hadron Collider will definitely be blowing people's minds left right and center.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | May 17, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Sorry to go OT so early in the thread, but McCain fired two top campaign staffers:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/06/arizona-senate-2010-elect_n_526103.html

McCain really is an idiot if he thinks rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is going to make a damn bit of difference. It's the captain of the ship that's responsible for the direction they are headed, not anybody else in his crew.

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 17, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Put another way, Greg, the Dems are re-establishing the political Center in American politics. The Dems are saying that the current presumed Center is skewed far right. Notwithstanding the Teabagger Nonsense, it is just a matter of time (and maybe one or two national election cycle trouncings) before the GOP wakes up to the reality that the Center is far left of where they thought.

Posted by: wbgonne | May 17, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

BOGUS! The vast majority of Republicans agree with Rubio, Toomey, etc. They are the mainstream Republicans. Christ, Specter, are not. It's just that liberal commentators want Republicans to more left-wing, so they claim that is the mainstream.

Posted by: woocane | May 17, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Michael, those endorsements were hysterical and not that far off the mark in a weird way. Like everyone else here I'm enjoying the Dem grassroots challenging the incumbents who are too far to the right. I think it sends the right signal to Washington and hope we'll be able to find our way back from the woods of the last 20 years. This is how it's supposed to work in my mind.

OT, here's a crazy article from The Atlantic for Happy Hour Greg. You could jump start your Palin blog with this one.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/05/a-conservatives-case-for-sarah-palins-genius/56790/

Posted by: lmsinca | May 17, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

More OT. Greg, there's a big story in MN right now, given Tim Pawlenty's presidential aspirations. I'm not going to go into the minutiae of all this, but recently the MN Supreme Court, led by the chief justice who was Pawlenty's former law partner and appointed by him, ruled that Pawlenty's scheme of "unallotting" passed budget items was unconstitutional. That left the budget with a $3 billion hole that Pawlenty expected the Democratic legislature to fix by simply approving his unallotments, which they wouldn't do. And all he'd say in response was that there couldn't be any new taxes (property taxes, by the way, have doubled while he's held the line on state taxes and seriously reduced services).

The legislature just finished a special all night session to get a budget passed that defers a lot of decisions to the future. Here's my favorite quote from a Democrat who's been in the legislature since 1974: "I've served with six governors, and five of them know what democracy is about," Langseth said. "You compromise."

Posted by: AllButCertain | May 17, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Democrats are desperate and will prey on the ignorant and the weak, promising them
everything in order to get votes.
Pelosi is telling people they can "Quit their Jobs" and pursue their dreams to be musicians-- because they have healthcare now (they really won't until 2014). So is she adding house payments, utilities, grocery bills into Obamacare,now? How do these people pay the rest of their bills,
or will Democrats take care of that too?;
This is typical irresponsible democratic predatory behavior.

Posted by: ohioan | May 17, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

@ ohioan : Aren't you going a bit overboard? Pelosi is making a point about staying in a job because of insurance benefits, not mass quitting to become welfare royalty. However, I agree, that the exchanges take too long to begin.

Posted by: srw3 | May 17, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

It may be true that the Democrats are only trying to force individuals who are "right" of the Democrat mainstream out of office. It may also be true that the Tea Party is trying to force the Republican party to have a new mainstream by forcing people out of the party (implied, not stated in the article).

In either case, proponents of particular world/political viewpoints are designating people for removal based on what they believe and how they act in office.

In many/most cases, this is carried out through some sort of democratic process (vote / caucus) by party members.

Thus, party members are acting in ways to increase what they see as purity. The action is (1) get rid of something that doesn't fit and (2) replace it with something that does. This is purging and this is based on ideology.

Assuming the facts presented in the article are correct, the difference between the parties' purging is one of degree not kind.

Posted by: ajcam | May 17, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Greg,

I think this may be the most astute opinion I've read regarding this election cycle. It really clarifies the difference between the challenges from the left and extreme right.

Well done, sir.

And thanks, wbgonne, for raising the point for examination.

Posted by: Beeliever | May 17, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Ohioan, I'm with you: we need a government that supports the people who wreck the economy, pollute the environment, and who pay no taxes nor take responsibility for their actions.

Less music and more corporate welfare!

Posted by: BGinCHI | May 17, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Nate Silver chimes in on the differences between Dem & Repub insurgents, concluding that the Democratic party's pluralism prevents fringe candidates from winning primaries. The result is that Dem insurgents have a higher liklihood of winning general elections that their Repub counterparts. Even our 'insurgents' are more moderate!

http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/05/in-backing-insurgents-republicans-face.html

Posted by: Adam_W | May 17, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I would much rather Sestak be in the Senate than Spector.

Who knows what Spector will do after he's re-elected.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | May 17, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I think your analysis about the Tea Party being to the right of the Republicans is a bit off. Instead of a single axis numberline stretching to infinity, the political spectrum is better defined by 2 axes.

On one axis put personal liberty. These are freedom of religion, sexuality, speech, etc. At one end of the scale you would have a theocracy which strictly governs personal behavior along religious lines, and at the other end of this scale you have Amsterdam.

On the other axis put economic liberty. At one pole you have marxism/communism in which all of your wealth is seized by the state, and redistributed as the state sees fit to whatever cause they see fit. On the other end of this axis is complete laissez faire capitalism in which you get to keep everything you earn, and you the individual solely decide where the fruits of your labor go.

In the 1980s with the moral majority we had Republicans moving towards the theocracy end of the personal liberty scale, with an emphasis on no personal drug use. One can argue that the present Democrat party with its eye on political correctness (free speech restrictions) and fat police (restrictions on food intake) and the green police (restrictions on energy waste) perhaps the Democrats have lost a bit of their personal liberty edge.

Where the parties differ little in recent years has been along the economic liberty scale. Both Republicans and Democrats have favored big government, and have not substancially changed the tax burden. Democrats are worse with their progressive taxing scheme (some get taxed, others dont), but these differences are minor.

The Tea Party differs from both parties strongly on this economic liberty axis. They want smaller government, which used to be, a long time ago, a core Republican principal. They want more control over their own finances, and want to not have the government in the form of the nanny state there to take care of their every need.

So rather than the Tea Party being to the left or right of either Democrats of Republicans, I would say they are more (up or down) from traditional politics on the financial axis.

You will find within the Tea Party both those who wish stronger personal liberty restrictions and those who want more personal liberty. Tea Party members vary widely on that axis. But where they do agree is on the fiscal axis.

Posted by: Wiggan | May 17, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

woocan, I think you're confusing the Republican Party with conservative ideology. The Republican Party is dead and all that remains are conservative politicians like Rubio and Toomey who are far to the right of the political mainstream. Essentially, what wbgonne said at 3:14pm.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | May 17, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Pat Buchanan figures there's too many jews on the Supreme Court and Daniel Pipes figures there's too many Muslims winning beauty pageants... http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/05/neocon-pundit-whats-with-all-these-muslims-winning-beauty-pageants.php?ref=fpb

And I figure there's too many bigots with a media bullhorn.

Posted by: bernielatham | May 17, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This is for Ethan, but good news for all:

"If the economy produces jobs over the next eight months at the same pace as it did over the past four months, the nation will have created more jobs in 2010 alone than it did over the entire eight years of George W. Bush's presidency."

Ron Brownstein, in a really interesting article:

http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/print_friendly.php?ID=nj_20100515_5237

Posted by: BGinCHI | May 17, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Greg, I disagree with you and Dionne. Halter and Sestak are absolutely driven by ideological purity. Democrats don't like Specter because he was a republican, and they don't like Lincoln because she too often sides with republicans, as she threatened to do on health care.

"it's impossible to cast the race as a left-vs.-center showdown, especially since Sestak supported Obama's surge in Afghanistan while Specter, trying to curry favor on the Democratic left, opposed it"

I don't see how you can call it "impossible" simply because Specter is trying to curry favor with the left, which is purely a political motivation.

The only reason Lincoln and Specter enjoy democratic establishment support is because they're seen as having a better shot in the general election and/or their votes are needed to pass legislation in the interim. I'm sure Reid and Obama would more than happy to welcome Sestak and Halter to the Senate.

Posted by: SDJeff | May 17, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Wiggan,
You are blowin’ nothin’ but smoke regarding the teabaggers. The teabaggers don’t give a damn about fiscal responsibility. Where was the outrage of these folks as George W. Bush spent eight years digging us into record levels of federal debt? I don’t recall mass protests of these folks. It was only after a black man took office - IMMEDIATELY AFTER - that these mental pygmies started making noise about rampant government spending. Their newfound fiscal outrage was directed solely at Obama and the Dems, who neither created the problem or made it demonstrably worse.

As for the devotion of the teabaggers to smaller government, then why aren’t they mad as hell about the extreme expansion of big brother government that is the new anti-immigration law in Arizona? It either is a blatant exercise in ethnic profiling or it will require EVERYBODY in the state to prove their citizenship at any moment. Never in this country’s history have citizens at all times been required to prove their citizenship. How much bigger can government get than that? Not a peep of dissent from the teabaggers.

Yet, we are treated to endless teabagger bleating about how Obama is socialist/fascist/communist/Marxist/Maoist/Leninist/Stalinist/Hitlerite/czarist/et al., ad infinitum. The teabaggers are simply motivated by their own bigotry and fear of the other. According to the teabaggers, the black man in office is the source of all their woes. They are the creation of Dick Armey’s Freedom Works and FauxNews. Without Armey’s massive corporate funding and constant hyperventilation of FauxNews, the teabaggers would amount to nothing.

When they display something other than hypocrisy and rank double standards maybe they can be considered a legitimate political movement. Until then, they are just members of the ignorant sheeple flock shepherded by Armey and Murdoch.

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 17, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

All, new thread:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/05/the_liberals_were_right_about.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | May 17, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

ajcam:
"It may be true that the Democrats are only trying to force individuals who are "right" of the Democrat mainstream out of office."

"Assuming the facts presented in the article are correct, the difference between the parties' purging is one of degree not kind."

Wrong on all counts. Alan Mollohan in WV lost last week to a primary challenger from the right, so it is not the case that only more conservative Democrats are being successfully challenged. Blanche Lincoln joined a Republican *filibuster* against a bill that has been one of the Democrats' top domestic priorities for *decades*. Specter was a Republican until recently, and only started reliably voting with the Democrats when he got a primary challenger, so who knows how he would vote once he didn't have to worry about that any more?

Contrast that with Bennett, whose "crimes" were voting for TARP, which was introduced by a Republican president and supported by the Republican congressional leadership, and writing one bill with a Democratic senator, something that was commonplace until the GOP adopted their "oppose everything no matter what the merits" stance.

Democrats voting out senators who don't reliably vote with their party on major issues is a partisan judgment, not an ideological one. The idea that it's an "ideological purge" if voters want a rep who supports the party they're members of is just silly.

Voting out an incumbent who is a very reliable vote for the party, but not for the activists' particular wing of the party, that's an ideological purge.

Posted by: jimeh | May 17, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

jimeh, I basically agree with your premise, but believe that Mollohan isn't necessarily a good example of an ideological purge either because in addition to being an incumbent he was under the cloud of an ethics investigation.

wapo:

"state Sen. Mike Oliverio ran hard against Mollohan's entrenched-incumbent status and made much of the lingering whiff of ethics problems that dogged the congressman for years."

Posted by: Ethan2010 | May 17, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Coming to your STATE....?......

Illegal Aliens Costs California Over $14 Billion Annually.
Incarceration of illegal Aliens another $2.1 Billion Annually.
Anchor babies another $6.2 Billion Annually.

Anchor babies and their families receive 'welfare' and all its benefits’.......

Posted by: UpAndOver | May 17, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Halter doesn't embrace the liberal label? Halter wouldn't have been handpicked by Moveon if he wasn't a liberal. In fact because Moveon handpicked Halter we can say he is far left. MoveOn isn't going to endorse just any old liberal. They want to make sure their candidate is pure left. As for Sestak. He has his orders. Reid and President Obama have spoken. Specter is their man and whatever President Obama wants, he gets. Sestak doesn't have a career. He has duty to do what he's told like the all Democrats do. Their careers belong to President Obama. President Obama is OK with the Democrats losing elections and retiring. The minute Specter switch parties, that was the minute Sestak no loner existed to Reid and President Obama. There's something larger here then Sestak. There's giving Specter his place to show future Republicans who want to switch Reid and President Obama keeps their word. There's fundamental change. There's transformation of this country. There's socialism. There's government takeover. There's more social justice. Sestak is expected to sacrifice his career for Specter. Reid and President Obama has spoken.

Posted by: houstonian | May 18, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

Halter doesn't embrace the liberal label? Halter wouldn't have been handpicked by Moveon if he wasn't a liberal. In fact because Moveon handpicked Halter we can say he is far left. MoveOn isn't going to endorse just any old liberal. They want to make sure their candidate is pure left. As for Sestak. He has his orders. Reid and President Obama have spoken. Specter is their man and whatever President Obama wants, he gets. Sestak doesn't have a career. He has duty to do what he's told like the all Democrats do. Their careers belong to President Obama. President Obama is OK with the Democrats losing elections and retiring. The minute Specter switch parties, that was the minute Sestak no loner existed to Reid and President Obama. There's something larger here then Sestak. There's giving Specter his place to show future Republicans who want to switch Reid and President Obama keeps their word. There's fundamental change. There's transformation of this country. There's socialism. There's government takeover. There's more social justice. Sestak is expected to sacrifice his career for Specter. Reid and President Obama has spoken.

Posted by: houstonian | May 18, 2010 12:14 AM | Report abuse

houstonian,
Joe McCarthy would be proud of your rant. It is pure fear mongering nonsense. However, you didn't use the words "pinko" or "commie" even once. I'm sure that you'll do better next time.

Only morons use "socialism" as a debating point.

Posted by: Gasman1 | May 18, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

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