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Yes, Halter and Sestak are challengers from the left

Cross-posted from The Plum Line.

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; 3:08 PM ET
Categories:  Sargent  | Tags:  Greg Sargent  
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Commentsmonicanixon wrote:
democracy in USa must reassure people, equity, justice et al for common agenda to well being of we the people: some of promises were withdrawn from weaker people for decades:dr kamal roy said so
5/17/2010 8:14:39 PM
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2009frank wrote:

Posted by: monicanixon | May 17, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

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Commentsmonicanixon wrote:
democracy in USa must reassure people, equity, justice et al for common agenda to well being of we the people: some of promises were withdrawn from weaker people for decades:dr kamal roy said so
5/17/2010 8:14:39 PM
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2009frank wrote:

Posted by: monicanixon | May 17, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

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Commentsmonicanixon wrote:
democracy in USa must reassure people, equity, justice et al for common agenda to well being of we the people: some of promises were withdrawn from weaker people for decades:dr kamal roy said so
5/17/2010 8:14:39 PM
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2009frank wrote:

Posted by: monicanixon | May 17, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

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Health reform's next test
Universal medical records could bend the cost cure and improve care.
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Commentsmonicanixon wrote:
democracy in USa must reassure people, equity, justice et al for common agenda to well being of we the people: some of promises were withdrawn from weaker people for decades:dr kamal roy said so
5/17/2010 8:14:39 PM
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2009frank wrote:

Posted by: monicanixon | May 17, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

You write:

"That's because Halter and Sestak are trying to pull Lincoln and Specter in line with the Democratic mainstream"

Which means that it's not a challenge "from the Left", it's a challenge from the center.

Unless you're claiming that Leftists have taken over the mainstream of the Democratic party.

If you're simply claiming that they're being challenged by people "less to the right" than they are, that still doesn't amount to a challenge from the Left. The term has an historical meaning.

To illustrate, if Bernie Sanders were being challenged by say, John Kerry, you could call Kerry's move "a challenge from the right", using your logic. Which no one would ever do, because "the Right" has a meaning.

The point of all this is that the myth that both Republican and Democratic parties are awash in extremists is completely false, as you agree.

The Right has taken over the GOP. The Left has most definitely not taken over the Democratic Party. There it's a matter of the Right having taken over a part of it also. Which is now being challenged.

Your "challenge from the Left" wording bolsters the false impression of equivalence. That's why people are challenging it.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | May 18, 2010 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Sesak - who is ALREADY IN CONGRESS, I might add - and Halter are hardly raging liberals. They simply act like DEMOCRATS.

Which, I might also add, Lincoln certainly not, does not and as for Specter, he will join whatever party he thinks will elect him.

It's the democratic party that has moved so far to the right, thanks to the Clintons and Obama, that Halter and Sesak might as well be running against REPUBLICANS.

And look at all the support Sesak and Halter have gotten from the White House - NONE.

Posted by: solsticebelle | May 18, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

The USA Left has a long history of giving up at the first difficulty. Why bother with them now. If they ever elect a sane person, their first act is to do what is right and ignore the left. As did President Obama.

Left?

Who cares?

Not me.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 18, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Halter and Sestak represent what used to be the good principles of the Democratic party before it was hijacked by radicals like Howard Dean, Dona Brazile, Nancy Pelosi, Bawnieeeee Frank, Chris Dodd etc.... the ones who spit on Hillary Clinton as they rammed Obama down our throats... now is pay back time...Hiallry sit back and laugh....they will now start getting what they deserve....and after you jump ship from this sinking ship of fools called the Obama cult..you will have another chance at the White House....in 2012 because No Bama is not going to get a 2nd term..no way..no how...no not in America..the America we used to know and love before these idiots ruined it...

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | May 18, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

BillEPilgrim, when an elected official who has a conservative view of things is challenged by a person who has a more liberal view of things it is perfectly acceptable to say the challenge is from the left.

You are way too literal. Check out the word "context." Yes, "Left" and "Right" have meaning - IN CONTEXT. These words are not absolute.

If we adhere to your ultra literal interpretation of things, how would you characterize, in your example, Bernie Sanders being challenged by someone who is far less liberal than him?

Posted by: TOMMYBASEBALL | May 18, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

"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."

Correct, for completely the wrong reason. Halter and Sestak represent the ideological left trying to purge the remnants of Clinton's New Democrats from power, dragging an already far-left administration and Congress even farther to the left of the American mainstream. By contrast, the "purge" on the right is a grassroots movement of people who are tired of politicians, of either stripe, who promise one thing, but deliver another. The real test will be which candidates do better in November, the purer left (assuming they win), or the more economics-focused right. If Democrats purge their "centrists" and lose Congress to Tea Party conservatives, it will be a pretty clear message.

Posted by: INTJ | May 18, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"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."

Correct, for completely the wrong reason. Halter and Sestak represent the ideological left trying to purge the remnants of Clinton's New Democrats from power, dragging an already far-left administration and Congress even farther to the left of the American mainstream. By contrast, the "purge" on the right is a grassroots movement of people who are tired of politicians, of either stripe, who promise one thing, but deliver another. The real test will be which candidates do better in November, the purer left (assuming they win), or the more economics-focused right. If Democrats purge their "centrists" and lose Congress to Tea Party conservatives, it will be a pretty clear message.

Posted by: INTJ | May 18, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"The USA Left has a long history of giving up at the first difficulty."
---
I don't know about you but I grew up in an America where "the USA left" were jailed, shot, beaten and still marched in the streets and eventually stopped the Vietnam war.

Hardly giving up at the first difficulty, like Sarah.

Posted by: JRM2 | May 18, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Dude, your very wrong. Not left. Good luck. Just a personal vengengance because of some dumb excuse the "progressives" dreamed up. If either wins, I will let you know when they are finished going Right for their states. Pure vengenance campaign. Nothing gained.

Posted by: carolerae48 | May 18, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

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