"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? 

"To the 47 states of the Union and the Soviet of Washington!"

Legend has it that James "Big Jim" Farley - Postmaster General under FDR and former Democratic Party chairman - once offered the preceding toast (a story that is almost certainly apocryphal), and it remains perhaps the wittiest put-down of the Evergreen State's allegedly leftist bent. It is not at all clear, however, that Washington deserves its liberal reputation. While it is true that Democrats currently hold the majority of Washington's elective offices - Governor, both Senators, six of the nine House seats, and both houses of the state legislature - it has not always been thus. As recently as 1997, for example, seven of our nine House seats were held by Republicans. In fact, Washington is a state divided, with Republicans attracting a strong majority of voters in the vast (if sparsely populated) eastern half of the state. Any politician who hopes to hold statewide office must bear this hard fact in mind.

And that brings me to talk about Maria Cantwell, our junior Senator, facing her first attempt at re-election.

Cantwell is the kind of Democrat who certain progressives love to hate - and I am exactly that kind of progressive. I have written here before about my distaste for Cantwell and her infernal triangulations, and you may rest assured that I will do so again. Others, however, find the chorus of Cantwell detractors silly, or even dangerous - and they have a point.

One of Cantwell's most solid supporters has been Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist (and generally smart guy) Joel Connelly. I'm a fan of Connolly, but I think he recently went too far when he wrote:
With President Bush sinking in the polls, and chances of an independent Congress on the rise, the left fringe in Seattle politics is noisily sniping at Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell.

It's bizarre, but not all that unusual: Our "Hey Hey, Ho Ho" crew is notorious for giving conservatives a free pass.

Instead, the loudest leather-lunged protests get reserved for those in public life who -- awkwardly, sometimes imperfectly -- try to preserve the environment, protect the consumer and safeguard civil liberties.

Another solid Cantwell supporter, with whom (again) I agree more often than not, is Shaun at Upper Left. Here he is, expressing his befuddlement with those who do not care for the Senator notable mostly for her piercing blue eyes:
Nobody's perfect, but her record is more liberal than over 70% of the Senate, which puts her on the side of the angels more often than a good many of her Democratic colleagues. She's shown outstanding leadership on energy policy and she's solid on environmental issues, veterans issues and port security. She may not be in the vanguard of the revolution, but she's a solid Democratic Senator.

The bottom line, of course, is that next year the junior Senator from Washington will be either Maria Cantwell or Mike McGavick. That's just the truth, and what we do to help or hinder Maria over the next few months may well determine the Senate majority next January.

So which side are you on?

It's a fair question. Make no mistake - for all of his quiet, wonkish, unassuming veneer, McGavick is a disaster waiting to happen. He has given no one any reason to think that he would be anything but a dependable rubber stamp for the crooks and liars running our country into the ground. At a time when the political balance in the country is poised on a knife-edge, we can ill afford to put a man like McGavick in the Senate.

And yet; and yet....

There is a widespread notion among Cantwell supporters that her detractors are fixated on one topic, and one topic only. Here's Connelly again, from a follow-up column:
The Democratic senator's critics see the Iraq war authorization vote -- and Cantwell's defense of it -- as surpassing anything else in importance.

Wrong! While I am distressed in the extreme by Cantwell's continuing support of Dick and Dubya's Excellent Invasion, it does not - for me, at least - constitute a litmus test issue. If Cantwell were otherwise consistently on the side of the angels, only straying on the single topic of Iraq, I could accept that. It would represent a matter of conscience, rather like Russ Feingold's principled (if arguably wrongheaded) insistence upon voting to confirm Presidential nominees because the Constitution places nomination power solely in the hands of the President. But it is not Iraq, per se, that leads me to question Cantwell's progressive bona fides. Her transgressions are greater, and more fundamental, than any single issue.

Consider this - Maria Cantwell has only a 60% rating from the ACLU - but a 42% rating from the Cato Institute (reflecting her support for NAFTA, CAFTA, and other so-called "free trade" issues) and a 39% rating from the US Chamber of Commerce. (Statistics taken from this site.) But for her admittedly strong support for reproductive rights (she is rated 100% by NARAL), one wonders whether her ACLU rating might be even lower. Furthermore, she has voted "no" on legislation to repeal tax breaks for the offshoring of jobs, she voted "yes" to confirm Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior (and, as Joel Connolly admits, has expressed support for Dirk Kempthorne to replace Norton), and generally announced her proud affiliation with the odious DLC and the New Democrat Coalition. She is the kind of Democrat who will proudly trumpet her vote against the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, but who quietly entered a "yes" vote when it really mattered (for cloture, to close debate on Alito's nomination).

In general, she has comfortably assumed the mantle of a pro-corporate Democrat - the kind of Democrat which, someone once said, demonstrates not a dime's worth of difference from a traditional, old-school Republican.

For me, Iraq is not the litmus test issue. The litmus test issue was her vote in favor of S. 256, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. This piece of legislation - already becoming a nightmare - ultimately will work to impoverish a lot of people, including many of the Eastern Washington conservatives whose votes Cantwell now seeks. Unlike some of the other questionable positions which Cantwell ahs embraced (e.g., NAFTA and CAFTA, which is well-regarded by Eastern Washington agricultural interests), there is no natural constituency for the bankruptcy bill among Cantwell's targeted voters; the only principle which her vote serves is that she should be as entitled to campaign contributions from MBNA and Citibank as any other Senator.

And yet; and yet....

Cantwell's supporters point, with good cause, to her fearless opposition to Sen. Ted Stevens (R - AK), "a little man from a big state," and his wet dream of exploiting the ANWR oil reserves. Joel Connolly, once again:
The lady has stood up to the playground bully, identified by his trademark "Incredible Hulk" necktie, and tomorrow he comes into our neighborhood to beat her up.

With the moxie to block a backdoor bid to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling rigs and haul roads, and the gall to demand that oil executives be sworn in at hearings, freshman Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has angered powerful Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Stevens will be in Seattle, Tacoma and Everett, carrying out a threat made on the Senate floor in December and described by The Washington Post as "the senatorial version of a hissy fit."

"I am going to go to every one of your states, and I am going to tell them what you have done," he said of colleagues who wouldn't let the oil industry have its way with America's greatest wilderness.

"And I am sure that the senator from Washington will enjoy my visits to Washington because I am going to visit there often."

Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick is becoming Stevens' stooge in his bid to deny Cantwell a second term.

Stevens' oil industry buddies will write checks -- of up to $4,200 -- for McGavick at an Anchorage fund-raiser this week. The host is a former Alaska governor who was once investigated by a grand jury and nearly impeached by the state Legislature.

Less spectacular, perhaps, but just as important to Cantwell's constituents, has been her dogged pursuit of Enron and the dollars they plundered from our state:
Washington state political figures and former customers of Enron escalated their public relations war Monday against a proposed settlement of claims against the bankrupt energy giant for its energy market manipulations in 2000-01.

By agreeing to a meager settlement with Enron lawyers, staff trial lawyers of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "virtually unilaterally disarmed," Eric Christensen, a Snohomish County Public Utility District lawyer, said at a Seattle news conference.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., staged the event with officials of several local former customers of Enron to denounce the deal. Democratic Reps. Rick Larsen and Jay Inslee, whose districts include parts of Snohomish County, separately added their voices to the chorus urging the FERC to reject the proposal.

The news conference was at the South Seattle plant of Ash Grove Cement Co., which Enron is suing for $4.1 million, plus interest. The energy provider is demanding "termination fees" even though it failed to provide Ash Grove with electricity that Enron contracted to deliver, forcing the cement company to obtain energy elsewhere.

In the final analysis, Maria Cantwell is a cipher - a sometime corporate shill who stands against the larceny of the Enron cabal; an unapologetic Iraq hawk who earned a 100% rating from Peace Action (formerly SANE) in 2003; and a centrist Democrat from a state with a (largely unearned - Scoop Jackson, anyone?) reputation for producing firebrands. She is also the only person standing between Mike McGavick and the United States Senate. Ultimately, that is her most important role just now.

So yes, I will support Maria Cantwell, given the lack of viable primary challengers. I may not be fond of voting for lesser evils, but I will vigorously oppose greater evils like McGavick. And yet; and yet ... much as I love those piercing blue eyes (and they really are something to behold; Cantwell could be Frank Sinatra's secret love child), I would trade them in a moment for an electable Democrat with a progressive soul.

Update 4/12/2006: Shaun has pointed out that Maria Cantwell actually voted against the 2005 bankruptcy bill (S. 256; rollcall here). I misread the Common Dreams article linked above, which actually refers to her vote for a wrongheaded bankruptcy bill from 2001 (S. 420), and not the 2005 legislation. I apologize for the error.




Hear hear! A fine summation. This week's call for troops put of Iraq by year's end is another sign that she can shift for the better. But voting for the Democrat in November is essential, even Ned Lamont makes that pledge. At least our Junior Senator doesn't trash other Democrats like Lieberman does.

I like to believe that Farley's toast was really given, then hushed up. True or not, it rings true because of our strong ties to militant labor movements such as the Wobblies and the Longshoremen, the Seattle General Strike of 1919; and a slew of progressive institutions here .

Finally, Scoop Jackson's cold war militantcy aside, he was a strong liberal. Pro-labor, pro-enviroment, pro- national health care. That the neo-con movement was born in his offices unjustly tarnishes his legacy.
I would like to see her defeated. There is no one running against her from any party who I agree with. But her support for what amounts to high-treason (the neo-con agenda), from the iraq war, to -now- the "Iran freedom act" is absolutely INTOLERABLE. I may just be willing to vote for someone worse just to punish her and send a message to the next political whore who takes my vote for granted. I am in a "throw the bastards out" mood, that I have less patience for people who ought to know better than for the GOP fascists. Which is worse: To act without conscience, or to ENABLE those without conscience when you know it's wrong. I think the latter is worse. Cantwell needs to GO!
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