Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dance With the One That Brung Ya

My last post looked at the pitiful emerging story of a President, given a permanent (and prominent) place in the history books by the Democratic Party, who has apparently struck a deal to write off that party in an entire state. (Not that we are going quietly, Barry; just so you’re warned before the 2012 primary.) In this post, I want to talk about betrayal of a more overt and explicit sort, that of the party-switchers. This calls for more than a pained recital of the old country song that gives this post its title.

Since the November election, there has been a minor rash of defections of elected Democratic officials to the GOP. First, four members of the Alabama House of Representatives switched in November, less than a month after the election. Their defection gave the GOP a theoretically filibuster-proof supermajority in the House, that nearly came unraveled in “Bingo Bob” Riley’s “ethics” special session, when AEA leaned on the defectors hard enough that some balked at Riley’s anti-teacher legislation. Circuit judges in Marshall and Limestone Counties switched (though the Marshall County Republican Executive Committee voted a unanimous “not welcome” to the switcher there). The usual Republican media parrots all blared “TEN DEMOCRAT OFFICIALS SWITCH TO GOP” on a slow January news day. Only on reading the story did you learn that one large-county sheriff was the only one of note. I think the others were all constables or something in Covington County.

This phenomenon has been reported in the media without any real degree of historical perspective. Party switching in Alabama has been taking place for several decades, though never at any cataclysmic pace - not even today. Back in the late 1980’s, as Shelby County shifted from a reliably Democratic county (albeit of the George Wallace variety) to a Republican stronghold, Sheriff Buddy Glasgow and a couple of other local officials crossed into the Vale of Evil. Public Service Commission President Jim Sullivan, first appointed as a Democrat in 1983, switched to the GOP after his election to a second full term as a Democrat in 1988. Fob James made the switch to win in the national GOP surge of 1994, after his 1978 election as a Democrat, and 1986 and 1990 runs in the Democratic primary. Secretary of State Jim Bennett made the jump in 1995, after being one of a handful of victorious Democrats on the state ticket that year. Of course, that was after Richard Shelby waited until the day after the 1994 election (presumably to see which party would control the Senate) to announce his switch. Members of the Legislature have also made the switch before this year. The Alcibiades moment of Senator Larry Dixon was so far back in antiquity, he may have actually known Alcibiades. George Wallace, Jr., (who is actually George Wallace III) became a Republican between his unsuccessful run for Lieutenant Governor as a Democrat in 1994, and his successful run for the PSC as a Republican in 1998. And of course, we all remember Dr. Parker ... what was his last name again? The patient-killing guy from Huntsville?

Most of these defections have two things in common. One, they are always made in the name of conservative values which the defector suddenly realizes are a Republican monopoly. “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left me ...” Secondly, and substantially eroding the credibility of the first, they come on the heels of some perceived erosion of Democratic electability at the national, state or local level. The point here, and it bears reminding a forgetful media, is that an environment that triggers switches is not likely to remain permanent. A few people switching does not call for the obituary of the Democratic Party.

This switch is frequently not the smartest political move. For one thing, it is often unnecessary, and based on an overreaction to a one-time trend. 1994’s national Democratic meltdown became Alabama’s 1998 Democratic surge, on the coattails of Don Siegelman, and Wallace and Bennett were barely able to scrape by with their wins. But in what is even more important to the unprincipled opportunist, it’s frequently not availing as a career-saving move.

Richard Shelby pulled it off, but he did so from a hard-to-copy position. He was already sitting on a mountain of cash after his 1992 re-election, and had four years to pile on more before facing the Quixotic opposition of Clayton Suddith, who mortgaged his pickup to pay his qualifying fee. Sullivan likewise enjoyed a long post-betrayal career, but PSC presidents have an historic tradition of seriously out-fundraising their opponents.

More typical is the experience of Sheriff Glasgow. Running in the Republican Primary in 1990, he was soundly beaten by his former chief deputy. And you don’t have to have the political memory of a Publius to remember what happened to the former Congressman Griffith in the 2010 Republican Primary. He was trounced so badly that he failed, for unspecified speculative reasons that can only bring a chuckle here, to even make it to the podium on primary night to make a concession speech.

So what are we to do about this phenomenon? There is no shortage of Democrats who say “good riddance,” and who wish that even more moderate or conservative officeholders would defect. Many of those are the same people who claim to be happy when imperfect Democrats like Congressman Bobby Bright go down to defeat in general elections. I understand and appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t necessarily share it. It’s still embarrassing to have officeholders defect. It gives the GOP media something to whoop about, and you have to spend a lot of time and money going after them in the next election. And however annoyingly conservative these switchers were, those in legislatures did formerly vote to organize their legislative bodies as Democrats. Our caucus in the U.S. House may be more pure and holy than it was in 2009, but it’s also in the minority. (As I have made clear elsewhere, I blame a White House that utterly failed at selling its anemic health care, economic, and financial reform policies, for failing to give these Blue Dogs necessary political cover.)

It’s incumbent on the Party leadership at every level, both in the Party proper, and among the caucus leadership in legislative bodies, to help remind the entire office-holding Party of the likely futility of switching. This is not something you want to do with a high degree of visibility, and even a private, but overt “conversation” might be over the top. But the occasional joke at a banquet about “One-Term Griffith” will not only bring a laugh, it will serve as a reminder. Post-switch retaliation, such as letters to the editor (and the occasional lawsuit!) demanding refunds of contributions are less effective, though a few switchers have been shamed into refunding Democratic contributions.
What may be more fun, and more effective in the long run, is to dig around on your hard drives (or, if you are Old School, your boxes of photo prints) for photographs of your favorite former Democrat, before his switch, smiling alongside some group that is bound to be anathema to his new Republican friends. I show here, a modest example.

For those who must rant to the editor, and I certainly see the therapeutic benefit, I leave you with one suggestion. There is a party-switcher about whom we should brag on such occasions, however futile his inflexible conservatism reveals an S.E.C. diploma to be. Former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas was elected to the U.S. House as a Democrat in 1978, and re-elected in 1980 and 1982. Shortly after his 1982 re-election, he chose to switch. However, he didn’t just change the animal decorating his House office. He resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives, stating that the voters of his district had voted him back in a few weeks earlier as a Democrat, and they deserved the opportunity to vote him out if they disapproved of his switch - without having to wait two years. A rare moment of GOP integrity. Of course, those who do write the editor should recount Gramm’s example, and call on the latest Benedict Arnold to emulate it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

None Dare Call It Treason

No, I have not gone over to the cause of one of the all-time loopiest books ever written, which includes claims that Eisenhower was a Communist sympathizer, not to mention Kennedy and Johnson.

But the title of John Stormer’s book naturally leapt to mind when someone shared a bit of news this week that emerged from the always-interesting pen of Bob Martin at The Montgomery Independent. The lead item in Martin’s column was itself conspicuously absent from the pages of the state’s “mainstream media,” and will probably remain so until they can’t ignore it any longer. Martin cites a source who told him that outgoing Governor “Bingo Bob” Riley offered incoming Attorney General Luther Strange $2,000,000 in campaign financing for a 2014 GOP gubernatorial primary challenge against Governor Robert Bentley. Strange’s end of the quid pro quo would be to “protect” Riley’s two children (and from what would they need protection from the state’s lead prosecutor, pray tell?), and to divert state legal work to them when possible.

Unfortunately, that story wasn’t the shocker. Anyone with two brain cells and access to a media outlet not controlled by Si Newhouse knows what a crook Bob Riley is. The real alarm bells sounded as I read the second half of Martin’s column. In that, he revealed a plausible explanation for certain conduct of the Obama administration.

In other posts, I have taken the Obama administration to task for what I, perhaps with too much naïveté, presumed was inattention on Obama’s part to the continuing partisan reign of terror of Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in the Middle District of Alabama. Martin cites a source who provides a far more troubling explanation. According to Martin’s source, Obama cut a deal with Senator Jeff Sessions, under which Sessions would not actively oppose Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, in exchange for which Obama would not remove Canary from her perch - a position from which she has masterminded the ethically-riddled persecution of Democrats from Don Siegelman to the bingo defendants.


Yes, if Martin’s source is right, Obama wasn’t asleep at the switch. He and his politically inept White House actually knowingly cut a deal with one of the most rancid members of the United States Senate, and Obama’s part of the deal was to throw the Alabama Democratic Party under the bus. Obama cut this deal at a time when the Democratic Party had a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; Sessions should have been an ignorable, if odious, afterthought. This deal is just more proof of the political ineptitude of Obama and his Camelot-manqué staff.

Let’s put Obama’s action in perspective. Momentarily leaving aside the burning question of justice for Don Siegelman, leaving Canary at her post had the near-certain effect of further GOP politically motivated prosecutions in Alabama. Prosecutions that directly resulted in Republican political gains last November. Sessions knew that, and so did Obama. As a proximate and foreseeable result of Obama’s action, we not only have a Republican governor, we have a Republican legislature. As a proximate and foreseeable result of Obama’s action, African-American chairs of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee and the Senate Education Finance Committee lost their positions to white Republicans. As a proximate and foreseeable result of Obama’s action, the national Party lost seats in the Second and Fifth Congressional Districts that were won by Democrats in 2008.

If Obama, who seems to know no fight from which he will not run, was determined to make a deal with Sessions, there were better ways to do it. Build the Air Force tanker in Mobile (oh, wait, the competitor for that is Boeing, based in Obama’s Chicago). Find some policy issue on which to throw him a bone, just don’t sell out the Democratic Party in an entire state.

John Stormer borrowed his book title from a line by Sir John Harington, one of the more interesting figures of the infinitely interesting Elizabethan era. A soldier, courtier, poet, and essayist, he also gained fame by being the inventor of the modern flush toilet (hence the term, “john”). Harington’s epigram has the ring of truth:

“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”

Perhaps. Even in the case of George W. Bush, many supposedly progressive Democratic voices in Washington flinched from the use of words like “idiot;” a word I would require considerable self-restraint not to use to Obama’s face after Martin’s revelation. Obama’s infantile political crew settled on Charlotte as the site for the 2012 Democratic Convention - the only contender with no unionized hotel staffs in the city - and organized labor is described as “fuming.” He appears more likely than ever to have some opposition in the 2012 primaries. He doesn’t need any embarrassing headlines, and we have something in Alabama called the “Radney Rule.” I’m just sayin’, Mr. President.

Postlude: For those of you who live in the Scottsboros, Andalusias, and Tuscumbias of the state, write the editor or publisher of your local paper, and suggest they contact The Montgomery Independent and start carrying Bob Martin’s column and other items. Yes, they frequently bust Democratic chops, when deserved. But when the deserving always get a chop-busting, Democrats win in the long run.