Thursday, October 8, 2009

Long Live Vermont!

Nine years ago, Vermont gave to the nation its adopted son and popular governor, that he might lead the national Democratic Party out of the wilderness of centrist defeat and into a future of progressive light, reform and victory.

Now, the state that produced Howard Dean and thus President Obama is still teaching the rest of us lessons in Real Democracy.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is on no one's list of vulnerable Senators in 2010. But an active duty Navy M.D. says he's ready to mount a serious challenge to the six term liberal. From the left. Daniel Freilich says he plans to formally announce his bid for Leahy's seat tomorrow in Wilmington, VT. We caught up with him this afternoon.

Freilich, 45, is an internist and infectious disease specialist for the Navy and has spent much of his military career in clinical medicine. Not surprisingly, much of his campaign message focuses on health care. Freilich is a single payer advocate and says that Leahy "bears some of the responsibility" for the idea's current DOA status in Washington as a "more than 30 year incumbent."

Overall though, Freilich praised the man he hopes -- however fleetingly -- to defeat for the Democratic nomination. "Traditionally, he's in the right direction" on most policy issues, Freilich said. "But not sufficiently so."

Freilich is currently on active duty but said his status should change to "reservist" in the next several days so he can actively campaign. Asked how serious a bid he intended to mount against the popular Leahy, Freilich said he plans to raise "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to mount his bid.

"How many I don't know," he said. "But that promise should give you an idea of how serious we are."

Patrick Leahy is light years to the left of repug-fellating DINO/Blue Dogs like Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. But that is no reason to give him a pass on a primary opponent.

That even Patrick Leahy is getting primaried from the left is proof that no Democrat is above being primaried.

John Nichols in The Nation:

Primaries can be divisive and expensive. But they also bring clarity and needed attention to policy debates and generate effective and electable fall candidates.

Don't forget that the late Edward Kennedy was elected to the Senate only after winning an intense 1962 Democratic primary--or that Kennedy's likely successor will be chosen in what's shaping up to be a rip-roaring "special" Democratic primary this fall. Don't forget that Barbara Boxer made it to the Senate after beating California's lieutenant governor and a senior Congressman in a 1992 Democratic primary; that Russ Feingold was a surprise winner of a Wisconsin Democratic primary that same year; and that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Claiborne Pell, Howard Metzenbaum, Paul Wellstone and even Barack Obama won competitive, at times bruising, primaries before becoming senators. Winners of hard-fought primary contests go into general-election campaigns with confidence, and if they have beaten the party establishment they are freed to run on their own merits--a status that helps attract independent votes, which are likely to be up for grabs in 2010.


It is unfortunate that President Obama, Vice President Biden and key players in the Democratic Congressional leadership continue to discourage contests--especially those that threaten vulnerable incumbents. The theory is that Democrats need to be unified for a fall fight against a Republican Party gunning for a 1994-style "revolution" that will put the brakes on the initiatives of a first-term Democratic president.


No doubt, the concern about resurgent Republicans is legitimate; the Party of No is recruiting competitive candidates (including relative moderates like former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a likely challenger to California's Boxer) and beginning to raise money at a serious clip. But the fantasy that Democratic "unity" will preserve party majorities in Congress--especially if the party maintains a murky centrism on issues like healthcare reform, bank bailouts, unemployment and Afghanistan--goes against logic and history.

Democrats who want Obama to succeed should recognize that their party is usually at its best when it trusts grassroots activists and voters to make choices. Barely two years ago, much of the Democratic establishment settled on Hillary Clinton as the party's 2008 presidential nominee. But a freshman senator challenged the conventional wisdom. He bet he could build a movement capable of winning primaries and rewrite the rules of American politics. Candidate Obama placed his faith in primary voters to choose a candidate who was in tune with what November 2008 voters wanted and needed from a Democratic nominee. President Obama and his aides should re-embrace that wisdom and let Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, New York, California and other states pick candidates who are in tune with what November 2010 voters want and need from Democratic nominees for the House and Senate.

Blue Dog Ben Chandler's likely repug opponent raised $185,000 in the past two weeks. That means Benny Boy's going to be spending the next year sucking every repug cock he can find. He's gonna make Mitch McConnell seem like Bernie Sanders. He's gonna lose to the real repug, and he's gonna lose huge.

The only thing that will stop it is a primary challenge from the left. Kentucky's Sixth District is chock-full of smart, presentable liberals with spines. Which one will step forward to be the Real Democrat in this race?

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