News from Pennsylvania

Joe Sestak, a former Navy Vice Admiral, Clinton National Security Council Director and current House member, will face Pat Toomey this fall in the contest to elect Pennsylvania's next junior Senator. The immediate significance of Sestak's victory is obvious. He beat a well-known and -connected six-term Senator in yesterday's primary. His opponent is the clue to understanding the election. Taken together they provide another data point supporting the claim that, as Glenn Greenwald stated, "…the electorate has contempt for Washington incumbents and the political establishment."

Only Washington and much of the punditocracy focused on the city finds this situation puzzling, according to Greenwald.

Sestak earned the right to face Toomey by crushing Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. Specter's defeat was so decisive and unexpected that Mike Madden could later quip that "[t]he Arlen Specter era ended with more of a whimper than a bang…." And so it was as Sestak gained 54% of the nearly 1.05 million votes cast. More important still is the fact that Sestak's victory can be counted as a partial defeat for the opportunistic Obama White House and the party operatives aligned with it. Obama had backed Specter's reelection bid after Specter had bolted the Republican Party (when he knew he would face another strong Toomey insurgency in the primary). They made this choice even though they knew that Specter would be 80 in November, had switched parties because of his opportunism and would not embrace the President's line if Obama's position did not suit him.

Despite Obama's support for Specter, Sestak should prove to be a better Democratic Senator than his predecessor, and this support would please the President if Sestak wins in November. We can expect this support from Sestak given his voting record as a member of the House along with his commitment to his Party and to Israel. My prediction about a Senator Sestak, reticent as it may be, gives us a glimpse at the silver lining for Obama hidden within the dark cloud produced by Specter's loss. A Senator Sestak will be a consistent partisan. He will not cross the aisle and he will not move to the left of the Obama administration. He will carry the water for his Party without carrying the enormous baggage that would always curse Arlen Specter had the incumbent managed to win another term. Sestak's victory is a hidden and unexpected victory for the Democratic Party.

Naturally, Sestak must defeat Toomey this fall if he is to make good on this hidden potential, a result that's far from certain given the dismay Obama's tenure in office has elicited from the hopeful voters who elected him President. The anti-incumbent mood of the day issues from a popular wish to punish Washington for being Washington, for being a servant of finance capital, for waging expensive and unpopular wars, for taxing the comparatively weak and numerous without also returning much of value for this expense, for aping the morality of Versailles, for being an enemy of hope. Americans are disgusted with both parties. But their anti-government sentiment finds a more obvious target in the Party in power. Sestak will have to work for a victory.

Sestak, if he is a savvy politician and if the public's mood remains sour, may prefer Obama to keep his distance during the fall campaign!


Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake draws a different conclusion from yesterday's primaries. Hamsher believes that:

The message being sent by the public could not be clearer. It's not so much an anti-incumbent sentiment as it is anti-Senate. People are tired of their arrogance, their sense of personal privilege, the way they completely dismiss the House and demand they swallow whatever Joe Lieberman wants. Over and over again, the Senate plays a game of "rotating villains" then manipulates their rules so that their big business contributors always win.

I might agree with Hamsher's position on the Senate if Congress as a whole had favorable polling numbers (it does not) and if I knew of a rational reason to believe that the Senate alone caused Congress' dismal approval ratings. But I know of no reason to believe that the Senate is the sole source of America's disdain for Congress. That said, it is still true that the Senate along with America's generic and oppressive (two-) party system and the Fifth Article of the Constitution effectively constrain citizen control of their government. Each must change for the better if popular democracy is to flourish in the United States.

Update II

The New York Times reports that Obama team made a new friend in a Washington minute:

Shortly after Representative Joe Sestak won an improbable victory Tuesday over Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary, President Obama called Mr. Sestak to congratulate him. The president pledged his full support, aides said later, and offered to campaign for him in the fall — if Mr. Sestak believes it will help.

Nothing makes friends like winning. It was not long ago, Mr. Sestak said Wednesday in an interview, that White House officials were so eager to muscle him from the race that they offered him a job if he would drop out.

Mr. Sestak remains mum on the details, except to say that it was a high-ranking post — secretary of the Navy has been mentioned as a possibility — and that it happened last summer. The White House, which had backed Mr. Specter, has denied the assertion.

A politiker's maxim: Befriend your opponents if you can't beat, intimidate or buy them off.

Last updated on May 20 at 12:40AM

No comments: