"Ray Meier wants you to have a primary, dammit"
Oh, the frustration oozes.
We're supposed to be trembling at the prospect of a Democratic primary because, supposedly, it's exactly what the Republicans want. In this line of thinking, primaries are destructive events that rip a political party apart, and leave it vulnerable to an attack from a unified opposing political party.
Of course, history shows that this anti-primary argument is a load of bull. To what history do I refer? Oh, nothing so abstract as a PoliSci case study from the 1800s, or as minor and unrelated as a state legislature contest over in Oklahoma. No, I'm talking about the political history of our own 24th congressional district, right here in the State of New York.
Remember 2004? Struggle, now. It was two years ago. We had no Democratic primary contest to speak of that year. Jeff Miller, from Utica (and yet another example of the flaws in the Oneida-centric model of our district's Democratic politics), elbowed Brian Goodell out of the competition by wrapping up all the county Democratic committee endorsements for himself.
It was supposed to be a victory for the Democrats, who wouldn't have to bother with all that dangerous primary election stuff. No, the Democrats were supposed to come out of the primary season strong, all standing united.
The Republicans, on the other hand, were going to be it tatters and shreds, hand-rubbing Democratic strategists said, because Sherwood Boehlert had to face a primary battle against right wing Republican Dr. Walrath. The primary would surely consume Congressman Boehlert in a tsunami of electoral chaos, we were told. Republican against Republican! An intra-party war of monumental proportions would leave Boehlert limping into the general election, conventional Democratic wisdom said, leaving Boehlert helpless in the face of Democratic unity.
I really heard ideas like this coming from county Democratic committee members in the 24th District in 2004. Well, what really happened?
Sherwood Boehlert emerged from his primary battle as strong as ever. Jeff Miller, on the other hand, struggled even to get activist Democrats across the 24th District to recognize his name. I remember volunteering at a county Democratic Party headquarters back in the autumn of 2004, and being shocked to see Democrat after Democrat come into the headquarters asking for pro-Kerry materials, but completely unaware of who Jeff Miller even was.
It didn't matter that the county Democratic committees all united to endorse Jeff Miller. It didn't matter that the Democrats "unified" to prevent a primary contest. Hardly any Democrats ever heard about the Jeff Miller candidacy, because there wasn't much news to tell about Miller's campaign. No primary contest equalled practically no news coverage for the Miller campaign, week after week. As a result, Miller had a pathetic showing in the general election.
Let us not spend our time fretting about what Ray Meier wants us to do. So far, Ray Meier's campaign is not showing any kind of intimidating brilliance. Meier's two campaign mottos so far, "Hello World" and "Coming Soon", paint a picture of a political understudy who never bothered to prepare for his shot at the big time.
I've got zero sympathy for worry-wart Democrats who are plagued by anxieties that democracy is bad for the Party. What are we supposed to think - that the best way to promote a progressive agenda is to abandon the foundations of what progressives are supposed to be fighting for - a government that represents average citizens, and not just powerful people who manipulate politicans as puppets from behind the scenes?
Would these Democrats suggest that, before the 2008 presidential primaries begin, all the Democrats should agree to unite behind a single candidate, with the argument that the Republicans want the Democrats to have a presidential primary? It is crass hypocrisy for some of the same Democrats who chanted "Count All The Votes" in 2000 to try to prevent Democratic voters from having the chance to go to the polls in 2008.
It is undeniable that it would be more convenient for the power brokers of the Democratic Party in the 24th District if they didn't have to bother with elections, but it's hard to see how such an arrangement would benefit the voters. Democracy is not designed to be convenient for the powerful. It is designed to be fair to all the people.
It's unfashionable to say so, in these days of win-at-all-cost Democratic frustration, but I believe that the more serious primary contests the Democrats have in congressional races across America this year, the better. I want to see Democrats duking it out in bare-knuckled but clean primary contests, not because I want to see weak Democratic candidates in November, but because I want to see our Democratic candidates come into the general election in scrappy, tough condition. No boxer ever won the world championship by convincing all his opponents before that final match not to show up. I want our Democratic candidate in the 24th District, whoever that turns out to be, to show up to the start of the general election with hands that are already thickened with callouses.
As much as Democratic voters are tired of losing, they are even more tired of seeing namby pamby Democrats in Congress fail to stand up to the Republicans. We're sick of seeing Democratic politicians offer mushy talk on the issues that matter to us. The Republicans did not establish their control over all three branches of the federal government with timidity and triangulation. They fought like hell to squeeze the Democrats out of government, and we're sure as hell not going to get Democrats back in government by apologizing for the ideals that we know are right.
Think that only Michael Arcuri can win this primary? Okay, prove it. Have him win the primary - without all this whining about how holding an election is an unfair obstacle blocking Arcuri's march to greatness.
We Democrats are capable of disagreeing about who we want the nominee to be, and then pulling together for the general election to support a nominee chosen by our voters. Dissent from the party line is not a source of weakness. In a democratic system, dissent is a source of strength - for those candidates who are not too arrogant to listen to it.
What if democracy means we have a Republican victory? Well, then, at least we still have our democracy, and I prefer that imperfect result to achieving Democratic victory through undemocratic means.
But that's me. I'm an idealist. I care more about progressive principles than political victory. I'm not sure that all our candidates share those priorities.