Progressive senators learn how to use Ben Nelson-ism for themselves
I spent my week on Capitol Hill, and specifically in the Senate, and I came away realizing the big problem Democrats face: Their caucus is held hostage by a small faction of people like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) - conservative, Republican-appeasing senators who play hardball by always threatening to vote with Republicans to stop or water down mainstream Democratic legislation. For the Ben Nelsons, their behavior is very smart: in a narrowly divided Senate, threatening to undermine the Democratic Party pulls the Democratic Party towards their positions. This week provided a great example: with almost the entire Democratic caucus likely ready to support a resolution demanding the redeployment of American troops, the Nelsons - by letting Harry Reid know they will vote against even non-binding legislation to stop an escalation - have turned the debate into one about whether to support legislation by Republican Sen. John Warner, which avoids really using Congress's power to stop President Bush's surge. That's a huge shift and it displays real power.
The problem with the Ben Nelsons pulling the caucus toward a Republican-appeasing position like the Warner bill and then passing that bill is that a slew of pro-war Republicans running for re-election (Smith, Sununu, Collins, etc.) will now have a legislative vehicle to claim they are supposedly "against the war," even though the Warner bill doesn't actually do anything to end the war or even the escalation. You could have made the argument that on war and peace, the substance should be more important than the politics of squeezing GOP senators. Except, that argument collapses like a house of cards when you realize that the Senate is debating non-binding resolutions that have no force of law and don't actually end the war.
If you are going to be doing nothing real anyway, it seem particularly ridiculous to not at least use what you are doing to draw a sharp contrast between you and your partisan opponents (this also raises another side issue: if Democrats were going to do nothing real anyway, it seems silly not to have first rammed something very strong through the House, where majority power is much stronger, and then force Senate Republicans to either take it, or embarrass themselves by voting against it - and really, who cares if it gets voted down under those circumstances because again, the bill is non-binding anyway).
Good to see someone writing about Ben Nelson--Dem in name only. Glad to have that D, but the votes are not there.
I wish progressives would take the hint. No one is going to give them power, they have to take it!