I’m troubled by a piece written by JC over at 4and20 blackbirds attacking Jon Tester for allegedly betraying a series of promises he made to Paul Richards in order to earn the latter’s endorsement in 2006. It’s part of a troubling, developing [pullquote]
Every piece self-righteously attacking Senator Tester for his perceived flaws and failure to live up to each progressive’s notion of right and wrong only decreases his chances of winning election in 2012.
Are progressives really willing to let absolutist litmus tests lead to the election of Senator Rehberg?[/pullquote] trend in which progressives seem a lot more interested in tearing down a moderate-left Senator like Tester than in attacking a troglodyte-right candidate like Representative Rehberg—and it’s dangerous.
JC’s post rests on two ideas: that Paul Richards had huge importance in the 2006 election and that Senator Tester lacks integrity.
Let’s look at the Richards myth first.
And we start the story with a poll: John Morrison +1%.
That was the number that was staring at Democrats a few weeks before the June 6th, 2006 Democrat primary for Senate in Montana. Coupled with that number were other polls that showed Morrison at a serious disadvantage compared to Jon Tester in a one-to-one matchup against 3-time incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns.
The rest is history. Jon Tester won a deciding primary victory over John Morrison. Paul Richard’s supporters, while relatively few in number, were a very active and participative group of people. They knew how to organize and talk policy. How to motivate people to register to vote, turn out and vote Dem. They were a politicians dream: willing to give funds, time and energy to a campaign when it was most needed.
JC’s piece depends on two narratives unsupported by the fact: 1) that Paul Richards somehow swung the 2006 primary to Jon Tester and that 2) Paul Richards somehow shifted the general election from Burns to Tester, swinging Democrats into power nationally.
The first is demonstrably false. Paul Richards’s endorsement had absolutely nothing to do with Senator Tester’s victory over John Morrison. Of Richards’ 4,000 supporters, half still ended up voting for him, and Tester eked out a margin of almost 30,000 votes over Morrison. As important as Paul Richards wanted to be in that race, his role was absolutely minimal. A better ground game and staff for Senator Tester, combined with ill-timed revelations about his opponent, sealed Tester’s victory before Richards’s endorsement, which came less than week before the election, could matter at all.
The second narrative, that Richards supporters were the reason Tester won the general, also doesn’t hold water. Am I to believe that these progressives were going to stay home and let Conrad Burns win another election? That this tiny group of people had such a disproportionate impact on the election? It’s just hard to accept and unsupported by anything other than self-aggrandizement, and this from someone who admired Paul Richards.
On the broader issue of the progressive left’s attacks against Senator Tester, I just don’t get it. I can’t shake a stick in a forest without hitting a copy-pasted post from Matt Koehler attacking Senator Tester for his Wilderness Bill; I can’t stop hearing about how Senator Tester is personally going to be responsible for the extinction of wolves in Montana, and I can’t stop reading about how Senator Tester has somehow betrayed progressives.
The fact remains that Senator Tester is who he represented himself to be, not the person we progressives want him to be all the time. Montana’s not going to elect Bernie Sanders; it’s not going to elect Russ Feingold (hell, Wisconsin doesn’t even elect Russ Feingold anymore). What we can do is to support a Senator who looks out for the working class, did his best to create a Wilderness Bill that balanced environmental protection with political and economic reality in the state, and who has worked to protect small businesses and family farms here in Montana.
He’s a good Senator and a good man. It’s easy to let passion obscure those simple truths.
He’s not a perfect Senator. I have disagreed with his position on a number issues, from the DREAM Act to unemployment, but he’s largely on our side, and certainly a better choice than the alternative. Every piece self-righteously attacking Senator Tester for his perceived flaws and failure to live up to each progressive’s notion of right and wrong only decreases his chances of winning election in 2012.
Are progressives really willing to let absolutist litmus tests lead to the election of Senator Rehberg?
And now Tester’s supporters want to make the 2012 election all about the left not criticizing their incumbent senator, and rallying together and being polite–rallying around some mushy and mythical center created by the teabaggers attempting to pull politics and politicians as far right as possible.
No. This Tester supporter thinks that criticizing policy decisions and pushing for more progressive outcomes is not only everyone’s right, but responsibility. But there is a profound difference between policy disagreement and character assassination, between observation and obsession.
Progressives who want a Senator we can agree with most of the time would do well to remember that.