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You shouldn’t have voted for Blanche Lincoln

It’s time to kick-off another weekend of political blogging. I want to start by getting this Blanche Lincoln business out of the way, as while it’s a relatively small story in itself I think it speaks to the larger issue of the divide among democrats as to who the real enemy is.

Blanche Lincoln is a senator from Arkansas, a state where democrats have always needed to be a little more conservative than most in order to get elected. Blanche Lincoln played the part of “conservadem” quite skillfully, siding with the Democratic Party most of the time but occasionally taking sides against them to boost her conservative credibility. Last year, when opponents of health care reform were at their most vocal, she decided it would be to her political benefit to play “moderate” and oppose the public option which would have broken the stranglehold of private insurance companies over our health care system but was being characterized by the right as a massive government takeover. Of course, the fact that she received more than $325,000 in campaign contributions from private health insurance companies might have also influenced her decision.

And so Blanche Lincoln decided to not only vote against the bill, but to join republicans in a filibuster until the public option was removed. Together with Ben Nelson and Joe-the-cold-blooded-murderer Lieberman, she killed the most important part of health care reform, effectively causing millions of Americans to suffer physical and financial harm that they would not have otherwise had to suffer.

Progressives made the right move and launched a primary challenge against her with candidate Bill Halter, who seemed to be ready and willing to stand up against corporate power. Halter got a lot of national support and appeared poised to win a victory that would have sent a clear message to the rest of the conservadems, but a slight majority of Arkansas democrats decided that Lincoln was the safer bet to win the general election and keep a ‘D’ in the seat.

Arkansas democrats, you made the wrong choice. We were going to send a message that you can’t side with the corporations against the public interest and expect to get away with it, but instead you sent the opposite message: Go ahead and sell us out. We’d still rather have you than a republican.

Too many voters still seem to see things in terms of the same old right vs. left paradigm. Politics, to many people, is like a team sport. Their team—whether it’s the democrats or republicans—may make a bad move and piss them off from time to time but when all is said and done what matters most is that their team is winning, that they have the majority. And so if it looks like Blanche Lincoln stands a better chance of winning in November than Bill Halter, they vote for Blanche Lincoln even if they don’t like her.

But we can’t afford to play that game anymore. We need to shift the political battlefield, to adopt a new paradigm of corporatists vs. populists. We need to kick out the corporatists from both parties one at a time with primary challenges and replace them with candidates who pledge not to take donations from Wall Street, giant energy companies, or any other behemoths who profit from our flawed and broken system. If we lose a couple of seats here and there, so be it. What’s important is not the short-term victories but sending a message over the long-term that we’re not going to accept compromises that work 5% in our favor and 95% in the corporations’ favor. Democrats aren’t doing very much with their giant majorities anyway. They’ll have to lose some seats before they realize that the game has changed and it’s no longer politically feasible to cater exclusively to big corporations and expect to keep their jobs.

I’m not talking about ideological purity tests. I’m simply talking about insisting on a track record of voting for real change, real reform, real fighting for the public good even if it means losing corporate backing. Having the support of the establishment should not be enough to win an election anymore—in fact it should work against you.

And to those who would say that following this strategy would be disastrous for democrats, I say to hell with the democrats. These are critical times we’re living in, with all of the wealth and power being funneled to a small handful of giant companies with only their own selfish interests in mind. All other battles must be secondary to this one. I’d rather have an anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights republican as my senator than a pro-choice, pro-gay-rights democrat if the republican refuses to accept corporate money while the democrat is bought by BP.

Whether you’re a democrat or a republican, take a good hard look at the team you’re on and decide if it’s really worth rooting for. There’s another game going on—one much more important than the culture war—and the vast majority of Americans are all on the same team in this one: the public team. People like Blanche Lincoln are on the corporate team. Democrats who voted for her were kicking the ball through our own goal-posts and scoring a point for the other side.

As a result, we should expect more giveaways to big corporations at the public’s expense now that they’ve demonstrated to politicians that you can do that and suffer no electoral consequences. Progressives may have give Lincoln a run for her money, but the only thing that matters in politics is the victory. The message they’ve sent is that in America, you can still sell out your constituents and survive. At this moment, that’s the worst possible message we could be sending.

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