UPDATE, MARCH 26, 2008: This essay dates back to 2006, but it couldn't be more timely or topical. As Pennsylvania's voters compare Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton, it should be helpful to understand why Hillary is gaining so many endorsements from leading Pennsylvania Democrats -- and why that fact, properly understood, should hurt her, not help her.
Pennsylvania -- sorry, Pennsylvanians! -- is a "Democratic Machine" state, run by party insiders who are hostile to upstarts from outside their network like Pennacchio (and Obama). Clinton played a significant role in ensuring that "Establishment" Democrats in PA beat out true Progressives in their primaries; now they're returning the favor. But don't take my word: You can't get a better overview of how the Inside-the-Beltway, Old Boy (or Girl) Network functions than Chuck gives here. At least think about what he has to say. (And when you're done, please feel free to visit VichyDems' home page to see more current news, analysis, and action plans -- like today's "Tax Fax" grassroots campaign (also on the Huffington Post) to fax Clinton our own (redacted) tax returns to encourage her to do the same sooner rather than later -- so that Pennsylvania voters actually have time to digest whatever secrets they contain before they vote.)
(Visitors from Memeorandum: the post on Democratic data-mining is here.)
An Introduction to Chuck Pennacchio
An ongoing theme here at VichyDems has been that the centrist-accommodationist philosophy of the Democratic Leadership Conference and similar organizations was successful at electing a Democratic President -- Bill Clinton -- but has been disastrous for the Democratic Party as a whole, in both electoral and ideological terms. Under Clinton, Democrats' historical hold on Congress was completely destroyed; his accession to Republican programs like NAFTA and welfare reform have proved disastrous to the American populace and have wiped out the blue-collar and middle-class workers who used to be the backbone of both American society and the Democratic party; and his lack of coattails set the stage for the current Republican control of every branch of government. As Sam Smith has pointed out in historical detail, "running to the center" has been a disaster for the Democratic Party and for America.
Exacerbating the problem is the existence of Democratic Party "machines" that make a mockery of party primaries and instead select our candidates for us. As I've written before, we'll never succeed in electing progressive Democrats to public office if our own party won't even allow them to compete for the party's nomination. Again and again, the Democratic Party's "machines" have selected their preferred candidate and kept viable alternative candidates out of the limelight, if not off the ticket: Sherrod Brown over Paul Hackett in Ohio (more here), Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamont in Connecticut (though Lieberman has finally ruffled enough feathers that that may be changing), and Bob Casey -- a pro-life conservative who supported Sam Alito -- over Chuck Pennacchio and Alan Sandals in Pennsylvania. And, as my most recent post on this topic explains, they're trying to do the same thing on a national level, rigging the 2008 Presidential primary in Hillary Clinton's favor even before she announces her candidacy. (The last person to power-broker his way into a guaranteed nomination that way was George W. Bush, who emerged from obscurity to announce his candidacy with a larger war chest already in the bank than any Presidential candidate in history.)
Fortunately, we still have intelligent, savvy, committed, liberal candidates in the Democratic Party -- candidates like Chuck Pennacchio, who wants the nomination to challenge Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum for Senate next November. Unfortunately, such candidates have to spend more time, energy and money fighting their own party than they do fighting their nominal opponents. That's especially frustrating when the end result is candidates who aren't well-known or well-supported by the Democratic base and who actually stand a worse chance of beating the Republican than their primary opponents would have been; for example, a persuasive Zogby poll shows that Pennacchio would be a better candidate against Santorum than Casey is, but that doesn't sway the party's power brokers.
I've written quite a bit about Pennacchio's uphill battle: about Hillary Clinton's strong, premature support for Bob Casey (and the Pennacchio campaign's eloquent response to that development); about Charlie Crystle's eloquent endorsement of Pennacchio and indictment of the Pennsylvania party machine; and about the difficulty pro-choice groups are having getting the media to report that Casey is pro-life and that there are pro-choice alternatives in the race. In addition, Natalie Davis' excellent recent interview with Pennacchio can be found here, and a diary at DailyKos about Casey’s promise-breaking when it comes to debates can be found here.
But there's nothing like hearing from the candidate himself, and I'm pleased that Dr. Pennacchio has been gracious enough to agree to write a Guest Blog for VichyDems. Without further ado: Chuck Pennacchio, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Senate from Pennsylvania:
Who Owns Our Party?
by Chuck Pennacchio
I've been asked by VichyDems to guest blog about Democratic Party bosses like New York Senator and DSCC Chair Charles Schumer, who has tried to force his personal pick, Bob Casey, Jr., through Pennsylvania's May 16 primary without debate, discussion, or democracy. And given the buy-in from virtually all of the establishment politicos, press, pundits, pollsters, PACs, professional fund raisers, Beltway consultants, and Wall Street financiers, he's has plenty of help advancing his autocratic agenda.
Before turning to the larger consequences of Schumer's strongarm tactics on Democratic -- and democratic -- politics, let's pause for this delicious irony: not only is Schumer antidemocratic, but the methods he employs today would have precluded his own rise to the U.S. Senate. If not for an open primary system in New York, party favorite Elizabeth Holtzman would have been the Democratic candidate to take on Alphonse D'Amato in 1998. If Schumer had been subject to the boss "rules" he seeks to impose on Pennsylvania Democrats, good ol' Chuck would still be stuck in the House.
So, what's the problem with Schumer and company choosing Senate candidates? The easy answer is that it's wrong to leave Pennsylvania's Democratic voters out of a decision that by right and by law is theirs. But it's also self-defeating to take power from the electorate, and deny the party its single best chance to build numbers and organization. In the end, voters are very good at sniffing out corrupt deals and bad candidates, which is probably why our party has lost 10.5% of its voter turnout since 1998, and why the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in particular has lost 14 consecutive full-term US Senate elections dating back to 1964!
If Democratic voters were interested only in return on investment, like the coalition of the well-heeled and the narrow-minded that defines the right wing of the Republican Party, the whole back room, top down, executive decision-making thing might work. But Democratic voters are not looking for tax cuts, earmarks, or corporate welfare; they're not obsessed with controlling the lives of their fellow citizens. What they're seeking, in addition to honest representation, is protection of our Constitutional rights -- like choice, like privacy, like equal rights -- and genuine solutions for our nation's critical problems -- like universal health care, a living wage, and an immediate end to the Iraq War.
I know Pennsylvania. I was born here, lived here as a child, returned after my schooling to start a family. Over the last two years I've travelled to every part of my state; 263 campaign events since the 2004 elections. Democrats here don't respond well to paternalism, as they have proven in the past. Think Klink 2000 (a social conservative who lost badly to Santorum). For that matter, think Bob Casey, Jr. He had the Democratic Party's endorsement, labor's backing, and an enormous war chest in the 2002 Gubernatorial primary, and with all that he blew an 17-point lead over Ed Rendell and lost the primary by 12 points.
Even if my fellow citizens could stomach party paternalism, Charles Schumer is not Pennsylvania's daddy. The sum total of his knowledge about Pennsylvania is a James Carville witticism: two big cities with Alabama in between. Absolute rubbish. While the countryside is mostly red, Pennsylvania's many historic cities and towns have deep and abiding blue roots. What I hear over and over, from Altoona to Dingmans Ferry, from Lancaster and York to Allentown and Wilkes Barre, is that a couple decades ago, local Republicans got aggressive and started issuing threats. They told local business men and women to change party or at least shut up, or they'd be put out of business. And people got cowed, and shut up. They stopped talking about politics to their patrons, to their coworkers, to their neighbors; but their hearts never changed.
They held to their progressive convictions, just quietly. The Bush administration and its insane excesses changed all that. Everyone's had enough and the time for being quiet is over. What Democrats all across the Commonwealth are discovering is that they are not alone; they were never alone. So they meet in coffee houses and brew pubs, in places with names like Aroma Borealis, and they organize. In the last election, Lancaster City swept out its Republican Mayor, City Council and lower level officers and replaced them with a bunch of upstart citizens, most of whom had never held public office. Dover, in York County, jettisoned its "intelligent design" school board. These events are neither isolated nor coincidental.
To put this all in the perspective of the moment, I'm writing in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 8th, and it's already been a crowded week. On Monday, South Dakota outlawed abortion, and an invitation arrived in the mail from "Pragmatic Progressive Women for Casey." They're asking $1000 a plate for the privilege of honoring a guaranteed vote against choice at a dinner featuring Madeleine Albright. Included is a letter of encouragement from 9 Democratic Senators (Boxer, Cantwell, Clinton, Feinstein, Landrieu, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray and Stabenow). These women are part of what's wrong. You don't defend Roe v. Wade, nor return a meaningful Democratic majority to Congress, by struggling to elect a candidate who is anti-choice, opposes embryonic stem-cell research, shares George W. Bush's position on Iraq, has no solution for the health care crisis, won't touch the living wage, and takes money from hundreds of the same PAC donors as Rick Santorum.
Also on Monday, our campaign filed 4212 petition signatures collected by 220 volunteers in 32 counties. No paid circulators, no help from the party bosses; just ordinary citizens who understand that the way forward isn't backward. You don't effect change by giving in; if you want change you have to push back and fight. I'm not going to the Senate to be bipartisan; I'm going to the Senate to be a pain-in-the-ass -- you know, rattle the cage -- on behalf of regular people, because that's what this historical moment demands. Nothing less. Thomas Jefferson often said that each generation must wage revolution anew and, you know, he was right. We've grown complacent. Our government has grown complacent and it long ago stopped representing the interests of the average citizen. Unlike my future colleagues, I have not, do not and will not take PAC money, so I don't need to worry about offending my sponsors. Our Senate has 63 lawyers, a nice assortment of former CEOs and CFOs, but not a single trained historian like myself. And it shows. We need to stop taking short cuts and start taking the long view.
The bottom line is this: you can't change politics without changing politics. Our nation, our Constitution, and our world is in crisis. But all great societies know that from crisis comes opportunity. Before us, in this primary, is the opportunity to reject the fear-driven boss politics of Charles Schumer and friends, and more importantly, to embrace the people-first politics of true-blue progressive Democrats. You remember those folks from the history books . . . well their politics have, and once again will, protect and extend civil liberties, promote genuine security, and restore accountable, wise, and efficient government.
Count on it. Because that's what real American democracy looks like.
Final note from Thersites: you can learn more about Chuck Pennacchio at his campaign website, and you can contribute to the Pennacchio campaign here.
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