It's funny how even smart, progressive people can miss the forest for the trees. The endorsement of Republican Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee a few weeks ago by the National Abortion Rights Action League and, now, by the Sierra Club are examples of such confusion:
U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators in the country. But Wednesday, the national Sierra Club came out in support of him.The club said a vote for Chafee is better than a vote for a Democrat because of his position as a dissident within the majority party....
Chafee has said he needs voters registered as independents to come over and vote in the Republican primary so he can beat Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. The Sierra Club promised to try to convince all of its members to vote for Chafee....
[I]t's Chafee who's still the man to beat in this race, and he's counting on liberals to carry him through the primary."Thank you Sierra Club. I look forward to working with you. You have a great grass-roots campaign, and I need it," Chafee said.
I've lavished praise on Linc Chafee. He is perhaps the last remaining Republican of conscience and the last conservative progressive in the Senate (yes, there used to be such creatures). In any primary contest between Chafee and a more retrograde Republican, every Democrat on Earth should donate, volunteer, and otherwise come to Chafee's aid. He is a treasure whose position as a dissident within the Republican Party should be protected at almost any cost.
But that doesn't mean that liberals should support him, rather than a Democrat, in the general election. Despite what some of my critics think, I don't want to pursue ideological purity at the expense of regaining a Democratic majority in at least one house of Congress; I want to throw the worst Democratic enablers on their asses and move the party itself to the left, where it belongs, but I'm also savvy about political strategy. I don't like Bill Nelson of Florida, for example, but I haven't said a peep against him for fear of hurting his chances of winning re-election over the far worse Katherine Harris.
If a Republican is going to win in Rhode Island then I hope it's Chafee, but I'd still prefer to have any halfway-decent Democrat over Chafee, if only to help us regain the majority (and, importantly, the procedural and subpoena powers that comes with majority status). Which makes the NARAL and Sierra Club endorsements inexplicable. If you belong to either group, please call or write and explain the math to them, using small words:
Support Chafee in the Republican primary over fellow Republican Steve Laffey. Hell, re-register people as Republicans so they can vote for him in the primary. But unless the Democrats nominate a God-awful Vichy, we must back the Democratic nominee (whoever that is) over the Republican nominee (whoever that is) in the general election.
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