by Kagro X
Me, I don't care much either way. And that's good, because I also have no say in the matter. The House Democratic Caucus has the call here, and it's even more of an insider's game than the DNC Chairmanship was -- which, by the way, I should say I'm still a bit stunned that outsiders appear to have influenced to some degree. Then again, it's probably also worth noting that I think the tide changed for Dean when Murtha backed him for the job, though I'm still not so sure it wasn't a sort of back-handed endorsement.
But rather than express a preference between Hoyer and Murtha, I'd like to examine what it is that made him a contender. We all know what has made Steny a contender: years of ladder climbing and steady fundraising. That's what fuels leadership races, and we might as well admit it.
What's driving Murtha's candidacy, obviously, is his outspokenness on Iraq, and the assistance he lent to House candidates on the stump. But the key to this race may lie in looking at whom he helped.
Arguably, Murtha helped everybody, in that even the Democrats he didn't campaign for are better off in the majority than in the minority. That's plain enough. But then again, Steny helped everybody, too, in doling out millions of dollars over the years, dutifully playing the role that aspiring leaders play: scratching the backs of candidates in exchange for votes in leadership races.
Murtha's a relative newcomer to that game, though it's hard to think of him as a newcomer to anything. But compared to Hoyer, Murtha hasn't got the record of financial assistance to candidates that's normally associated with promotion to leadership.
Still, what Murtha contributed on the campaign trail was, to many candidates, worth more than any financial contribution. He provided the image of a solid, once-hawkish, conservative, former Marine, now openly calling for what ultimately amounts to withdrawal from Iraq. That gave cover to a number of fence-sitting Democrats who were leery of expressing their support for the same, or who literally didn't know what to support. And with polling that suggests that the elections were won largely on the Iraq issue (even if Democrats didn't actually campaign on it all that much), you'd have to give great weight to Murtha's contribution.
Unless you didn't need cover, that is. And who didn't need cover? The solidly progressive Democrats who were against the war from the beginning, or at least from early enough on that they could be counted as opponents of the war. Or really, even Democrats who were wishy-washy on the war, but in safe seats, if there be such creatures (and it doesn't sound like it'd be hard to identify some).
So, rather than sending the message to those outside the Caucus that Democrats are united on the war, might the counterintuitive result of bringing Murtha into the leadership be that it instead gives the greatest voice within the Caucus to the Democrats who were unable to stand on their own two feet with respect to the war, and only found their footing when Murtha covered for them?
Now, that might be a good thing, in that clay-footed Democrats will simply follow him on Iraq, and we'll have more votes lined up on issues touching on the war than we might otherwise. But another way to look at it is this: Murtha's staying against the war whether he wins or not. And the position of the fence-sitters is going to stay where it is, whether he wins or not, because their positions are tied to Murtha's.
So, progressives, if that's the best thing he offers us, it's not necessarily something we don't already have.
And it's not that Hoyer is necessarily any more sympathetic to the needs of progressives. But rather, progressives are more sympathetic to Hoyer, in that he climbed the ladder the traditional way -- the way in which progressives themselves may hope to climb the ladder one day, themselves. To have that ladder kicked away by Murtha -- who, after all, only lately came to the position that progressives have been occupying on their own for some time -- sends a message that won't be very popular with long-time incumbent progressives who've been banking on being able to use the same system of advancement in the same way as everyone else.
They may find that they've got a vested interest in backing a moderate, establishment Democrat in his moderate, establishment bid for advancement, in order to preserve the moderate, establishment system that was not so long ago used by otherwise liberal Nancy Pelosi to climb to the top.