The Ham Hock of Liberty

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

NARAL and Planned Parenthood: It's the Honesty, Stupids

Jane Hamsher has been beating the drums about NARAL and Planned Parenthood's endorsement of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, and has concluded that they're full of it. She's right, unfortunately. Even more unfortunately, the episode illustrates a much bigger problem with the state of politics, and special interest groups' role in it.

Let's start with a few premises:
First, Joe Lieberman is, in fact, more pro-choice than most Senators.
Second, Ned Lamont would be even friendlier to the interests of NARAL and Planned Parenthood, were he in the Senate.

Now, if Ned Lamont's beliefs are more aligned with NARAL and PP, what in the world would make these organizations endorse someone else? The responses haven't exactly been compelling: They can't figure out the significance of a cloture vote on judicial nominees and Lieberman has generally voted well in the past. The problem, of course, is that the election is not a referendum on Joe Lieberman, it's a choice between two alternatives. And neither NARAL nor PP has, nor possibly could, make a compelling argument that Ned Lamont would be more hostile to reproductive rights than Joe Lieberman.
So what's really going on? Steve Gilliard and Matt Stoller are probably right. Why rock the boat? If you jump ship on the incumbent, and he wins, you might find that incumbent a lot frostier to you in the future.

It's not rocket science, but unfortunately, the folks at NARAL and PP seem to think their donors and supporters are too stupid to figure out what's really going on. One of the frequent complaints about bloggers and online activists is that they're simply too naive to appreciate the realities of the political process, and idealism doesn't really work too well in Washington. I disagree. Look at the articles linked above, and the responses in the comments. It's very well understood what's going on; the problem is that the angryliberalbloggers do not tolerate this system any longer. There are only so many times that a "representative" or special interest group can compromise its principles and sell-out their supporters, before those supporters get fed up. There is no good reason why the system has to be the way it is; if Joe Lieberman will be more hostile to NARAL or PP because they didn't scratch his back during the primary, then he's not principled on the issue - he'd be engaging in the exact sort of petty quid-pro-quo sandbox fights that corrupt the entire democratic process. By playing along with these rules, NARAL and PP are just reinforcing them. And they shouldn't - not just because the whole concept is miserable, but because they're telling their supporters outside of Congress that they don't have the strength of their convictions. Even worse, they're lying to their supporters when they try to soft-shoe around the real reasons for their compromises.

If NARAL or Planned Parenthood are going to lie through their teeth while they're asking for money, they shouldn't be surprised when their donors start doubting whether they can be trusted to use that money to represent and advance the donors' interests. So why not just be honest about the endorsement? I don't know, but I assume it's for the same reasons they make the endorsement in the first place - if they admit they're supporting Candidate A over a stronger Candidate B, just because they don't want to incur Candidate A's wrath later on, presumably Candidate A will become upset and retaliate. And we're back to square one.

The netroots are not as naive as conventional wisdom believes. We understand that compromises are made, and that favor-trading is de rigeur in Washington. We don't care. The system does not have to be that way, and many of us expect more from our representatives and advocacy groups. If Joe Lieberman (or any other Congressman) wants the support of pro-choice voters, then he should have the strength of character to support pro-choice groups, regardless of whether they showed him sufficient fealty during the last election. And interest groups should have the same courage of their convictions, to at least not lie to the people for whose interests they are supposedly fighting. Is that really asking too much in a democracy?

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