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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It’s Not Enough To Simply Vote for the Best Candidate

One of the things I find maddening about people who proudly proclaim themselves to be political “independents” is that they don’t seem to recognize that voting independently of a particular political party – and choosing, instead, to vote for “the best candidate” – doesn’t make any sense in a world in which at least one party (the Republicans) marches in total lockstep.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I think it is a shame that partisan politics now effective precludes simply voting for whichever candidate you think is the best choice individually for the office.  I wish we could go back to a time when that was desirable.  But the degree of party discipline exercised by the GOP and the fact that they act so monolithically (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to impose as many filibusters in the Senate as they do) means that sane people simply cannot vote for anyone running as a Republican even if they personally would prefer that candidate to win.

For an example of what I am talking about, I present to you Mr. Lincoln Chafee.  Mr. Chafee – now an Independent – is the current Governor of Rhode Island.  However, when he was one of Rhode Island’s senators he was a Republican.

Now, I have great admiration for Mr. Chafee; when he was in the Senate I always thought that he was perhaps the sanest of Republicans, and he always struck me as an honest and intelligent man.  But after paying attention to politics for a few years I came to realize that if I lived in Rhode Island I’d never have allowed myself to vote for him – even if I thought he towered head and shoulders over his Democratic opponent in any particular election.

But I reached that conclusion not because I am a slavish devotee of the Democratic Party – I’m a Liberal first and foremost – but because I came to realize that even though I might personally approve of Lincoln Chafee’s political positions, if he were elected into office those positions would never be translated into law.  I admired Chafee because he was willing to break with the crazy leadership of his party and do what is right, but the important part of that point is that what made Chafee admirable was his willingness to break with his crazy leadership in the first place

So, suppose I did live in Rhode Island and I did vote for Lincoln Chafee because I thought that his political positions were better than those of some generic Democratic challenger.  And then suppose that Chafee was elected.  Would his positions actually be reflected in the Senate?  No, the positions that would actually be reflected in the Senate would be those of the crazy GOP leadership . . . in part because Chafee’s election to the Senate would help the GOP to secure a majority presence in that chamber.  So the bottom line is that, by voting to elect Chafee, I would in effect only be enabling the enactment of crazy conservative policies with which I vehemently disagreed.

I was reminded of all this when I saw a story this morning that Scott Brown, the Massachusetts senator facing a challenge from Elizabeth Warren in next year’s election, had endorsed the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Now, the CFPB is very much the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren.  It is designed to regulate consumer financial products – credit card contracts, mortgages, car loans, etc. – so as to do away with confusing fine print and ensure that customers know exactly what it is they are getting into before they purchase credit.  The Republicans hate the CFPB because they are afraid banks and financial institutions won’t be able to make enough money if they can’t continue to defraud the American people. 

Accordingly, the GOP leadership let it be known that they would never – never – confirm Elizabeth Warren to lead the CFPB if Obama elected her.  (I wrote about this a few months ago here.)  As a result, Obama declined to nominate Warren and instead nominated Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, for the position.

So now Elizabeth Warren is running for the Senate against Scott Brown and she already has generated a huge groundswell of support.  (I guess being well-known as an advocate for people over Wall Street will do that for you these days.)  And Brown, apparently in an attempt to boost his populism bona fides, announced yesterday that he will in fact support Cordray’s nomination to head the CFPB.

But . . . so what?  Is there any doubt that the only reason Brown has endorsed Cordray is because he doesn’t want to lose his seat to Warren and he thinks this will help immunize him from being attacked as being too soft on banks?  And even if that weren’t true, even if Brown really was a tireless advocate of Cordray and of the CFPB in general . . . big deal.  The fact remains that so long as the GOP retains a large enough minority to filibuster anything in the Senate it will do so, and the GOP has explicitly announced that they have no intention of confirming Cordray – or anyone else for that matter – to head the CFPB unless the agency itself is first rendered toothless against the financial industry.  Re-electing Scott Brown to the Senate won’t change that fact . . . but throwing Scott Brown out of office might help.

Of course, Warren is far and away a better candidate that Mr. Cosmo.  But even if she weren’t I’d still be supporting her because the Republicans’ obstructionist shtick is as tiresome as the Republican Party is tireless.  If we want to achieve any real progress in moving this country forward, the first order of business has got to be getting rid of enough Republicans so that something can actually get accomplished on Capitol Hill.

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