Here’s what I’m sick of hearing: “I don’t vote for the party, I vote for the person.”
We hear it a lot in Vermont, and I think that people usually mean it when they say it. The problem is, it’s a stupid thing to say. If you don’t know what political party a candidate is a member of you don’t know enough to vote for him or her. You don’t know how they will vote on some of the most crucial votes: majority leader, Speaker of the House, control of the body. You don’t know where they will look for guidance, where they will get their aides or draw from for their political appointments. You don’t know the overall agenda they will be pursuing and who will help them get there. No office holder can know everything, so they will inevitably defer to the party on a myriad of decisions.
You may think you’re voting for the person, but you’re voting for the party.
It’s important, and we’re seeing it a lot this year.
First we have Connecticut. Joe Lieberman was a lifelong Democrat, and he’s trying to pretend that he still is. It was the Democratic Party that helped him get elected to Connecticut Attorney General, and U.S. Senate, and that put him on the ticket as our candidate for Vice President. It was Democrats across his state and across the country that gave money for his campaigns, raised money for his campaigns, knocked on doors, made phone calls, and put him where he is today. Yet somehow he thinks he’s bigger than the party. He thinks the party owes him, but he has it backwards. He owes the party for all the years the party supported him. He ran for reelection in the primary, nothing wrong with that, but running in the primary means you’re offering yourself as the party’s choice. They vote for you, you’re the candidate of the party, the party will work for you and hopefully try to get you elected; they vote against you and someone else is the candidate. The voters made their choice, but that’s what they’re supposed to do. He owes it to the party to accept the decision of the voters and get out of the race. He hasn’t done it yet, but I still think there’s a chance he may.
As I said, he owes the party, but he hasn’t repaid the party’s support. He supports Bush’s war, like some other Democrats. Unlike most other Democrats, though, he refuses to even look at the possibility he might have been wrong. He’s also taken Bush’s position in trying to dismantle Social Security, which is pretty much a bedrock principle for Democrats. He has also taken every chance to attack the party, and to repeat the Cheney line that anyone who questions the President is a traitor.
We have a little different situation here in Vermont. The Progressive Party grew out of the Progressive Coalition, the original Sanderistas who elected Bernie mayor back in the 1980's (even before I moved to Vermont!), but Bernie has been very consistent in running as an Independent, not a Progressive. He hasn’t claimed to be bigger than the party, but he definitely stakes out a position outside of any party. In years past he attacked the Democratic Party, but I haven’t heard as much of that since he got to Congress. Maybe the fact that he caucuses with the Democrats is part of it. Or maybe he sees that he really does fit in the Democratic Party of John Conyers, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, and Paul Wellstone.
I remember when Bernie ran for Congress. I’m not talking about the first time, when he and Paul Poirier split the center-left vote, but the second time, when he won. I remember clearly having lunch with a group of colleagues and commenting that he was creating a problem for the Democratic Party, because if he got elected to Congress as an independent it would be impossible for the Democrats to ever run a candidate for that seat, and that’s exactly what happened. In a state that has become increasingly Democratic, he was an obstacle to one of the top slots in the lineup. Still, it was in the interest of the party to support him, or to not oppose him, because the positions Bernie takes are Democratic Party positions. When his ideas advance, Democratic ideas advance. It’s a benefit, but it’s come at a cost.
I’ve been a justice of the peace for years. One of the things we do is count ballots every election day. It’s mostly done by machine, but we have to hand count the write-ins. Every year we’ve had to count a lot of write-ins for Bernie in Montpelier, because people always write his name in on the Democratic ballot. I’m sure it’s enough to get him on the ballot on the Democratic line, but every year he declines to run as a Democrat.
This year it’s different. This year he filed a written consent with the Secretary of State, agreeing to have his name on the Democratic primary ballot. He’s going to win, no doubt about it. He’s also been campaigning with the D’s, supporting our candidates, and the party has been supporting him. We decided early on not to run a candidate against him because we know that a three-way race is the only way the Republicans can take the seat.
But he’s on the Democratic ballot, not because of write-ins but by his own choice, he’s going to win the primary, and he should do the same thing Lieberman should do: he owes it to the people who have supported him for decades to accept the decision of the voters and accept the nomination of the party.
Stay on the Democratic ticket, Bernie.