Thursday, November 22, 2012

This Cycle's Biggest Turkey: Meet Steve Israel (D-NY)


All the votes are counted and all the races decided-- although there's a Republican vs Republican runoff in Louisiana and a recount pending in North Carolina that could put Blue Dog Mike McIntyre's razor thin win in jeopardy-- and the make up of the new Congress goes from 240 Republicans and 190 Democrats to 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats. Nationally Democrats won slightly over half a million more votes in congressional races but because of grotesquely partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina winning a majority of seats is virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, earlier in September Nancy Pelosi predicted that Democrats would win back the 25 House seats they needed to make her Speaker again. In fact, she told the media, the Democrats were on track to win a net of at least 27 seats. The man she had picked to chair the DCCC, Steve Israel, had given her the dope. "Steve," she gushed to the press, "has sufficient reptilian tendencies to do the job.” The Free Dictionary defines "reptilian" as "Despicable; treacherous" and "mean or treacherous; contemptible reptilian behaviour." Webster uses it to describe a villain: "cold-bloodedly treacherous."

A former Blue Dog and New Dem, Israel left those caucuses to pursue a leadership role in the House Democratic Caucus. He excels in raising money from corporate interests and especially from Wall Street and making sure they feel like they've gotten their money's worth. In a rationally organized societal situation Steve Israel would be sharing a prison cell with Duke Cunningham or Tom DeLay. Inside the House Democratic Caucus, he's hailed as a leader. Even after he dismally failed to win the 25-- let alone the 27-- seats he promised Pelosi, he was reappointed DCCC chairman for the next cycle.

Some observers chalk up Israel's failure to poor targeting and leave it at that. Poor targeting was certainly the problem. But leaving it to that is as well. It became apparent from the moment Israel took over the Committee that winning back the majority wasn't his primary goal; restocking the Caucus with "his kind of Democrats" was his primary goal. His kind of Democrats are not progressive, are not reformers, are not independent-thinkers. Steve Israel's world is a world based on corruption and his primary interest wasn't making sure there are more Democrats in the House than Republicans, it was making sure there were more corrupt Democrats in the House than independent-thinking reformers and progressives. He succeeded.

Early in the campaign I met a very wealthy, very powerful woman who I had been avoiding for a couple of years. Because of the legitimacy my former position in the music industry could bring to a fledgling endeavor, she had been trying to get me to join the board of a company she was putting together. My interest in the project was less than zero and I managed to avoid ever meeting her. And then... a wrinkle. It turns out she's one of the biggest Democratic contributors in California. And, I was told by an intermediary, she was willing to raise big money for Rob Zerban, the progressive candidate against Paul Ryan who was being stonewalled by Steve Israel and the DCCC-- and who was a top priority for Blue America. I'm easy; I even agreed to meet at the single most repulsive plutocratic watering hole in Los Angeles. I was sitting and reading Chris Mooney's brilliant new book, The Republican Brain when she swept into the restaurant. The first words out of her mouth, perhaps before even "hello," were that "your candidate" wasn't really going to run. She had just spoken with "Steve," she assured me, and he had told her not to waste her time or money. Rob Zerban wasn't the Democratic candidate and wouldn't even be running. The meeting went downhill from there.

In the end Rob Zerban was able to raise more money with no DCCC help than many of the candidates being pushed to wealthy donors and institutional organizations by Israel and the DCCC. The DCCC, always committed to giving Ryan a safe reelection, put two Democrats on their Red-to-Blue list, though neither was Zerban, even though Ryan's district was won by Obama in 2008-- 191,901 to 177,162. Voters there knew how to pull a lever for Democrats. It's not a situation like it is in districts where Israel spent millions and millions of dollars where voters do not consider voting for Democrats. The payoff, though, in those kinds of districts would be golden for Israel: Blue Dogs and New Dems. We'll come back to that in a moment. Let's stick with Wisconsin for another moment.

Israel and the DCCC routinely claim that progressive candidates they don't want to support can't raise any money and are therefore not serious contenders. They especially tell this to the lazy Beltway media and punditocracy, as well as to big donors and institutional donors. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because the Beltway media refuses to consider the races serious and the big donors refuse to "waste" their money on non-serious races.

As of the October 17 FEC filing deadline, Zerban has raised $2,117,162, almost entirely from the grassroots and in the face of relentless and determined DCCC sabotage. The DCCC and its allies spent nothing in the district. The single biggest outside spender was Blue America at around $22,000 and the only other expenditure of note was $3,000 from the SEIU.

Meanwhile, the DCCC was frantically helping two more Establishment candidates, New Dem Jamie Wall and top priority Pat Kreitlow. Wall, based almost entirely on DCCC help, raised $1,016,688 (less than half what Zerban raised) and a third of that ($334,778) came from PACs pushed by the DCCC. Before just giving up on the race entirely, the DCCC spent $87,664 on TV advertising against inconsequential Republican incumbent Reid Ribble. The other candidate the DCCC backed was Pat Kreitlow, who ran against GOP up-and-comer Sean Duffy. Kreitlow raised $1,176,147, with $389,719 of that coming from DCCC motivated PACs. And the DCCC itself spent $2,003,084 attacking Duffy while their junior partners at the House Majority PAC kicked in another $366,167 in independent expenditures.

In the 8th district Wall drew 156,371 votes (44.1%) to Ribble's 198,464 (55.9%). In the 7th district it was Kreitlow 157,340 (43.9%) to Duffy's 201,318 (56.1%) and in the 1st CD, Zerban managed to win 157,721 votes (43.4%) to Ryan's 199,715 (54.9%). That was easily the closest Ryan has ever come to being defeated since he was first elected in the traditionally Democratic seat in 1998. The DCCC has always moved aggressively to protect him from serious challengers, usually by manipulating Democratic candidate selection. But today's post isn't about WI-01 or Zerban or Wisconsin. It's about Steve Israel and the DCCC and how they work to hold back progressives and boost more conservative Democrats. What they did to Zerban is typical of what they do everywhere.

Let's go back to Israel's targeting for a moment. He made it clear from the get-go he wouldn't go after any Republican leaders, policy makers, committee chairs or anyone from the ultra-secretive shady little bipartisan Conservative-Consensus fraternity he founded, the Center Aisle Caucus. That pretty much excluded everyone but a bunch of unknown backbenchers, predominantly freshmen. The DCCC targeted one "national figure," the clownish Allen West (who spent nearly $20,000,000 and only to be defeated 166,223- 164,316), but not his female counterpart, Michele Bachmann (who spent nearly $20,000,000 and barely won reelection, 180,131- 175,923). Israel decided to back Murphy, a lifelong Republican who joined the New Dems and who Israel could be sure would never allow a progressive, reformist or independent thought to cross his mind, while ignoring the far more substantial Jim Graves in Minnesota, a very independent-minded, reform-minded, anti-corruption good government type with a pretty progressive economic agenda. The DCCC and House Majority PAC spent $3,036,163 helping Murphy. Although at the very end of the campaign-- when it was far too late to make any difference-- the DCCC put Graves on the Red-to-Blue program with Murphy and other candidates they were backing, they spent exactly zero on his race, the exact same amount the House Majority PAC spent. Graves' only two substantial independent expenditures came from CREDO ($37,806) and NARAL ($11,482). Could the DCCC have swung the race by helping get another 4,500 votes for Graves by using some of the money they wasted on losing right wing Democrats like Leonard Boswell ($2,090,111), Ben Chandler ($332,393), Mark Critz ($2,430,306), Kathy Hochul ($1,112,785), Sal Pace ($453,626), Brendan Mullen ($470,872), David Crooks ($516,483), Gary McDowell ($1,218,594), Charlie Wilson ($2,513,712), Nick Lampson ($163,722) and Eric Stewart ($298,914)? Easily! But that would have messed with Israel's targeting goals.

Several progressives won without any help from the DCCC-- Alan Grayson (FL), Alan Lowenthal (CA), Mark Takano (CA), Beto O'Rourke (TX) from the Blue America list-- but how many more progressives would have won with some of that money Israel spent on losing New Dems and Blue Dogs? Certainly Syed Taj in Michigan, Nate Shinagawa in New York and Lee Rogers in California. Possibly as many as another dozen with real efforts by the DCCC, enough to have brought the final "score" to 216 Democrats and 219 Republicans. And we're just talking about pro-Choice, pro-equality, pro-working family Democrats-- the ones from the FDR wing, not more anti-Choice/anti-gay Blue Dogs and not more New Dems who live to grovel for scraps from corporate dinner tables while selling out traditional Democratic constituencies-- particularly working families. One very experienced and very savvy campaign manager says it's more than just Israel's anti-progressive ideology that destroyed so many progressives; it's the systemic corruption that defines the DCCC. "You get blackballed," he told me on the phone yesterday, "when you don't use their high-price media people and their pollsters. They all want kickbacks."

Nate Shinagawa's race against medical bill collector, racist pig and Tea Party incumbent Tom Reed was always a winnable one that Israel stubbornly ignored. Red-to-Blue chair Donna Edwards campaigned with Nate in the district and gave him her own contributions-- but could never get Israel to put him on the Red-to-Blue list, let alone spend any money on him. Nate, who was ahead much of election night, ultimately lost-- 126,519- 117,055. Reed had raised $1,977,658 and Nate brought in $709,727. The DCCC spent nothing in the district. Even a modest independent expenditure would have swung the race to Nate, who not only had to battle Reed but was up against over a million dollars in outside spending from special interests eager to keep Reed in power, particularly the National Association of Realtors, whose PACs bolstered him with $700,000 in advertising. In contrast, the only outside spending for Nate was from the United Steelworkers, $423.

In Michigan's 11th district, Israel claimed Dr. Syed Taj had a funny accent-- a polite way of Israel admitting he's an Islamaphobic asshole-- and he refused to take a seat that was just waiting to be plucked. Crazed teabagger and reindeer farmer Kerry Bentovolio had nearly a million dollars spent by outside right-wing groups on his behalf. The DCCC spent $10,000 in the race and then ignored it and allowed Bentovolio to win 1811,796 (51%)- 158,889 (44%). This is the garbage that was thrown against Dr. Taj which the DCCC refused to respond to:

In CA-25, House Armed Services Committee chair was more vulnerable than ever in his career. Israel never tired of telling donors and institutional players that it wasn't a serious race. Other than Paul Ryan, no Republican incumbent got as much protection from Israel as Buck McKeon, who managed to keep Lee Rogers' campaign off the national radar. McKeon raised $1,869,645 and, with Israel urging wealthy Democratic to not contribute to Rogers, Rogers raised $333,391. Despite the antipathy from Israel, no candidate has ever come closer to beating McKeon, one of Congress' most toxic characters. A post-election chart in the NY Times shows McKeon is now the second most likely Republican to lose his seat. That's exactly what a DCCC chair is supposed to know-- and act on-- before it's reported in newspapers a continent away.

Pelosi decided to double down and reward Israel for his abysmal failure, reappointing him chair of the DCCC, virtually guaranteeing that John Boehner will be Speaker at least until 2016-- unless he's removed by his own caucus-- and guaranteeing that the House Democratic caucus will be less progressive and more subservient to the Wall Street interests Steve Israel is dedicated to serving.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


At 6:18 AM, Blogger Iris Vander Pluym said...

I for one do not appreciate Nancy Pelosi's completely unwarranted insult to reptiles. They are far finer creatures in character and comportment than Steve Israel.

At 8:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I don't understand why Nancy Pelosi put Israel in the position of undermining progressive Democratic candidates. I KNOW she did so, but why? Is it the obvious answer, that she's more conservative Dem than progressive Dem?

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous me said...

Nancy Pelosi, along with her compatriot Dianne Feinstein, are emblematic of what's wrong with the Democratic Party: A reputation for being liberal, but actions that are conservative.

If not for Pelosi, Bush would have been impeached in 2007 (perhaps even in time to prevent the banking crash). Think about that.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger TheDailyLmo said...

Israel fails upward. It's typical Beltway values & how the Federal Govt does business.

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to anonymous' question and me's answer, and thanks to especially DWT's and Ken's and others' info and analyses, it seems pretty clear the business oligarchy's playing both sides against the middle by purchasing a wide-enough right-leaning middle ground swath of Reps and Senators through the type of targeted donations that Israel and those before him have sponsored and utilized (and blackballed better candidates) to keep progressives in a small minority in Congress. Wall Street occupying the government, in other words. So it goes until it doesn't, but when?

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous ap215 said...

That would have been a reasonable result had Israel not acted so stupidly with his ignorance & inconsistant leadership at the DCCC but now we have to defend the Illinois seat with Jesse Jackson Jr resigning i hope a progressive candidate comes through & campaigns for that seat.

At 4:38 PM, Anonymous Megaman_X said...

Is it really that important whether Nancy return to the Democratic leadership? Is there any difference between her and Steny Hoyer?

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous excalibur said...

Just came across your blog. You have a sharp perspective on progressives and how they're being obstructed by DCCC - I had no clue, reading what I had thought were progressive blogs . . .

When Obama won I had a clear sense that the work had just begun and will be looking for progressive candidates to support whether they run as democrats or independents . . .

I live in Washington state and there isn't as much urgency here - at least from what I can see and understand - to promote progressive values through elected officials . . .

At 8:31 AM, Anonymous isaac said...

This article was very well researched, reasoned, and written--as usual. It's what I expect when I come here, and I never leave disappointed.

Now that the fanboy praise is out of the way, I just wish it all wasn't true.

What a difference from Howard Dean and his view that every state matters. But then, that just meant he had to go...


Post a Comment

<< Home