Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In Which I Defend Jim Cooper While Criticizing Him

Welcome to my novella about Congressman Jim Cooper. I didn’t mean this post to be so long but I guess I’ve got a lot to say, mostly because I’ve said so little in the past.

I actually feel sorry for the guy right now. I think he honestly felt like he would be this year’s healthcare hero, bringing about the meaningful reform we all want. Instead, he’s been attacked by progressives and now there’s talk of union support for a primary opponent.

Such is the anger my fellow lefties have toward Cooper these days that my post about Karl Rove’s appearance at the “Third Rail” conference got turned into an attack on Cooper, when obviously my intent was to question the motives of the “Third Rail” organizers. (Rove has since been uninvited, by the way.) It’s ironic, because I’ve been accused of “carrying water” for Jim Cooper in the past. Now, after yesterday’s blog post, I’m accused of being an anti-Cooper agitator. Go figure.

On the one hand, it’s damned nice to have a Democratic congressman, even a conservative one. You bloggers in Berkeley and Los Angeles have no clue what it’s like to live in a red state like Tennessee, where I’ve been represented by Republican Senators for the past 15 years. Lobbying Bill Frist about anything was like shouting into the wind. You just knew he didn’t give a shit by the way his interns wouldn’t even condescend to write down your name when you called. Once, one of them even hung up on me.

Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker at least pretend to give a shit but both end up voting with the Republican Party 90% of the time. Really, it’s sad being a blue person in a red state. If I lived in Marsha Blackburn’s district I might just slit my wrists.

So it’s nice to have a Democrat to call about issues. I feel like I at least get a fair hearing. Cooper’s office is good at constituent relations, returning phone calls, setting up meetings, etc. I’ve even had aides call me when I was especially concerned about a vote, and without my nom de blog they don’t know me from Adam. Most importantly, Coop votes the way I want him to 95% of the time.

But every now and then he does something that causes a flood of “time to primary Cooper” e-mails to hit my in-box, and this healthcare thing is one of those times.

A couple months ago I got a call from someone with a national organization asking if I thought Jim Cooper could be unseated in a primary. We talked a long time but in a nutshell I said no. Nashville, I told them, is not nearly as conservative as Republicans like to think, nor is it as liberal as Democrats like to pretend.

Yes, I realize we vote reliably Democratic. I heard that argument when Ginny Welsch ran against Cooper in 2006; even Kos brought it up on Monday.

To which I say: so what? Those are the same people who have voted for Jim Cooper year after year. Cooper would have to screw up pretty royally--I’m talking a “caught with a dead girl or live boy” kind of screw-up--and/or they’d have to find an awfully dynamic and solid opponent before Cooper would be sent packing. It’s just not gonna happen.

Besides, large chunks of Cooper’s district extend into solid wingnut territory: Mt. Juliet in the east, Cheatham County on the west, Goodlettsville up north, as well as conservative blocs in Davidson County itself (places like Belle Meade or anti-gay crusader Robert Duvall’s council district). Nashville is not all Vandy students and East Nashville hipsters. It’s a diverse community. Any Democratic candidate pleasing to progressives is going to be far too liberal for most Dist. 5 voters. That’s just reality.

And here’s another thing: People vote incumbents because it’s familiar. Most people don’t pay close attention to political stuff, so they go with the name they recognize. I have a conservative friend who voted for John McCain because--swear to God--he really liked Sarah Palin. But he also voted for Jim Cooper, the familiar name on the ballot. One day my friend said he was so angry about the bank bailouts he was going to call “Senator Jim Cooper.” When I told him Cooper was in the House not the Senate, he actually argued with me about it. I then had to explain the whole bicameral thing to him.

Oy vey.

So yes, people vote the familiar name on the ballot. But if the choice is between two unfamiliar names, then I think people vote for the party.

So if a primary campaign against Jim Cooper didn’t fail, it’s very likely I’d get stuck with a Republican congressman. And let me say right now, if the delusions of a bunch of out of state progressives saddle me with a Republican congressman on top of two Republican Senators I will find you. And it won’t be pretty.

Now here’s my message to Jim Cooper:

You can’t keep taking the votes of Democrats in your own district for granted. It’s a very odd thing that the Republican Party embraces its base, no matter how loony they may get, while the Democratic Party runs from theirs. Why is that?

You will not have this seat for life. Some day a really dynamic opponent will appear--of either party--and then you will need the support of the activist base, the people you seem to be doing your damnedest to alienate right now when the living is easy.

There are a few things you need to know. Some of us are angry and mistrustful because of your role during the whole “HillaryCare” debacle. You need to keep that in mind when you try to sell us the Healthy Americans Act and waffle on the public option.

Here’s something else: any plan that basically hands the healthcare of 300 million Americans over to the despised insurance companies is going to be controversial. Have you read a liberal blog lately? Have you seen what the insurance companies are doing with their astroturfing and lies about death panels and phony letters to the editor and lies to British citizens so they’ll diss the NHS on camera?

You look like you’re defending this crap. That’s not working very well. We do not like insurance companies. They are not honest brokers. Your bill is basically a taxpayer bailout to a bunch of leeches whose only selling point is that they’ve got their fangs so firmly inserted in the American healthcare system that it would be kinda difficult to remove them now.

The thing that really ticks me off is that you and the other Blue Dogs immediately wrote off single payer as something that didn’t have a prayer of passing. You didn’t even try, because you didn’t want to. Maybe you were being pragmatic, but you were also being politically tone deaf.

The reality is, those of us supporting the public option find we’re actually fighting the battle for single payer anyway! People are showing up at town hall meetings with “No Socialized Medicine!” signs, fer chrissakes. What does that tell you? As I wrote last week, Rick Scott’s group began crafting an anti-single payer message after the election!

So, we’re basically fighting the single-payer battle but if we win, we won’t actually get single payer. We’ll get a “public option.”

This pisses me off. How could the Democrats screw this one up so royally? How can you folks be so bad at politics? Because a bunch of Blue Dogs decided to be pragmatic, and give up on single-payer because, they said, it didn’t have a chance!

And here’s the thing: the pragmatic argument is the same one I used when debating whether we should primary Jim Cooper. It would never work, so why even try?

Look what that got us. A whole lot of nothing.

That leaves me in a very awkward place where I'm questioning a lot of my dearly held notions about Tennessee politics. And, Rep. Cooper, I think you need to be doing the same.