GOP Validates Progressive Critique in Powerful New Ad Against Bennet

A few months ago, I appeared on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now to discuss the Colorado U.S. Senate race. During that appearance, I reiterated what I had been saying on AM760 in the weeks leading up to the Democratic primary: namely, that Democrats risked losing the Senate seat if Bennet was their nominee because Republicans would be able to run a left-right campaign against him. Specifically, I said they would be able to use his shady Wall Street/Denver Public Schools deal to flank him on the populist left.

Now, in the final stretch of the campaign, they are doing just that in a new statewide television ad:

With Denver Public Schools both the biggest school district in Colorado and my own personal school district, I extensively reported on the original story behind these allegations. You can see examples of that coverage in the AM760 podcast archives, or here and here. In short, this is far more than a political campaign-season story - this is a story that quite literally threatens the education of my soon-to-be-born first son.

Which, of course, is why this Republican ad is so predictably powerful. Regardless of whether you are a hard-core Democrat or a partisan Republican, and regardless of the fact that this ad comes from an insipid 527 group, the substance in these charges is very important and has very serious real-world consequences outside the realm of political junkies and the politics-as-sport crowd (for partisan Democratic denialists, see Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Gretchen Morgenson's expose on the DPS/Wall Street deal here if somehow you don't believe this is a hugely substantive issue).*

Obviously, I am not excited at the prospect of Senator Ken Buck, nor am I advocating voters support Buck over Bennet. But I am saying that this was entirely predictable - and that this is exactly what the Democratic Party gets when it uses its top-down Beltway and Colorado Establishments to crush progressive primary challengers.

Remember - that's exactly what happened here in Colorado. The White House and the D.C. Democratic Establishment lined up for Bennet and against former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, despite Bennet's shady record as DPS chief and despite his troubling ties to the financial interests who made big money off his DPS deal. That support was the whole difference in the primary, as Romanoff narrowly lost, despite being hugely outspent and outgunned by the national Democratic Party. Had the party stayed out, he likely would have prevailed - and Democrats would have a Senate nominee here who wouldn't be susceptible to a devastating left-and-right attack on his record.

Certainly, any Democratic nominee would have been hit from the hard right on issues like taxes, spending and regulation. But because of Bennet's record and his connections to the Wall Street faction of his party, he is now - clearly - wide open to being attacked from both his right and his left, thus allowing the Republicans to portray themselves as the true economic populists.

That leaves progressives in Colorado mostly with bad news, but also with a sliver of good news.

First, the bad news: Because of Bennet's record, Republicans will be able to pretend to be protect-the-little-guy populists when in reality they are anything but. Yes, the idea of Ken Buck as some sort of anti-Wall Street populist is laughable to those who are watching this race closely. But for a casually interested independent voter (ie. the majority of voters in this election), the image may seem perfectly credible in comparison to Bennet and his record.

Now, the tiny sliver of good news: When Republicans embrace a progressive-themed criticism of a Democratic politician - even if that criticism is entirely motivated out of opportunism and unprincipled hackery, it provides bipartisan credibility to the underlying questions being raised. To put it in Colorado 2010 election terms, when the national Republican Party says we should be worried about Michael Bennet's DPS/Wall Street deal and about his too-close-connections to Wall Street, the Republican Party is effectively validating the overall progressive critique of DPS-like Wall Street schemes and politicians' penchant for being too close to financial industry interests.

This, then, helps create political capital for progressive policy changes - for instance, perhaps for bipartisan state legislation to ban municipalities and school districts from putting taxpayers into the hands of Wall Street's predatory lenders. Or, perhaps for stronger campaign finance laws that prevent politicians from raising cash from the industries they do favors for.

Sure, you can call this pie-in-the-sky thinking. But I'm under no illusions - I'm not stupid enough to think Republicans are serious in their criticism of Wall Street. I am, however, far-sighted enough to see that the parameters of the public policy debate matter. When Republicans validate progressive themes, no matter what the GOP's motivation, that helps legitimize those themes for the long haul.

That this may hurt the Democratic Senate nominee in Colorado was predictable. Maybe the "We Know Better Than Voters" Democratic Establishment both in Colorado and Washington, D.C. will take that under advisement in a future election.

NOTE: Be on the lookout for Bennet sycophants to insist that Buck is parroting attacks from Romanoff - the preposterous assumption, of course, being that Romanoff is somehow responsible for the DPS/Wall Street story, not Bennet's actions and/or the New York Times Business Section. This assumption is more than silly - it posits that the Republican Party has no opposition research staff and therefore wouldn't have found this story on its own. The assumption is also grotesquely anti-democratic - it suggests that Democratic primaries shouldn't be an informed debate about candidates' public records, and that negative parts of candidates' public records should be withheld from primary voters for the sake of party unity.