Stand Up to the Beltway Democrats

If you are one of those Democrats like me who is completely fed up with the inside-the-Beltway party hacks who continue to lose elections because they have no spine and no vision, listen closely to a little something you can do this week to rap the knuckles of the Democratic Party machine.

Two years ago, Christine Cegelis took 44 percent from Henry Hyde, the arch conservative congressman and Congressional father of the anti-choice movement, in the suburban Chicago-area 6th District in Illinois. Her race pushed Hyde to announce he would retire. Cegelis, supported by a broad grass-roots network, decided immediately to run for the seat in 2006.

Rather than line up behind a candidate who was poised to capture the district, the Beltway Democrats recruited a primary opponent to take on Cegelis. Why? Because Cegelis is precisely the kind of progressive candidate the Beltway Democrats are afraid of: she is a progressive, anti-war, pro-choice, pro-renewable energy, pro-universal health care and opposes NAFTA-like trade deals. She's called for a quick and safe withdrawal of troops.

The Beltway Democrats tapped Tammy Duckworth, a person who has never lived in the district. Her central asset: she is a member of the Army Reserves who lost both her legs in Iraq. She isn't even running against the war--she is simply a symbol of patriotism. While her personal story is moving, she is also precisely the kind of candidate that the Beltway Democrats love--centrist and pro-business.

Indeed, the Beltway Democrats have pulled out all the stops to raise money for Duckworth: two emails from John Kerry, an e-mail and fundraiser courtesy of Hillary Clinton, an appeal from Nancy Pelosi. And Rahm Emanuel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (and an advocate of so-called "free trade"), has crossed the line, mobilizing the official party machine into the primary fight on behalf of Duckworth.

Duckworth's recruitment is a sign of a party driven by spin, political calculation and fear, not strength or vision. The Beltway Democrats, who relieve themselves in their pants every time Republicans question their patriotism, have decided that a winning political strategy rests on rolling out a large pool of candidates who are military veterans. Veterans or any new face in politics is great--but not if their candidacies are created to prove that Democrats care about the country and its security, even if we have no idea where the candidates stand on other issues or have no connection to the communities they seek to represent.

Arrayed on Cegelis' side are, among others, Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America and the machinists union (which represents tens of thousands of United employees who have been screwed by the very pro-business policies promoted by the Beltway Democrats). At a recent rally in the district, 150 activists packed a hall, ready to hit the streets and go door-to-door to talk to voters.

As Molly Ivins writes in the recent issue of The Progressive, "Mah fellow progressives, now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party. I don't know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton."

That is precisely what this race is about. With a week left, a little help for Cegelis from every person thirsting for a vibrant party will go a long way to answering the question: will the progressive movement stand up to the Beltway Democrats who will continue to lose elections because they have no vision for our country?