This photo* – it got people riled up. Mikie Sherrill with her new pack, the Blue Dogs, that right-tilting assemblage that already includes Josh Gottheimer. There’s Jeff Van Drew, too! But he’s no surprise, we knew he was a DINO. But Mikie. Facebook is having a little nutty right now. Mikie sticker-shock. Buzzing about launching Mondays With Mikie, like the grassroots Fridays With Frelinghuysen that shamed the scion of a Jersey political family at the top of his game right out of the race. Buzzing about, Who can primary Mikie in 2020?
Look. Mikie’s gonna be what Mikie’s gonna be. To a certain degree, I say she like all our newbies should have a chance to get there, find their voice in the House, maybe before we all pile on. Am I disappointed? Yes. Bigly. I expected better. Mikie was elected with the widest margin of any of our seat-flippers (56%-43% over Webber), racked up the most dominant war chest, got the most national press. Given all that, given it was activists who shamed Rodney off the stage, given that she capitalized on a movement they started, you’d think she’d spend some of that political capital. Test the wings of that win, show some progressive moxie. That’s if she had it in her. Maybe she doesn’t. Did anybody ask? Did anyone press her on which team she’d join?
I have a theory – some of you are not going to like it – that women candidates (white ones, not black ones) are often afforded more room to set their own course than male candidates are. Maybe because the hunger for women in leadership is palpable – and way overdue. Seems to me sometimes women candidates are exempted from criticism and hard questions even before they’re asked. This advantage does not extend to black women candidates (hey, Stacey Abrams and her voters were crapped on, while Mississippi just sent lily-white Cindy Hyde-Smith, who jokes about lynchings, to the goddamn U.S. Senate). But I digress. Call it the Hillary Clinton effect: Confronted with hard questions, or the corruption that tied her to the DNC, how often did that campaign cry sexism and misogyny? Often. And that had the effect of muddling right over the real sexism that was also directed against her. Her campaign used it as an intimidation tactic to shut down both the press and voters not in her corner. Nothing like that is going on here, but I’m not convinced there aren’t vestiges of 2016 coloring both our expectations as voters, and how hard we’re willing to press our standard-bearers. Particularly women, because anybody with a brain knows we need more of them. In NJ-11, more than any NJ district, it was women who powered Mikie Sherrill to victory, not so much the Democratic Party, but women enraged by a colossally stupid, he-man-woman-hating, woman-screwer they feel in their bones snatched the White House from their hands. From her hands.
Some of those women are piping mad today, with this Blue Dog news. But some of them are thinking on an entirely different level.
So, let’s go there.
This is not my district, and I have enormous respect for my sisters (and brothers) who powered NJ-11. We all worked hard, we all gave our labors or money. But I’d argue the level of organization, of purposefulness, and the sheer volume of people making time commitments there was bigger. And started earlier. That muscle, especially that mighty purple presence, should hold Mikie Sherrill accountable for what issues they determine are important. I hope Mikie Sherrill’s new constituents focus on the issues that seemed to ignite them from the beginning. And I hope they leverage the access they have a right to expect from Sherrill for those issues. My fear since Hillary lost to Trump has always been that the new activism might not extend beyond pink pussy-hatted white women’s rage, party tribalism, or ‘any blue will do.’ That freshly-elected Dems of the Blue Wave would get off easy, and most of us sink back, exhausted and gratified, certain of mission accomplished.
But I have a lot of faith in the women and men I know in NJ-11. Smart people with high expectations, who just mastered a steep 2-year learning curve, and can do anything they determine together to do.
For those already clamoring to primary Mikie Sherrill, I say tread carefully. An electoral challenge from her left would be tricky in this district. Sherrill earned her power; only some of it is ours. To be successful, a challenger would have to be able to articulate issues in a way that lights people up – lifts them, resonates – and would have to distinguish themselves from her without bashing her (likely to not go over well). And then raise enough, and early enough, to be viable and reach voters who relaxed back into simple Trump-hating. And even you win that primary, only then tackle a general election that the Republicans are already itching for.
Who are these centrists? And why are they a problem?
In my opinion – and Paul Waldman’s at Washington Post – they are the cynical enemy of progressivism. They exist to get in the way of forward movement. Waldman has written a damn good primer: Down With Centrism. Tread carefully among the Blue Dogs, the ‘No Labels’ types, the New Democrats, the Problem Solvers Caucus. They’re all the same gang pretty much; and they’re not progressive even if they’re an incremental improvement over a GOP in that seat. If you want better, you’re going to have to demand better – with your lobbying, your organizing muscle, and yes maybe even in the next primary. But be warned: Big-money corporate America is happy to fund these folks – D or R after their name. Blue Dogs may be quite willing to “compromise” on our best interests. And New Jersey is stacking up House members in these groups. Yay us.
And remember how we won these midterm races focusing on healthcare? Get a load of this:
“The biggest single source of finance for the Blue Dog Political Action Committee is the health care industry, which donated $1.2 million in the 2009–2010 election cycle. In July 2009, Blue Dog members who were committee members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee successfully delayed the House vote on the Health Insurance Reform Bill (HR3200) until after the Summer Recess. It was during this recess that the term “Obamacare” was first derisively adopted by Republicans on Capitol Hill. It is widely proposed that Blue Dog opposition to the “public option” and this recess, with that summer’s contentious Town Hall meetings, provided the healthcare law’s Republican opponents the opportunity to attack and subsequently get the public option dropped from the original, pre-recess, bill.”
The fun never ends.
* photo edited to identify NJ Blue Dog Coalition members