St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Carnahan betrays progressives, backs Patriot Act extension

Regrettably but as expected, the U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to extend permanently nearly all of the major provisions of the USA Patriot Act. What wasn’t expected was its support by Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan of St. Louis.

The bill would give the government ten more years to conduct roving wiretaps and demand medical, business, bookstore and library records, and would make the Act’s remaining 14 provisions permanent. Without this legislation, all Patriot Act provisions would expire at the end of this year.

A coalition of Democrats and some conservative Republicans sought unsuccessfully to scale back many of the Act’s intrusive provisions, but those restrictions were not part of the bill that passed the House.

Progressives (including the Oracle) are outraged not only at the bill, but also at Carnahan’s vote. A discussion on the Arch City Chronicle blog was highly critical of the city’s freshman rep. Many feel betrayed.

It is noteworthy that this vote took place shortly after the threat of a major progressive primary challenge evaporated. Late last month, progressive favorite Jeff Smith announced that he would file for an open seat in the Missouri senate instead of seeking a rematch with Carnahan. Smith came within two percentage points of beating the heavily favored Carnahan in the 2004 Democratic primary.

Democrats, both nationally and locally, have been “moderating” their positions to the right in response to the 2004 election returns. Even those with progressive or liberal reputations, like party chair Howard Dean and 2008 presidential frontrunner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, have been following this course. They define the political playing field as the territory between them and their Republican foes, figuring their progressive supporters have nowhere else to go.

In this context it is apparent that Carnahan and his handlers are focusing on the area halfway between Russ and his ultra-conservative 2004 opponent, Republican Bill Federer. But a challenge from the left, either or both in the Democratic Primary and from an independent or third-party candidate in the general, would refocus the ideological playing field leftward where it belongs. The 3d District is no longer conservative, because of demographic changes and 2001 redistricting, so there is no apparent political benefit to pandering to the right.

The power of incumbency and the vast financial resources that go with it make Carnahan a prohibitive favorite to win reelection. What is needed is a principled progressive challenger who is not obsessed with winning or losing, and willing to make a sacrifice to make a point.


Anonymous Yoni Cohen said...

Fodder for the right candidate to primary Russ, indeed.

July 25, 2005 at 10:20 AM  

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