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.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Robin's silence ends in a whimper

I have been waiting for quite some time for Missouri’s presumptive Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Robin Carnahan to take a stand on an important federal issue in a timely manner. This week she finally did so. I think I liked the silence better.

Ms. Carnahan issued a news release backing President Barack Obama’s decision to increase our troop levels in Afghanistan. So did Sarah Palin. It was reminiscent of Robin’s mother, former Sen. Jean Carnahan, who also supported the military initiatives of the president, then George W. Bush. In fact, Sen. Carnahan bragged in her unsuccessful 2002 reelection campaign that her overall voting record had supported Bush 70% of the time. Like mother, like daughter?

This was very disappointing to me and other progressives seeking an end to our involvement in war.

On the other hand, at least Robin finally took a stand on something. The nation is currently in the midst of several robust public policy debates concerning President Obama’s proposals, including economic stimulus bills, the “cap and trade” energy act now pending in the Senate, and especially health care reform. Ordinary citizens have taken an extraordinary interest in pending legislation not seen in many years, and that is encouraging. But Robin has not been forthcoming on where she stands. Her indecision even got national attention in September when Politico published a long analysis by respected Springfield television reporter Dave Catanese.

About a month ago, reporters cornered Robin at a photo op for the unveiling of the new Missouri Blue Book and asked her about her views on the House-passed health care bill. She bobbed and weaved like a prizefighter. Jason Rosenbaum posted video of the encounter; you’ve got to see it to believe it! Asked whether she favored the bill, she said she was “excited that we’re having this debate.” (Well, then, take part in it!) All she gave were general platitudes like “the status quo is not good enough,” but that she was “a little concerned on the House side about the affordability of the bill.”

And in a matter of great importance to progressives, a reporter asked Carnahan point-blank whether she supported the Stupak Amendment (prohibiting federal health care dollars from paying for abortions). This should have been a slam-dunk for the supposedly pro-choice Carnahan, but she demurred. “We ought not be making this an abortion debate,” she lamented. “We hope they get that resolved.”

Wow! That’s leadership?

No, that’s a typical old-line politician, trying to be all things to all people.

Actually, it’s an embodiment of an old political ploy called the “rose garden” strategy. It evolved from the conduct of incumbent presidents seeking to look presidential by busying themselves with the duties of the office while publicly ignoring the campaign. Ms. Carnahan seems to be trying to look busy as secretary of state and ride into office on her reputation from that office and her unmistakable family name.

Is that a smart strategy? I don’t think so. First off, a “rose garden” strategy is ill suited for a candidate who isn’t the incumbent. Moreover, the office of Missouri Secretary of State has not been a particularly good training ground for higher office in recent years. Former Gov. Matt Blunt (R) also served as secretary of state, and frankly, his record there was as good or better than Carnahan’s. But it didn’t prepare him to be governor.

And then there’s the Jim Tedesco story. Tedesco was the Republican nominee earlier this year in the special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who accepted appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Hillary Clinton became President Obama’s Secretary of State. That seat had been hopelessly Republican territory until Gillibrand unseated a Republican incumbent and helped Democrats retake Congress in 2006. The Democratic nominee for Gillibrand’s seat was Scott Murphy, a Missouri native and first-time candidate for anything. Initial polls showed Tedesco, a well-known Republican state assemblyman, with a significant lead. Tedesco chose to sit on the lead and avoid conflict. For weeks he refused to take a stand on the President’s proposed stimulus bill, the issue then on most people’s minds. Murphy hammered Tedesco on his apparent indecision and cut away at Tedesco’s lead. By the time Tedesco took a stand, voters were fed up with him, and Murphy won in an upset.

My early inclination was to support Ms. Carnahan’s candidacy. She had won two statewide races with progressive support, and we have assumed she was progressive. Conventional wisdom is that she is smarter than her disappointing brother, Rep. Russ Carnahan, but at least Russ takes stands (even if they’re just whatever the Speaker’s aides tell him to say). Robin’s indecision makes her look even less attuned to issues than Russ! Both announced Republican contenders, Rep. Roy Blunt and state Sen. Chuck Purgason, have taken decidedly unprogressive stands on the issues, but at least they too have taken stands. Leadership requires taking stands that influences others to do the same. Merely not being Blunt or Purgason doesn’t cut it.

A progressive long shot, Code Pink activist Midge Potts of Springfield, is circulating petitions to get the Progressive Party back on the ballot, enabling her to seek this senate seat under that party’s banner. Maybe it takes her candidacy to reawaken the presumed inner progressive in Ms. Carnahan.

If this keeps up much longer, Robin’s rose garden may not bloom.