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Published: Saturday, 3/6/2010

Dems disintegrate; GOP principle pays for nothing

BY ROSE RUSSELL

LATELY, the Democratic Party appears to be falling apart. And though the Republicans are having a chortling good time about that, there is enough fumbling going on among them for anyone to realize why there's so much interest in the Tea Party, Coffee Party, and any other party.

New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, was set to seek a full term this year when he suddenly announced last week that he wouldn't run. Turns out that he asked an aide's domestic-violence accuser to keep quiet about the alleged crime.

Bad move, Mr. Governor. In the attempted cover-up, Mr. Paterson sealed his political fate. He doesn't deserve to be governor, or to hold any other political position for that matter.

Speaking of New York Democrats, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, after refusing at first to relinquish the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, finally said this week that he would take a leave of absence from the post.

A growing number of Democrats had begun to distance themselves from him. They were ready to back a Republican-led congressional effort to force his resignation from the chairmanship in light of allegations that he accepted corporate-financed travel.

He stepped down "in order to avoid my colleagues' having to defend me during their elections," he explained. So Mr. Rangel asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a leave.

Because it is not clear whether he will remain on leave through the election or whether he will resign the chairmanship, the uncertainty could still make it difficult for Democrats running for Congress in November. And granting him a leave of absence suggests that the party leadership refuses to deal aggressively with the 20-term incumbent.

Have you noticed the number of Democrats taking flight from Congress? When Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced last month that he will not run for re-election, he became the fourth Democratic senator - the others are from Illinois, North Dakota, and Connecticut - who won't run again this fall. And analysts say six other Democratic senators face strong GOP challengers, in November.

At least the Democratic Party has the good sense of Harold Ford, Jr., going for it. The former Tennessee congressman backed out of challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the New York Democratic primary. He worried that whoever won the race, the final outcome would still be in the Republicans' favor.

What remains fresh in the minds of Democrats is the Senate seat they lost in Massachusetts in January. The party can learn from the race in which Republican Scott Brown beat Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat. So high-five to Mr. Ford and New York party leaders for learning from that fiasco.

The GOP can only laugh so much, considering that Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning staged a five-day filibuster affecting millions of Americans in a gambit that underscored how skilled his party is at obstructionist politics.

Fortunately, Republicans were among the senators who called for the Hall of Fame pitcher finally to get out of the way of a $10 billion package that will pay for unemployment benefits, Medicare payments to doctors, checks to highway workers, and satellite television in rural areas.

Mr. Bunning's point was laudable: Washington must pay for its programs. With a mushrooming federal deficit, no one disagrees with that principle. But he ignored the fact that this package was an emergency measure.

Mr. Bunning's antics offered another example of how out of touch the GOP is with ordinary Americans. But luckily for us all, even some Republicans realize that you can't feed your family, pay the mortgage or rent, or buy gasoline on principle.

Perhaps we do need a third party.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at rrussell@theblade.com



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