Monday, August 24, 2015

When the ‘good guys’ are wrong

Recently, Roger Green has sent me links to several things he knew I’d be interested in, which isn’t unusual; sometimes I send him links, too. Yesterday’s post was inspired by something he sent me, and today’s is based on another. It turned out, however, that this post is about what can be wrong with the Left’s political discourse: Lack of accuracy. We MUST be better than our adversaries each and every time.

The piece Roger sent me was about Democratic Illinois US Representative Dan Lipinski, written by David Nir for Daily Kos: “This Democrat sits in a blue seat—and he wants to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage”. There was a lot wrong with it, and it was typical of what frustrates me so much about commentary on the Left.

The piece says:
“According to a 2014 candidate questionnaire put out by the conservative Illinois Family Institute and just unearthed by the Washington Blade, [Dan] Lipinski supports an amendment to the constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.”
That’s true, but hardly news: The Illinois “Family” Institute [sic] is a notorious far-right anti-gay activist group that routinely ranks politicians. The fact that the Washington Blade only just now found out what Illinois folks knew (or could have known) in 2014 doesn’t suddenly make it news. The Blade’s own report also points out that very often Lipinski votes “present” rather than actually voting against the LGBT people of his district, which hardly makes him an evil monster.

Nir continues:
“What's really insulting is that Lipinski represents a solidly blue district in the Chicago area that Obama won by 56-43 margin, so Democrats can and should do better. Pathetically, the establishment has long propped up Lipinski, even going so far as to remove the home a potential primary challenger from his district back in 2011. (Lipinski's father, Bill, was also a congressman; he handed his seat to his son years ago by retiring after the filing deadline.)”
Let’s unpack that. First, it’s absolutely true that the Chicago and Cook County Democratic establishment DOES prop up Lipinski, and plenty of folks in Illinois Democratic politics are plenty pissed off about that. But it’s entirely irrelevant.

What Nir and the Blade both ignore is that Lipinksi’s district is very conservative, and has been for decades (I lobbied his old man, Bill, and had him marked as not supporting LGBT issues). The district IS Democratic: It’s voted for a Democrat for US Representative for most the past 55 years, and it’s also voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in the last six elections. However, the district was also one of only two (out of nine) Chicago Congressional Districts to vote for Reagan in 1980. They did it again in 1984, and then for Bush the First in 1988.

Rather than having mainstream Democrats as neighbouring districts do, Lipinski’s district is made up of what Chicagoans used to call “white ethnics”, folks also once called “Reagan Democrats”: Nominally Democratic, mostly working class white people who are very socially conservative (and often conservative religionists).

What all this means is that even though the Democratic establishment propped up the Lipinskis, a true progressive Democrat is unlikely to do well in that conservative district. A more progressive Democrat could do okay there—but they’d be unlikely, statistically speaking, to topple an incumbent: In most districts, challengers are unlikely to defeat an incumbent of their own party, and that’s true of both parties. In an open primary with no incumbent, a less conservative Democrat would have a chance, but only just.

All of this is knowable stuff. If Nir or the Blade had done a little research—hell, they could have consulted Wikipedia for a very accurate look at the district—they would have known that Dan Lipinski mostly reflects his district, and that's why he’s outside mainstream Democratic Party values.

So, Nir and the Blade made a political argument not related to the facts, then compounded that with something that’s too common at the farther ends (Left and Right) of political discourse, namely, to declare that because a thing was true once, it must always be true. To me, that’s just plain silly.

Yes, for the 2014 elections Lipinksi backed a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and that’s a reprehensible thing. However, two things about that: We don’t know—and neither Daily Kos nor the Blade suggested—that it’s still Lipinski’s position following the US Supreme Court ruling mandating 50-state marriage equality; it seems unlikely that he’d still back that now. At most, he might back a “let states decide” amendment, something that wouldn't affect his own LGBT constituents, since the Illinois legislature already passed marriage equality—Illinois did decide.

The other important thing here is that it’s impossible for a Constitutional Amendment banning marriage equality to happen: That ship sank decades ago. So, backing such an amendment is merely pandering to his socially conservative voters. Sure, it’s vile and not what a real Democrat would do, but neither is it the greatest threat to the republic or even the Democratic Party that we’ve ever seen.

I have one serious concern about Lipinski, though: His sponsorship of the pro-discrimination “First Amendment Defense Act” which seeks to specifically permit anti-gay discrimination by anyone who claims they have supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs” mandating discrimination against LGBT people.

Let me be clear: I truly wish that a real Democrat would challenge Lipinski and knock him out; it disgusts me that a rightwing, anti-gay politician like him can claim to be a Democrat and get away with the fraud. Illinois, the 3rd District, the Democratic Party, and the US House all deserve a real Democrat, and not a fraud like Dan. However, the voters in that district clearly have other ideas, and it’s their right to elect whomever they want. Whether I think he’s a fuckwit is totally irrelevant. So is the opinion of Daily Kos, the Washington Blade, HRC, or anyone else.

So, my concern here isn’t really about the DINO Dan Lipinski, but rather about sites on the Left ignoring facts—knowable things—to try and score partisan political points without reference to facts, context, or any of the other reality-based tools that they should be using.

This matters because the rightwing media in the USA uses lies, smears, defamation, and distortion with giddy abandon in order to score partisan political points—especially on LGBT issues. Media on the Left must always go out of its way to be better than the Right—more accurate, more factual, and paying attention to context.

We MUST be better than our adversaries each and every time.


rogerogreen said...

I figured that the Illinois connection would pique your interest; didn't know the guy at all.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I didn't really, either, though I knew of his dad. But I definitely knew about the district. Because, yeah, Illinois stuff. ;-)