Though the election is still six months away, the local media are already declaring the outcome of Maine’s U.S. Senate race a foregone conclusion, having essentially anointed Angus King the de-facto winner.
“Barring an act of God, utter stupidity, or an unexpected explosion of well-financed excellence from one of the second-stringers…in Maine’s Democratic and Republican United States Senate primaries,” writes the Portland Phoenix’s Lance Tapley in a story last month, “…Angus S. King, Jr. will be the state’s next US senator.” (“Angus for Real,” 3/21/2012.)
The same publication’s cantankerous curmudgeon, Al Diamon, begins a recent column likewise: “Picking the next US senator from Maine is a no-brainer now that independent Angus King is officially in the race.” (“Little King,” 3/14/2012.)
And a piece in the Daily Kos by David Jarman (04/06/12) is simply headlined, “ME-Sen: Angus King Begins March to Coronation.”
That last story shows King leading potential opponents by a whopping 56 percent of the vote. Indeed, House representative Chellie Pingree found the prospect of running against the popular former governor so unnerving she opted not to throw her hat in the ring. Most likely, the Democrats want to avoid the 2010 scenario, wherein Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell and independent Eliot Cutler split the progressive vote, thereby handing the election to right-wing wack-job Paul LePage. (It was, incidentally, a feat to Cutler that he managed to fool enough progressives into thinking he was one of them.)
Yet, I find myself in the odd and highly uncomfortable position of actually agreeing with Diamon, for once.
Despite his popularity and reputation as a thoughtful, bipartisan moderate, as senator, Angus King would not represent any significant change for Maine or the country. King would not break the much bemoaned “partisan gridlock” in Washington, D.C., for the simple fact there is none. When it comes to broad matters of war and peace, civil liberties, health care and the economy, the Republicans and Democrats are in complete agreement. King will not uphold outgoing Senator Olympia Snowe’s “moderate” voting record, because she is not truly moderate. Snowe is a traditional Republican who only looks moderate compared to the rest of her party, which has moved extremely far to the right.
In short, Angus King is not the progressive—or even the moderate--champion the media make him out to be. Like Cutler, King is basically GOP-lite. As local independent journalist, Sam Smith puts it, “Those the media insists on calling moderates are basically right wingers who aren’t as mean to women and gays as some of their colleagues.”
Indeed, in Tapley’s story King claims he will be “economically conservative, socially liberal.” And while he offers up a range of progressive views on the issues, readers will pardon me if I put little stock in what politicians say during their campaigns. I am far more concerned with how they vote once in office.
My guess is Senator King would be a lot like Snowe: Frequently breaking with the Republicans (or Democrats) to quibble about minor details or policy procedures, yet ultimately supporting the overall measure. This is the role of so-called “moderates,” or “independents.” Voters are attracted to their seeming lack of strict ideology, and willingness to “reach across party-lines,” but such Congressional members typically work to uphold the power structure. King, in other words, will be no Bernie Sanders.
“The middle of the road,” Jim Hightower famously proclaimed, “is for yellow lines and dead armadillos.”
And yet the media remain obsessed with both “moderate” politicians and the strategy of courting the political center. This is especially true for the Democratic Party, which corporate media outlets routinely urge to move to the center, if not the right of the political spectrum. But there is no corresponding push for Republicans to move to the left--or, in the case of the contemporary Republican Party, back to the center. This routine strategy practiced by media elites like Joel Klein, Dana Milbank and Thomas L. Friedman is part of the establishment “wisdom” that electoral and political success resides in the center of public opinion.
FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) correspondents, Peter Hart and Steve Rendall examine this phenomenon in a 2006 story for the media-watchdog group’s magazine, Extra! (“Move Over—Over and Over,” July/August, 2006.)
While few commentators would disagree with the conventional wisdom that Republican success depends on the care and feeding of the GOP’s conservative base…pundits who make the same argument for the Democrats are virtually non-existent in national media. Instead, many of the most prominent political journalists in the country have made it their business to press the Democrats to move the party rightward.
The writers go on to observe that these elite pundits frequently pressure Democrats to spurn their natural supporters. Case in point, former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel caused a brief controversy a few years back, when he publicly proclaimed progressives to be “fucking retarded.” Shortly afterward, former White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs derided liberal critics of Obama as belonging to the “extreme,” or, as he termed it “professional” left. No doubt these White House insiders were taking their cues from centrist-oriented media pundits.
Of course, Angus King would not be subject to this sort of partisan pressure since he is, by his own design, already thoroughly enmeshed in the center. And with Pingree opting out of the race, and only token, establishment Democrats running for the seat, Maine voters are left with no progressive option.
“As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” they say. But with Angus King as Senator, Maine is sure to continue running in place.