Having observed liberals in action for more than four decades, I can tell you that one of the worst things they do is rally in desperation behind a certain candidate who they don't agree with on all the issues -- because he or she has the look of "a winner." I've never met a liberal who was excited about the "competent" Michael Dukakis in 1988 or the war hero (what could Karl Rove possibly say?!...heh) John Kerry in 2004, yet they won the presidential nomination. Those moves worked out really well for progressives, don't you think?
This winter I was asked to appear on a media panel in Harrisburg at something called the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit. It was a big room full of liberals -- and they were all from Pennsylvania! Who knew? Anyway, they took one of those straw polls on who should run for governor against Tom Corbett in 2014, and the landslide winner was Rep Allyson Y. Schwartz of Philadelphia/Montco. Liberals desperately want to get rid of Corbett, and Schwartz seems like the best option. She's experienced, poised, a champion of women's rights, and a proven fundraiser. "A winner."
Look, this is a tough one. One of the worst features of Pennsylvania politics is our state's dismal track record in electing women candidates, so a female governor would be a giant breakthrough. Still, if your goal is to make Pennsylvania a more progressive place, it would be less important to elect a woman than to elect someone who is actually progressive.
Schwartz's mediocre track record make you think that she is not that person. Instead, she comes across as one of a new disturbing new breed of uptown/suburban politico -- typified by New York's Michael Bloomberg and his likely successor as mayor, Christine Quinn. They are 100 percent true-blue liberal on social issues like gay marriage and a woman's right to choose, but take pro-business stances that aren't helpful to the struggling middle class, and don't seem much troubled by creeping police-statism to protect what the affluent have in 21st Century America.
Yesterday was rock-bottom for Schwartz, as she joined with a rag-tag army of Republican neo-conservatives and some Obama-loyal flip-floppers in defeating a House amendment that would have defunded the Natural Security Administration's spying overreach on Americans' phone records, a measure that would have been a dramatic statement that Congress is listening to the voice of the people who are tired of the growing power of the surveillance state. You can run for higher office as "a progressive" -- or you can support a government that operates in violation of the 4th Amendment. I don't understand how you can do both.
And Schwartz' unprogressive vote on the NSA might be excusable is it were a one-time thing -- but there are other questions. In a time when fracking is ruining the rural environment across Pennsylvania, Schwartz has taken a surprisingly business-friendly (and future campaign-contributor friendly?) stance. Upon taking office in 2005, Schwartz had a choice between the Big Banks or the middle class on a bankruptcy bill -- and she voted with the banks. She's a leader of something called the New Democrat Coalition -- which ProPublica recently described as "a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists makes them one of the most successful money machines since the K Street Project collapsed."
Democrats do have other choices. One candidate whose energy level has been remarkable, and who has taken consistently progressive stances on the issues facing Pennsylvania, is the former Environmental Protection commissioner, John Hanger. Hanger is also problematic -- he's completely lacking in name recognition, and he's also not perfect. But the point is that Schwartz's bad vote yesterday on government spying is another reason why Democrats would be smart to have a real primary, and not a coronation. The fact that Corbett couldn't be elected Harrisburg dog-catcher right now means that Dems can relax and focus on the best candidate for a change, and not try to guess who they think will win (which never works, anyway). If progressives are determined to vote for Allyson Y. Schwartz, they should stop and ask themselves...