By Martin Bosworth
Today former Virginia governor Mark Warner (a Democrat) announced his plan to run for the Senate seat currently held by retiring Republican John Warner (no relation). Within moments of the announcement, a flamewar broke out among the progressive netroots. Matt Stoller called Warner’s announcement “Liebermanesque” and said he was too centrist to be a real Democrat. Lowell at Raising Kaine supported Warner and called out Stoller for slamming Democrats. Stoller’s old partner at MyDD (and former Warner consultant) Jerome Armstrong also smacked Stoller.
This whole thing mystified me at first, but the more I think about it, the more this idea makes sense: Warner himself isn’t necessarily the issue, but it’s what his candidacy stands for that’s causing the division–a split between the faction that supports Dems in office at all costs, and the faction that wants truly partisan Dems rather than DINOs (Dems In Name Only).
I never really understood why some people were so hot for Mark Warner. He was a successful governor and won great popularity for developing solutions from compromises and collaboration, true. He’s also big into technology–remember his foray into Second Life?–and that definitely appealed to the technophilic aspect of the “netroots.” Overall, he’s got that whole “white Southern male who isn’t a racist or ignoramus” vibe that gives the likes of Mudcat Saunders hot flashes. But he never really struck me as presidential material, and I couldn’t figure out what made him so appealing to Armstrong and the other opinion leaders of the time–and why he’s causing such a row now.
But since 2004, we’ve had a Democratic majority take over Congress, many of whom were centrist Democrats (like Jim Webb, a former Reaganite Republican) that were eagerly bolstered and supported by the netroots as the kind of Dems we need to build long-term victories. Of course, it was many of those same Democrats who promptly folded like origami on the two biggest issues in front of them–the Iraq war spending and the FISA authorization. So I can understand why Stoller’s angry–do we really need yet more “centrist” Democrats who claim to be “above partisan politics,” and whose idea of collaboration involves basically giving Republicans whatever they want? Of course not. Electing Democrats just for the sake of electing Democrats is a crap idea, particularly when they end up crapping out on you.
But is Warner going to be one of those people? That, I cannot answer. He is worshiped like a God by Virginia’s Democrats, and living in D.C., I can tell you from experience that it’ll be years before Virginia elects a Senator who’s a progressive even on the level of John Edwards, let alone Bernie Sanders. The state is trending more left in urban enclaves like Alexandria, but once you get out of the NOVA region, it’s as right-wing as they come. So the fact that Virginia could have even one Democratic Senator, let alone two, is a minor miracle.
But is having Democrats in office enough if they simply support Republican policies every step of the way? It isn’t for me, and the Warner candidacy will be a very crucial test of the strength of the two factions–and how much support each one can pull from voters and pundits alike.
9/14 UPDATE: Matt, in the comments, reminded me that he never actually said Warner wasn’t a real Democrat, so I apologize for implying that. Matt’s also offered his own mea culpas about some of the things he said, and the discussion about Warner and what his candidacy could mean for Virginia has had some fascinating insights offered. If Warner is indeed in favor of net neutrality, that’s another mark in his favor in my book.