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The Other Lincoln

Robert Illes: But thank you Madame Lincoln for the clarity of the political landscape, and the Democratic Party. This insane healthcare debate is when we knew the "60-vote majority" was useless.

"The vote of this senator is not for sale!"

Blanche Lincoln

Lincoln declared this to a mighty roar of supporters, once victory in a contentious election was secured.

Of course this is not the Lincoln from the five-dollar bill whom we have come to know as Honest Abe. This is the other Lincoln, the 2010 model, otherwise known as Bullshitting Blanche.

The words certainly could not have been more ironic, since the very reason Ms. Lincoln - a two-term incumbent - was challenged by another Democrat, forcing a run-off for the nomination, is because her vote was for sale. In fact it was sold many times over—among others to the oil industry (for $311,000 in contributions), resulting in her "drill baby especially off shore drill" attitude; and the health care industry (for over $1 million), possibly resulting in her famous opposition to health care reform. No one can say she doesn't act in accordance with the wishes of these particular constituents. And nobody noticed more than pissed-off progressives.

And certainly there were other folks who bought in during the aforementioned run off: the anti-organized labor powers like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wal-Mart, pro-greed Goldman-Sachs (that's right!) - not to mention the forces of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Wait. Did I say Barack Obama? After she broke ranks with fellow Democrats, fellow Americans, and fellow Arkansans and screwed with the healthcare debate? This was the senator who, de facto, killed the public option in the health care debate, despite its popularity.

Another Lincoln makes a mark on the political landscape!

But thank you Madame Lincoln for the clarity of the political landscape, and the Democratic Party. This insane healthcare debate is when we knew the "60-vote majority" was useless.

No Republicans were required to remove actual reform from the quest for healthcare reform. The Democrats did it all by themselves, and Ms. Blanche was one of the key actors (no offense to John Wilkes Booth). But in her stand alone stand against the public option, she became the poster child of so called "Blue Dog Democrats," basically Democrats who are able to win in Red States by doing all the distasteful things Republican do except actually calling themselves Republicans.

While she made have gotten a big fat kiss from her health industry benefactors, her endeavors undermining health reform legislation earned her a big fat target: not from a latter-day Booth but from irate progressives, led by such groups as Accountability Now and who facilitated a credible primary challenge, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, committed to the cause. He did well enough in the primary to force a special run off against Lincoln on June 8th.

It didn't quite work, as it turns out, but it was to be a shot as historically loud as those emanating from Ft. Sumter in 1861. Another civil war of sorts was on, and another Lincoln was smack in the middle, and so was the sitting President of the United States.

And what might a Republicanesque Democrat do to combat such a challenge: why, go to the Republicanesque playbook, and do little that might be considered Lincolnesque, right down to questionable voting machines, and the peculiar antics of county election commissioner. They're ba-aaaack.

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And so, submitted for your approval, we enter Bizarro World of history turned on its head: a politician named Lincoln, representing the blue (dogs) forces in a Confederate state, was decidedly on the wrong side of history. Organized Labor was supporting the challenger, and so anti-labor forces poured money into Lincoln's campaign. And, no less than William J. Clinton, former President, and son of Hope, was stumping for his old chum - using as a prime cudgel the fact that organized labor was supporting opponent Halter.

Am I hearing this correctly? Is this a nightmare? This was Democrat vs. Democrat, remember, only it doesn't sound like it.

And then there was the final Republicanesque tool: the voting machines. And sure enough, they are the same touchscreen machines in Arkansas that were used to give us Alvin Greene in South Carolina. They acted funny, they gave weird results, and they have no paper trail (see for details). And to help matters further, election commissioner Charles Tapp of Garland County a strong hold of Halter support in the original primary, decided to reduce the number of voting places from 40 to two.

40 to two.

He first declared there would be Saturday voting, so the rural voters would not have to take a workday to drive the mountain roads to Hot Springs to vote. Then he changed his mind. Clearly, he was playing the role of Katherine Harris 2010. What's his reward?

But most disconcerting was the role of the sitting President, beset by this divide smoldering between the progressive and conservative factions of the party. And while he backed a loser in Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, his backing of Lincoln in Arkansas proved to be decisive according to most accounts. Or was this more Rahm Emmanuel "advice", clinging to the model of conservative Democrats that elected Clinton in 1994?

Lincoln—who shared only the name of the guy on Mt. Rushmore but none of the political courage or statesmanship, who was among those Democrats who gave Obama the most trouble with healthcare reform—got the support of the White House. One may even be cynical of her recent anti-Wall Street legislation as a panicky performance of political death bed integrity.

As Red put it, the victory in this skirmish may be pyrrhic; all polls have Lincoln buried by her opponent in November, John Boozman—an actual Republican. As somebody long ago once said, why vote for a Democrat posing as a Republican when you can vote for the real thing?

TBlanche Lincoln's battle will serve as a warning as this "civil war" heats up—that incumbency is not an automatic, and actions have consequences. And that the solution for voters is not just vote in a Republican in a "throw the bums out" mode, but rather throw the bum out in the primary. Added thought: Halter collected over $4 million from small donors, so there is hope for skittish challengers.

bob illes

The current Lincoln, who sadly did sell her vote, probably won't survive as a Senator. But the one person who may learn the biggest lesson is President Obama. Hopefully, like the first Lincoln, Obama will next time around, stand on the right side of the divide.

Robert Illes

Robert Illes is an Emmy winning television writer and producer, currently developing series for Nickelodeon and TV Land. He is an LA native, and a graduate of USC, who lived in Sherman Oaks for 23 years before escaping to Santa Monica (but visits a lot). A member of Valley Democrats United, Bob is also an AirAmericaRadio freak, active in the Writers Guild mentor program, as well as the Democratic Party, and is constantly Bush bashing, fighting for verifiable voting procedures, and fighting against Jerry's Deli showing Fox News on their overhead TVs. What's the matter with those people!?

Reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor, where the article first appeared.