George Graham

Is a Bad Democrat Better than No Democrat?


Democrats face a dilemma in 2014. Do they stick to their principles and run off the pols who use the party to make a lucrative nest for themselves in Congress? Or do they tolerate the sleazy behavior of these members in order to bolster the party’s numbers in the House and Senate? For at least a generation, the party has ignored the “rat” in flawed Democrats in order to bolster their representation in Congress. But the debate over gun control seems to be changing things.

Progressives have gone on the offensive, running ads against Democratic politicians who oppose the regulation of gun sales. And gun control advocates are threatening to keep up the crusade through 2014.

That may be why  Senator Max Baucus is retiring.  The 72-year-old Montana senator was among renegade Democrats who voted against a bipartisan Senate bill expanding background checks for gun purchases. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee responded by targeting him in an ad campaign.

Baucus has been in Washington for more than a generation and has a reputation (among progressives, anyway) for disloyal – and questionable – behavior. PCCC co-founder Stephanie Taylor had this to say about Baucus’ retirement announcement:

Good bye, Senator K Street. Max Baucus has a history of voting with corporate interests and not the interests of Montana voters — taking millions from Wall Street, insurance companies, and lobbyists. Montana will finally have a chance to have a senator with its best interests at heart, and we hope [former Democratic Gov.] Brian Schweitzer jumps into the race immediately.

“K Street,” of course, refers to the area where Washington’s lobbyists congregate. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes both gave detailed accounts of the sordid relationship between Baucus and lobbyists. Among other abuses, the senator has an alarming number of ex-staffers working for lobbying interests; and his voting record indicates they exert an unhealthy influence on his policies.

To folks like me, Baucus’ exit is a welcome development. I hate it when Democrats stray from the party platform and side with their conservative opponents. I hate it when members of Congress vote for the interests of their campaign contributors instead of the interests of their constituents. And I cringe when politicians put their own re-election ahead of their country’s welfare.

But the way the old-line Democrats have looked at it, it’s better for the party to have majorities in Congress even when some of their elected representatives are not 100 percent in agreement with their principles. At least they will get agreement on some things, and half a platform is better than no platform at all.

As bad a Democrat as Baucus undoubtedly was, he did cast a critical vote in favor of President Obama’s health care reform bill, for example. (Of course, his motives may have been far from pure; he was accused of torpedoing the public option to do his health care industry donors a favor.)

The country is politically divided, and the majority of voters in some states do not accept the validity of traditional Democratic ideals. They’re dyed-in-the-wool conservatives who shudder at the prospect of same-sex marriage, oppose federal government involvement in health care and education, and regard abortion as a mortal sin. Even those who might not be socially conservative often distrust deficit financing and government welfare programs. Some Americans – a minority of course – are motivated by racist intolerance and xenophobia.

To get their vote, politicians – of either party – dare not seem even vaguely progressive.

Ms. Taylor might be overly optimistic when she cheers the departure of six-term senator Max Baucus in the expectation that former Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer could take his place.

A Republican could just as possibly claim Baucus’  vacant Senate seat. While  Senator Jon Tester won re-election and Democrat Steve Bullock succeeded Tester in November, Mitt Romney won the state by 12 percentage points over President Obama.

With several other Democratic senators scheduled to retire, the party risks losing the slim advantage it has in the Senate.

The question is: Would the party accomplish more with a majority – even with some disloyal members – than by letting the Republicans  control both houses of Congress?

It’s the kind of question that keeps voters like me awake at night.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for