Ben Smith writes for Politico.com. On June 8 after Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas won her runoff election with Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, Smith received a phone call from an un-named White House staff member.
"Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members money down the toilet on a pointless exercise," the official told Smith. "If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."
That remark demonstrates so much cultural and political insensitivity that it begs for a response. I'm responding as a native Arkansan, an unapologetic Halter supporter, and someone who believes that in a free society people are entitled to choose the people and causes they consider worth supporting.
Bill Halter received almost 48% of the votes in the June 8 runoff election because working people and progressives in Arkansas want a Senator who respects us as equals, not her hired help. Working people and progressives in Arkansas encouraged Halter to run for Senate. We knew it was an uphill fight, and gladly accepted help from around the country.
Workers and progressives are not field hands for Senator Lincoln, the White House, or anyone else. We support candidates whose records and values square with what matters to us. We're concerned about seniors who can't afford their medications. We're concerned about families who can't afford to help their children attend college because government policies helped corporations move jobs out of the country and favored banks over students concerning student loans.
Workers and progressives disagree with politicians who agreed to loan money to Wall Street banks and Detroit auto manufacturers to keep the economy afloat but were unwilling to loan money to working families trying to avoid foreclosure of their homes. We disagree with politicians who realize the need for federally-funded crop insurance for the nation's farmers—a public option that Senator Lincoln has never opposed—but who don't believe that what is good policy for the farm crop should be good policy for the farm workers who produce the crop.
On these and other issues, a Democratic label alone no longer will earn our support. As Jesus said, people are known by their fruit. We supported Halter because Lincoln's voting record doesn't square with our needs and aspirations. That wasn't flushing money down a toilet. It was acting to replace an insensitive politician by supporting someone whose aspirations and values matched our core values.
Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination and the 2008 presidential election because we were willing to "flush" our money and energies this way. Ned Lamont defeated Senator Joe Lieberman for the Democratic primary in 2006 because we were willing to "flush" our money and energies this way. Senator Claire McCaskill was elected to the Senate from Missouri because we were willing to "flush" our money and energies this way.
We didn't toilet our money and energies in those efforts or for Halter. We invested in candidates we embraced. In the Halter instance that investment didn't produce the desired result. Still, it was our investment to make. That's freedom.
If the White House wants to invest its energies more effectively, it shouldn't treat the people who supported Halter's senatorial bid like field hands by talking and acting like plantation owners. That attitude won't help Lincoln win her fall election against Republican Congressman John Boozman, whose campaign coffers will undoubtedly be "flushed" with donations from business tycoons from Arkansas and elsewhere.
Instead, Lincoln and her handlers should ponder how to re-habilitate her in the minds of Arkansas voters who supported Halter. Lincoln can't win the general election without our votes. Treating us like field hands isn't the way to get them.
Thanks to the White House staffer who spoke with Ben Smith, we know what Lincoln's White House cheerleaders think of us. We're not your field hands. If you want to lose Lincoln's seat in the fall, continue talking and acting like we are.