Monday, January 12, 2015

The Rodney Dangerfield of Iowa

You'd think after a decade, people would start thinking of Dave Loebsack as a real congressman.

Yet even after five straight wins, and even though he is now the highest ranking elected Democrat in Iowa, Loebsack is still the Rodney Dangerfield of Iowa politics: he don't get no respect.

For those not following there's a good flame war in the Iowa Twittersphere. The latest round of Loebsack bashing is over the Keystone pipeline vote.  Loebsack is being called a "traitor" for tactically voting yes on a bill President Obama is certain to veto.

It's easy to bash Loebsack for this vote because he had to actually take a vote.  Because of COURSE in the alternate universe Senator Braley and Senator Conlin and Congressman Mowrer and Congressman Murphy and Congresswoman Appel would never have voted for it.

I might have gone the other way myself, but the Keystone fight pits two pieces of the Democratic coalition, environmentalists and labor, against one another.

I'm not saying this weighs on Loebsack's thinking, and I haven't talked to him directly about it.  Dave may be a bigger man than me, but if I were weighing labor vs. environmentalists, I'd remember: in 2006 labor was solidly in Loebsack's corner.  Meanwhile, environmental groups like the Sierra Club, who supported practically every other Democrat on the planet, were backing Jim Leach in the name of "nonpartisanship." 

Some, the "objective" press in particular, have never forgiven Loebsack for beating Leach, the last reasonable moderate Republican on the planet, the one token Republican that liberal groups and voters could support and get warm fuzzy "independent" feelings about. As if, in our hyper-partisan era when party labels actually mean something, "nonpartisan" was even a thing anymore.

Others won't forgive Loebsack for standing his ground and staying with his district - and it was, basically, his district - when they wanted to kick him to the curb and install Christie Vilsack (who was living in Des Moines, not Mt. Pleasant, on Map Day). No one ever, in public, other than me, suggested that it was maybe Leonard Boswell who should step down instead. We all saw how well THAT turned out. And we also saw how the idea of Christie Vilsack as a candidate was better than the reality of Christie Vilsack as a candidate.

I'll admit to a strong pro-Loebsack bias. I knew Dave long before he was a big deal, back when HE was one of MY volunteers knocking doors in Mt. Vernon. Back when he was gutsy enough to back Bill Bradley when us activists were being issued marching orders from Des Moines and DC to line up for Al Gore.

I was there at the beginning when the Loebsack "campaign" was just a half dozen people in a living room.  I stuck up for him on these pages while the rest of the Iowa bloggers ignored him.  So 2006 was a good year?  Not good enough for Becky Greenwald and Selden Spencer. Remember them?  (Maybe that's another reason some folks have chips on their shoulders about Loebsack: they dismissed his chances and bet on the losers.)

In the 40 years since the 1974 landslide, only two Iowa Democrats  have been able to defeat an incumbent Republican member of Congress: Tom Harkin on multiple occasions, and Dave Loebsack.  And Dave did it with ZERO support from the national party.

In 2006 30 freshman Democrats took over Republican seats. Today, Loebsack is one of only seven who remain in the House (three have gone to the Senate, Bruce Braley not among them).

Dave Loebsack is now in his fifth term. That's almost as long as Berkeley Bedell served.  It's as long as Mike Blouin and Dave Nagle served, COMBINED. All three are rightly regarded as legends of the Iowa Democratic Party. Yet Dave Loebsack is still looked at as a "fluke."No one's asking if Dave is going to challenge Grassley, or if he's going to run for governor, the way you'd normally talk about your party's top elected official.

"My first election no one thought I was going to win," Loebsack has said, "and my second election no one thought I was going to lose." And in his third, fourth, and fifth, Democrats seem to take his victory for granted as well. People assume, that because he's a college professor with a beard, or because the seat includes Iowa City, the whole DISTRICT is Iowa City and that the seat is safe.  They therefore he think should have a safe-seat, Dennis Kucinich type voting record. 

Yes, Johnson County is his donor base and his vote base, but the People's Republic is only one-fifth of the current 2nd District.  We're not even the biggest county, Scott is. In Scott, Loebsack barely won a majority, by just 215 votes.  And while Johnson voted 69% for Loebsack, his next best county was Des Moines at just under 56%.  This is not a safe urban majority seat. It's a clean Iowa districted swing seat that is going to be a fight every time.

Leonard Boswell, tempermentally, culturally and ideologically, was a Blue Dog. He was PROUD of that shit.  Dave Loebsack's no Blue Dog.  He's a too-cautious progressive.  Instead of attacking him, we should be encouraging him.  And in this political climate, it's critical for Democrats to hang on to what we have, rather than tearing it down because it's not perfect.

Belated Dave Loebsack Birthday Reception
You are cordially invited to a Belated Birthday Reception for
Congressman Dave Loebsack on
Saturday, January 24th, 2015
4 - 6 PM

At the the Sanctuary Pub
405 S. Gilbert Street
Iowa City, IA

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