(updated below - Update II)
An article in The Hill, describing how profoundly House Democrats will miss the leadership of Rahm Emanuel, recounts this episode, involving the vote by Democratic Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota in favor of the dreadful Protect America Act in August of last year (h/t Matt Stoller):
Members said [Emanuel] had a phenomenal knowledge of their districts, and he kept up to date well after the campaign ended. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said one of his supporters wrote a letter to the editor of a small paper in his district, complaining about his vote on a rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Walz mentioned the letter to the editor to Emanuel on the floor and was stunned by his response.
“You mean the one about how you should caucus with the Republicans?” Emanuel shot back. “That’s a good letter. Makes you look bipartisan.”
To this day, Walz is still amazed. “He had read the letter.”
When I first read this passage, I mistakenly thought that was Walz was "stunned" by Emanuel's response because Emanuel was telling him that it is a good thing to infuriate your own supporters by voting in favor of a definitively Republican bill to massively expand the surveillance state at George Bush's behest. No -- that point was totally unremarkable for Walz and didn't register with him at all. Walz was merely "stunned" as in "impressed" -- impressed with Emanuel's political acumen at having read and remembered that letter.
This little vignette provides a very vivid and crystallizing illustration of how Congressional Democratic leaders think and behave. They consider it a good thing -- not a bad thing -- when they anger their own base. They're thrilled when they get accused -- accurately -- of acting like Republicans and supporting right-wing measures, particularly on national security and "terrorism" issues. They consider it a benefit -- an incentive -- when they are attacked for embracing Republican political policies and violating the principles of their own base.
This is undoubtedly the rationale which, at least in part, led to Obama's own reversal on FISA: namely, it was considered a good thing that he infuriated his core supporters and was accused of supporting definitively Bush/Cheney terrorism policies because -- in the words of his new Chief of Staff -- "it makes you look bipartisan." See here for the fruits of this thinking.
Tomorrow, the Senate will vote in secret on whether to deny Joe Lieberman the Chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Is the anger that will be generated among liberals if Lieberman continues in that position something that Senate Democrats want to avoid or want to provoke? One wonders how many similar celebrations Congressional Democrats had all those times when they enabled one radical Bush policy after the next and were excoriated by their own voters.
UPDATE: Numerous sources -- including this one and this one -- are now reporting that the Senate Democratic caucus has reached a deal with Joe Lieberman, and he will retain his Chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. The deal will be ratified in a vote tomorrow morning (and will entail his losing a totally meaningless subcommittee chair).
Nobody who has watched Congressional Democrats over the last many years could possibly have expected any other outcome. This is who they are and what they do. The silver lining is that it will once again remind people, still euphoric over the election results, of this reality.
And as the anger pours forth from people who raise money for Democrats and expended huge amounts of time and effort to elect Barack Obama, the more vindicated Senate Democrats will feel in what they just did. That's how they look centrist and bipartisan -- by infuriating their supporters, the perceived "Left." They don't believe in Sister Souljah moments; they believe in Sister Souljahism as an operating principle, a way of life. Ask Tim Walz.
UPDATE II: Digby points to a similar and related strain of this thinking.