04 August 2006

Political expediency

[Note: with this post, I inaugurate The Crolian Progressive, a blog about politics and history and their intersection. This post is also posted at my other two online homes, My Left Wing and Daily Kos.]

No phrase is more objectionable to the Crolian Progressive than "political expediency." It is the antithesis of the Crolian idea of good government: inspirational leadership by ordinary citizens called to public life out of a sense of duty, caring nothing for their own political welfare. A true Progressive's every act is political courage -- the kind of courage defined by John F. Kennedy in his book Profiles in Courage. To the acts of political selflessness described by Kennedy -- Edmund G. Ross of Kansas "look[ing] down into [his] own grave" while casting his deciding vote against the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, Senators Webster, Benton, and Houston sacrificing their careers to avert the Civil War -- we may add examples from the modern day: Russell Feingold's vote against the Patriot Act, Michael Honda's vote against the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance.

So it may come as no surprise that, when one of our own small-p progressives fails to show courage in the face of political adversity, it rankles with the Crolian Progressive.

SACRAMENTO - It seems Democrat Jerry McNerney has had a change of heart.

The same day The Record published a story detailing his support for a variety of tax increases - based on a survey he had completed in May - McNerney altered dozens of his answers to the online questionnaire, erasing his earlier support for higher taxes.

McNerney, a Pleasanton energy consultant, wants to unseat seven-term incumbent Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, but faces an uphill climb in the Republican-leaning 11th District.

McNerney's new answers all are either more conservative or less revealing than his earlier positions, with only a handful of exceptions.

Where he had said he favored increasing several different taxes, McNerney now says he does not.

Where he once said he opposed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, now McNerney declines to answer the question.

And where he once listed his top three priorities as establishing a universal health-care system, eliminating or fully funding federal education mandates by banning congressional earmarking and reducing oil-dependence by developing new sources of energy, now McNerney leaves no answer about his priorities.

The scope of switches is unusually wide for just nine weeks. McNerney altered 55 of the 147 questions on the Project Vote Smart questionnaire Monday, according to the Montana-based group's Adelaide Kimball.

First, a word to the wise. The Crolian Progressive understands that a politician's public persona is by necessity different from his or her private one. The public sphere makes certain demands on our leaders which they must not shirk. Too, the political realities of certain regions, including the heavily Republican 11th district of California, make it essential for a politician to avoid issues that are particularly noxious in that particular climate. Good leaders get elected first, so they can make the changes they dream of.

Good leaders, too, sometimes make mistakes; unlike bad leaders, they aren't afraid to admit them. Indeed, McNerney's initial response to the Pombo flyers savaging his questionnaire responses was measured, humble, and smacked of refreshing honesty.

McNerney...said that with gas prices so high, he could not support raising gas taxes, even though he responded he would "slightly" increase gasoline taxes in the questionnaire.

"I don't really have the greatest answer," McNerney said last week. "The gas companies are making record profits, and I wanted to make them pay their fair share. But to be honest, there's no way we can increase gas taxes when the prices are this high. It would hurt the economy."

And when asked by reporter Hank Shaw about some of his other questionnaire responses, McNerney revealed a stalwart side that usually predicts true courage.

...He is expecting more criticism. McNerney said on the same questionnaire that he would raise taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, capital gains, the inheritance tax - and on those earning more than $150,000 a year.

"They're going to say I'm a tax-raiser no matter what," he said. "It could be a problem. But Pombo's got his own problems; people are tired of the corruption in Washington."

But his behavior immediately after -- and his excuses, which can only be characterized as lame -- frustrate those pretensions at courage in a truly maddening way.

McNerney said he made the changes to "clarify" and "be a little more careful" on his stances on the issues.

"There's some things you don't want to answer to give ammunition to the other side," McNerney said. ...

McNerney said he stands by his priorities - even though he removed them from the survey. ...

The stakes are high here: Richard Pombo is the most anti-environment member of Congress and one of the most corrupt. In order to defeat him, Gerald McNerney must be more than just a strong candidate -- he must be a courageous one, unafraid to defend his stances once he has taken them. To act in such a manner would not only satisfy the Crolian Progressive but would also provide a sharp contrast with the cheap huckstering of Pombo, and would easily win more votes than the unpopularity of some of his positions would lose. Let us hope, for all our sakes, that McNerney makes the most of this opportunity.


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