A Note on the Local Use of Political Power in this Primary Season

by Lawrence Davidson

We know that in many cases political power corrupts. In the American political system some of the signs of corruption are:

1. A demand for obedience to the party or a party leader rather than the needs of the democratic electorate. One can actually see signs of this distortion if one notes that both U.S. parties have, in each house of Congress, a person aptly entitled the “party whip.” The “whip” assures uniform votes according to party dictates. There is little tolerance for independent judgment.

2. The use of money as a political weapon. This can be done by political bosses dispersing party money for or against primary candidates they favor or fear. In doing so their concern does not have to be the interests of the people in a state or district. Party money can go to a “good old boy” (or “girl”) who will follow party orders. And, of course, money can be used by outside special interests to buy the votes of politicians. 

3. The use of distortion or lying that turns the campaign season into the spewing of propaganda. This form of corruption brings media outlets in as accomplices. In the process most politicians, as well as most of the media mangers, show stark disregard for the truth or the distorted public consciousness brought about by their behavior.  

Unfortunately, we have just these signs of corruption in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary race for the Senate. One of those in the race is Joseph Sestak, who was a congressman from 2007 to 2011. During that time he acquired a good record of responding to constituent needs. He also earned a reputation as an independent actor who would not automatically follow the Democratic Party leadership’s commands. He has made it clear to the Democratic leaders in the Senate that he plans to maintain that independence. 

For months now Sestak has been working hard to gain public favor on a platform that emphasizes the integrity he displayed as a congressman and the need for honest responsiveness to the electorate. And it had worked. Polls showed him on the way to a solid primary victory and, building on that foundation, a likely victory over his Republican Party adversary. 

It was at this point that the corruptive, and petty, nature of power started to intrude.

Well after the start of the campaign season, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) introduced a rival candidate against Sestak. This is Kathleen McGinty, most of whose experience has been in state government. It is not that, all things being equal, McGinty is a bad candidate. She has a relatively progressive record. It is that she was likely recruited by the DSCC leadership primarily to sabotage Sestak. She must have known this and went along with the program. Why McGinty? Because she could be relied upon to be a loyal party cog – to follow the whip, so to speak. 

The DSCC subsequently poured over four million dollars into TV ads in Pennsylvania. What is striking about this is that most of the money has gone into ads against Joe Sestak rather than for Kathleen McGinty. And, most of those ads are mendacious – untrue (proven so by independent fact checkers) and libelous. This has obviously hurt Joe Sestak whose character has been called into question and popularity undermined. In addition, though she might not realize it yet, it has also permanently tainted McGinty’s own political career. Whatever she does in the future, she will always have to face the charge that she ran a dirty campaign in this primary. 

Pennsylvania’s primary is almost upon us. We vote next Tuesday, April 26th. You should vote! And, when doing so, ask yourself what sort of politician you want in Washington – one that will serve a political party first and foremost, or one who will serve the interests of you, the voter

Lawrence Davidson


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