I generally like the commentary from Peter Ubertaccio, but in cautioning progressives who chafe at Speaker DeLeo‘s relative conservatism and lack of adherence to the Democratic platform, I think Professor U is missing a few things.
To summarize his argument:
- DeLeo’s a real Democrat, selected in primary by Democrats in his district, and then in the House.
- Party activists, who write the platform, are not necessarily representative of party primary voters, much less the general electorate.
- Politicians and voters routinely ignore the platform anyway.
Prof. Ubertaccio concludes the lecture:
American parties are complex organizations. Be wary of those who suggest they speak for a party in its entirety.
I’d suggest this misstates the problem. I’m pretty sure that frustrated progressives are aware that it’s a big tent party, and you have to get the votes. The platform isn’t everything; but it’s not nothing either. It is supposed to be a consensus document of that party. And the Senate, as Jonathan Cohn points out, has been much more willing to take the lead on many progressive issues. At the very least, that indicates that — given their druthers — elected Democrats might prefer to enact more ambitiously progressive legislation.
The problem is not “those who suggest they speak for a party in its entirety”. The problem, as we see it, is twofold:
- The top-down nature of the Speakership, who has basically limitless power in the House. He is elected by the membership — in a forthrightly partisan manner, as a Democrat, by Democrats. But because of his power over the membership, in assigning chairs and so forth, these votes are not exactly freely given. They are coerced.
- DeLeo’s own views are in conflict with the wishes of the party as expressed in the platform; and likely in conflict with a good chunk of his membership, if not a majority. But that doesn’t often get expressed publicly.
The Speaker speaks for the House, in its entirety. But if he’s not representing the consensus view of his membership, there’s a tension. And it’s not one easily remedied from within the House itself.
… “He thought that the only thing that would make a difference is if somebody ran against the speaker from his district in a primary,” said Rep. Denise Provost, who attended the forum with fellow Somerville Democrat Rep. Christine Barber.
She said, “I think that what the senator said put Rep. Barber and myself in a very uncomfortable and awkward position.”
Provost and Barber (e.g.) are quite progressive, repping progressive districts. Like my rep (Garballey), they’re trying to squeeze what they can out of their positions on behalf of their constituents. As long as I’ve been paying attention, there’s been this tension and awkwardness when talking to Reps about the Speaker — whoever it’s been. Again, I’d say it’s DeLeo that puts them in that uncomfortable position, by bottlenecking their priorities.
DeLeo is simply more conservative than his party’s platform for certain, and very possibly the median House membership as well. But what are those points of pressure? A primary is a blunt instrument, but what else is there? We might assume that he’s representing the will of his constituents in Winthrop — perhaps even at the expense of other Reps’ districts — but how can we know if there’s no choice at primary time?
Ubertaccio seems to make an argument that DeLeo’s speakership represents some kind of political equilibrium in the Commonwealth. At the least, there are ample structural reasons to question that.