by Eli Sanders
Darcy Burner is running for Congress, again. And Goldy is excited, again. Not me.
Why? Well, for starters, there's my own personal, and rather extreme, case of Burner burnout. If anyone has written as many "lady-dazzled" words about Burner as Goldy has over the past six years, it's me—and I really don't say that to brag. Consequently, all her newly announced candidacy in Washington's First Congressional District did for me was generate a strong desire to sleep for the next year.
I'm not alone. Here's a representative reader comment from Goldy's November 2 trumpeting of Burner's new congressional run on Slog, The Stranger's blog: "Dear lord, how many times does this woman have to lose a race?! I supported her in 2006 and 2008, but really now."
All I can do is speak for myself, however, and obviously my own personal Burner fatigue isn't really an argument against her third congressional run in six years—though it's worth noting that the same kind of fatigue was a pretty common argument (from Goldy!) against the candidacy of Republican Dino Rossi last year, and this very real Rossi fatigue easily morphed into widespread cynicism about his motivations and sincerity, helping to make Rossi the most famous three-time loser in recent Washington State politics.
There are plenty of other arguments against Burner's third congressional candidacy, though. As I see them, they are these:
1. She still hasn't done anything. I know, I know, Burner's been at the Progressive Congress in DC since her '08 loss. That's not a job you get elected to, though. And this fact will merely serve to remind people of a problem Burner has faced ever since her first run (of two) against Republican Dave Reichert in the Eighth Congressional District. Her political experience consists of chairing a women's group at Microsoft, where she worked as a mid-level executive back in 2004, and being the president of her neighborhood's community association for one year way back when. So she will be attacked in this race, as she was in her last two races, for aspiring to high office without ever having proved herself at low office—and it will probably start in the Democratic primary, in which her major opponents will all have logged five or six years of public service in the state legislature.
2. The Harvard problem still exists. No, it was not at all fair that in 2008 voters in the eighth district were led to believe that Burner didn't have a degree from Harvard, and lied about having one. She has a degree from Harvard. But, as I said in a postmortem of the 2008 Burner campaign that examined the Harvard degree debacle, "Politics is about what can be said in sound bites and simple language." And all of the old Harvard debacle materials—the video of Burner using slippery terms to talk about her Harvard "degree" in economics (she actually has a Harvard "special field" in economics), the cherry-picked Seattle Times quotes—are still out there, ready for use in mounting the same damaging attack all over again. On top of this, the Harvard problem was always about more than exactly what kind of degree Burner has. The attack stuck, and wounded, because it connected with a broader sense that Burner is an obnoxious, entitled climber who thinks she's so smart she deserves a seat in Congress as her first elected job. Fair or not, this sense still exists to this day. Something about Burner's demeanor and record (and probably her gender, too, which sucks, but is the way of our world) seems to invite this. And unlike other female politicians (ahem, Hillary Clinton) who have faced this obstacle, Burner hasn't effectively neutralized the problem. Which won't be helped by the fact that...
3. What she's doing now is blatant opportunism. Yes, any political run is almost by definition opportunistic. But losing twice in a row in one congressional district and then, when that doesn't work, running in a neighboring congressional district—that marks a different order of magnitude on the opportunism scale.
4. The shrill blogger problem still exists. Burner was certainly helped in the past, in terms of fundraising and buzz, by an army of progressive bloggers all around the country who decided she was one of them and had to be elected—in part to prove the bloggers' own rightness and cloutiness. But the vengeful worldview of a number of those bloggers ended up being a disservice to her candidacy. They acted like some sort of religious police, enforcing anti-blasphemy rules against those in the press and public who didn't stick to their pro-Burner orthodoxy. And, well, see Goldy there below. It continues.
Oh, Eli, remember a few years back when you were The Stranger's hot new political reporter, a Jewfro-sporting antidote to all that stale old conventional wisdom? You know, back before too many Friday mornings sitting next to Joni Balter apparently started to rub off?
You provided the first non-blog coverage of Darcy Burner's insurgent 2006 congressional campaign, which ultimately turned out to be one of the most hotly contested House races in the nation—and good on you for that. But while I empathize with your own "personal fatigue" (I admittedly suffered from a little Burner burnout myself), I just can't help but take issue with this tired litany of electoral naysaying.
"1. She still hasn't done anything." Really, Eli? That old trope? Small-town Nebraska to Harvard to Microsoft to national progressive leader is nothing? And yes, that's what Burner is: a national progressive leader. You say you know Burner's spent the past couple years as the executive director of ProgressiveCongress.org, yet you don't seem to know what that job actually entailed: working closely with the Congressional Progressive Caucus—actual members of Congress—on a range of important issues including health-care reform and the economy. Burner is well known in the halls of Congress. Well liked and well respected. And if elected, she would enter the House as a progressive leader. Can you say that about the rest of the WA-01 field?
Speaking of which, yeah, several of her opponents have legislative experience. Good for them. Successful congressional candidates tend to have held prior elective office. But it's hardly a prerequisite. Progressive icon Paul Wellstone never held public office before winning his US Senate seat, nor did Al Franken. Republicans Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan were all political neophytes before running for Congress, as were Washington State Democrats Brian Baird and über-appropriater Norm Dicks.
"2. The Harvard problem still exists." Yeah, in the minds of Republican consultants and their surrogates at the Seattle Times. And if they didn't have that made-up hit piece to throw at her, they'd make up something else. That's how politics works. (And yes, Burner has a degree in computer science and economics from Harvard University, and if the folks at the Seattle Times are too stupid to understand that, that's their problem.)
"3. What she's doing now is opportunism." Oy. Let's start with the second point first: Burner, who previously ran in the eighth district, is running in the neighboring first district because the district is moving! There's nothing opportunistic about running in the district where you live.
As for dismissing as opportunistic every politician who runs again after losing two races in a row... you mean, like Abraham fucking Lincoln, who lost two consecutive US Senate runs (with a failed VP nomination bid in between) before finally being elected president in 1860. That's right: Those Lincoln-Douglass debates... he lost 'em. And yet we built that shameless opportunist a motherfucking monument. Go figure.
"4. The shrill blogger problem still exists." WE BLOGGERS ARE NOT SHRILL!!!! WE'RE NOT, WE'RE NOT, WE'RE NOT!!!!!!!!!!! Besides, even if some of us are, most voters have no fucking idea that we even exist, so it's hard to view blogger support as some sort of political liability, especially when what we can do for Burner is raise a shitload of money virtually overnight. Not from PACs or Kochs or unions or corporations, but from thousands of ordinary people nationwide. That's not a liability. That's a strength. And one with which Burner is likely to bludgeon her primary opponents.
In fact, Eli, of all the candidates, only Burner has the proven ability to raise the millions of dollars necessary to make a successful congressional run, and only Burner starts with substantial name recognition outside her own legislative district.
So yeah, she lost two close races... against a Republican incumbent in a district that has never elected a Democrat. But this isn't 2008, Eli. This time Burner's running for an open seat (vacated by Jay Inslee, who is running for governor) in a blue district, against a crowded field of me-too legislators and unknowns. And I'd say that makes Burner the instant frontrunner.