CAFTA and the Democrats

CAFTA AND THE DEMOCRATS….David Sirota has been banging hard on the dozen or so “turncoat” Democrats who voted for CAFTA, allowing it to pass by the razor thin margin of 217-215 (see here and here, for example). In particular, he’s pleased that Nancy Pelosi is planning to put the screws to at least a couple of the defectors, suggesting that “it shows that the Democratic Party is getting serious about creating a culture of accountability.”

I’d like to add something to this that I don’t think David has mentioned. (If I missed it, apologies.) It’s this: the problem with the defectors is not so much that they allowed CAFTA to pass. It’s not that noxious a bill, after all, and probably not one that’s worth going to the mattresses over solely on its merits.

But there’s more to it. Aside from demonstrating strength and resolve and a variety of other positive character traits, there’s another thing that Democratic unity on CAFTA would have accomplished: it would have forced Tom DeLay to put the screws to a dozen more of his people than he otherwise had to. This would have forced him to use up political capital, and it also would have forced some Republican congressmen in weak districts to vote for CAFTA whether they liked it or not. As things stand, though, a dozen Republican congressmen in districts that are anti-CAFTA were able to vote against it.

If, instead, they had been forced to vote for it, they would have been more vulnerable in 2006. This is Politics 101, and Democratic congressmen who don’t understand this really shouldn’t be in politics. If you want to become a majority party, you have to do things that weaken the opposition, and playing hardball on CAFTA would have done just that. It was an opportunity missed.