Saturday, June 12, 2010

Internal dissent ≠ cynical fratricide

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank offers an interesting, if somewhat catty, new take on Andrew Romanoff's Senate campaign.  It turns out the two worked together at the Yale Daily News many years ago.  So, what was Romanoff like back then?
The editor was a talented but prickly junior by the name of Andrew Romanoff. He clashed so fiercely with the newspaper's business staff that he and the publisher communicated only through memos. Instead of putting all effort into the newspaper, energy was wasted on internal squabbles.
Milbank compares Romanoff's experiences then with his current challenge to incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet:
Rather than furthering the causes they agree on... Romanoff is provoking a Democratic family feud.
I don't purport to be objective here or to know anything more about Romanoff than Milbank does.  But I can't help but be irked by Milbank's dismissal of internal debate.  For example, there is more than one way to run a campus newspaper.  Editors and publishers occasionally argue about substantive issues.  I have no idea what sorts of issues Romanoff and his publisher clashed over.  Perhaps they were trivial, perhaps they were consequential.  Milbank gives us no indication.  So if Romanoff just likes to be a jerk, that's useful information.  But it would also be useful to know if he fights tenaciously for things that matter.  All Milbank has done is suggest that because Romanoff disagreed with others on the newspaper staff, that's somehow a bad thing.

It's the same with Milbank's discussion of the current Senate race.  No, there's not much ideological distance between Romanoff and Bennet, but does that make it wrong to have a contest at all?  Romanoff may be more electable than Bennet, although the latest polling evidence on that question is mixed at best.  Is that not a legitimate question on which to debate a nomination?  Also, Romanoff has chosen to make corporate funding of campaigns a major campaign issue.  Now, of course, corporate spending is not quite the same thing as corporate influence.  But is this not a legitimate matter for debate, particularly at a time when the public is so focused on the question of how the federal government should deal with corporations like BP, AIG, and GM?

Nominations contests are far more than "internal squabbles" or "cynical fratricide," in Milbank's parlance.  They are how a party decides what it stands for and who will represent it.  Given how rare competitive primaries are these days, this doesn't strike me as something a political reporter should be criticizing.

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