10/26/2007 12:08 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Dodd Backlash

Even when Chris Dodd gets a break, he can't really get a break.

Dodd's underdog campaign got a boost after he pledged to filibuster domestic spying legislation last week, and he seemed downright relevant when Senators Clinton and Obama followed his lead. But commentators rushed to disparage Dodd anyway. The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray noted Dodd was "trailing badly," and derided his comments about constitutional rights as nothing but "breathless" and "hot[]" rhetoric. The American Prospect's Sam Boyd declared Dodd is "never going to be president," so even though he's "more liberal" than the frontrunners, his campaign is futile. (Boyd also cast aspersions about whether Dodd broke the law by renting a house to campaign in Des Moines. Seriously.) And at The Nation, my colleague (and namesake) Ari Berman argues that Dodd's presidential ambition has left him neglecting key duties as Chair of the Senate Banking Committee.

I don't really look for battles with a solid investigative journalist like Berman, and his points about the Fed and subprime are sound. But like Murray and Boyd, his argument largely turns on the undemocratic Beltway obsession with electability and fundraising. Berman concludes by deriding "highly implausible" presidential campaigns:

I know every senator wants to be president, but isn't one tough job enough?

Well, no. It's very hard to be elected president as a former politician; most major candidates run while they're in office. (Carter was a rare exception.) We don't hear this complaint much about Clinton or Obama, who campaign plenty. But when underdogs hit a state fair, suddenly they've abdicated their duties? This double standard for candidates is absurd, especially for progressives. And it makes no sense this week, after Chris Dodd upended the Senate's dismal surveillance agenda quite effectively from the trail.

Ari Melber writes for The Nation, where this column first appeared.
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