May 23, 2019

May 23, 2019

One Dumpable Democrat. Cherri Bustos is running out on Dan Lipinski, but the question is why any Democratic official should be sticking with Dan Lipinski.

Bustos is both a member of Congress from an Illinois district that Donald Trump carried in 2016, and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in which post she has pledged to funnel funds to the re-election campaigns of any Democrats who need them. She’s one of the more resolutely centrist members of the Democratic caucus, and has pledged to have the DCCC boycott any consultants who work for Democratic primary challengers to incumbents. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously and successfully challenged a notable incumbent in 2018; so, though not successfully, did Barack Obama back in 2000, on Chicago’s Southside.

Dan Lipinski has been the Democrat representing Chicago’s Southwest Side and adjacent suburbs in Congress since 2005, succeeding his father, who had held that seat for decades. He stands out in the House Democratic Caucus for amassing a voting record that can fairly be called neo-Dixiecrat: He voted against the Affordable Care Act; he refused to endorse Barack Obama for re-election in 2012; and he is a longtime foe of gay rights and pro-choice legislation. Lipinski’s district—Illinois’s Third—is still home to what used to be called “white ethnics,” and in 1996, while covering the Republican presidential primaries, I attended the annual Southwest Side Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, in which then-presidential-candidate and then-and-now neo-fascist Pat Buchanan marched and drew cheers. Like the rest of the world, the district has changed some since then, and two years ago, Marie Newman challenged Lipinski from the left in the Democratic congressional primary and came within two percentage points of unseating him. Obama carried the district by 13 points in 2012, Lipinski’s non-endorsement notwithstanding; Hillary Clinton carried it by 15 points over Donald Trump in 2016. 

In the wake of the draconian anti-abortion laws passed recently in a number of Republican-run states, and the ensuing backlash among pro-choice advocates, Democrats, women, and numerous other humans, Bustos announced this week that she was cancelling a planned fundraiser for Lipinski. The cancellation is eminently understandable, particularly since Bustos is said to have hopes to run statewide whenever Democratic Senator Richard Durbin opts not to seek re-election, and not standing up for abortion rights just now would clearly hurt her chances.

But why has it taken so long for the Democrats to ostracize Lipinski, who is not only flagrantly to the right of the rest of the caucus on virtually every known issue, but, by the metric of presidential election results, flagrantly to the right of his district, too? The right-wing yahoo-ism and racism that he expressed in his opposition to the ACA and Obama’s re-election, not to mention his hostility to gays and abortion rights, should have led the Democrats to cast him adrift long ago—assuming that the party has some basic minimum standards to which its standard bearers are supposed to adhere. To stick with Lipinski—as the DCCC still might when he’s challenged again by Newman in 2020—is to all but say: “Standards? Who, us?”