Tauscher with Bush in 2002.
ELECTION ’12//CONGRESS 15 | While some with short political memories trumpeted the Ellen Tauscher’s endorsement this week of Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell in his race against Rep. Pete Stark, the insertion of the seven-time East Bay congresswoman into this race conjures up angry memories from many of the area’s progressive voters and puts into sharp relief the growing East-West split among voters in the redrawn district.
Many observers in the East Bay have struggled to extrapolate how Swalwell’s highly limited political experience would translate as a congressman. Most see him as a clone of Tauscher’s Blue Dog Democrat style. It work well during her time in the House as she straddled some of the same abutting Tri-Valley and Greater East Bay cities up for grabs this November. Swalwell also served as an intern for Tauscher in 2001, so the attraction and the similarities are not at all surprising. However, Swalwell has not always embraced the connection between him and Tauscher–at least, when he’s not in more moderate locales like his home base in the Tri-Valley.
In late February, after a candidates forum with Stark in Dublin, Swalwell told a reporter from the Tri-Valley’s San Ramon Patch about his views on bipartisanship in Washington. “I strive to work with Republicans–I think you have to right now if we’re going to solve a lot of these problems,” Swalwell was heard on audio before declaring his views on the issue were derived from Tauscher’s. “That’s were I really learned how being a moderate–being bipartisan–can be effective,” he said.
A minute later, when I asked a question prefacing that Tauscher was the “quintessential Tri-Valley leader” and whether voters could view him as such, Swalwell interrupted the question with “No, no, no, no, no!” He went on to oddly describe past experiences as an Alameda County deputy district attorney polling juries at the court house in Hayward and lamented finding many lower-income residents in the area were unable to serve because of various hardships, including, they being out of work.
Pulling back from a tight linkage between Swalwell and Tauscher, while talking to voters in the more liberal bastions west of the Stoneridge Drive is not surprising since the centrist tendencies of Tauscher not long ago enraged progressives not only in the Bay Area, but Capitol Hill. Back in 2007, on the heels of the Democratic takeover of the House, the party was in no mood to put up with members of their own party consorting with Republicans led by nearly eight years of President George W. Bush.
As the leader of the moderate New Democrat Coalition during the Bush years, she often irritated progressive groups who said she acquiesced too often to the president’s and Republican’s demands in times, like today, when the GOP had no desire for conciliation. Tauscher’s near fanaticism toward bipartisanship lead the Washington Post to call her “[Joe] Lieberman in a pantsuit.” The rancor from progressives against Tauscher ran so high that a widely disseminated photo of President Bush appearing to place his hand on Tauscher’s knee in 2002 quickly became known as “The Caress” and signified her perceived coziness with the Republican leadership. “She reinforces the idea that lefties are out-of-control children,” Brian Leubitz, who runs the liberal blog, Calitics, told the Post. “She provides cover for Republican extremists.”
Since leaving her seat in 2010 after a bout with throat cancer, Tauscher has greatly remade her past image as an enabler of the Republican Party to that of Beltway statesman. This past February, she was named Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense. Her ties with the U.S. State Department and former constituency at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory make her support for weapon and scientific research quite unsurprising, while giving Swalwell a tidy dichotomy between him and Stark, who has long opposed nuclear weapons proliferation and has widely been known as something of a venerable peacenik for his nearly four decades in Washington. Similarly, a few months back, Swalwell charged Stark with not supporting Israel due to the representative’s aversion to giving countries, like Israel, aid to buy arms. At the same time, Swalwell again offered contrasts when he issued support for continuing President Obama’s controversial use of drone attacks in the Middle East.
Do-gooding citizens who redistricted California to be more honest and more receptive its constituents did well, in most parts, to clean up the decades gerrymandering shenanigans, but they inadvertently created a liberal civil war in the 15th Congressional District. When it comes to politics, Hayward is vastly different from Dublin in many ways, yet mere miles apart on the speedometer. A mysterious phenomenon occurs for any East Bay commuter who travels east on the 580 freeway. Somewhere between Castro Valley and Pleasanton, the political discourse veers from government can solve all your problems and liberal kumbaya to “Jesus is my savior” sprikinled with large amounts of fear and ignorance. Unfortunately, like every civil war in history, in the end, nobody really wins.