The retirement of Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) announced today is being headlined as a sign that the Democratic Party is under attack and flailing. New York Times: “Democrats Face Shifting and Perilous Political Environment.” Yahoo! headlines the AP story in more texty language: “Losing 2 senators, 1 gov equals worries for Dems.” The slant of nearly every story out there is that Dodd’s retirement is a sign that Democrats are embattled, unpopular, unhappy, un… winning.
Well, some of us are, sure. Chris Dodd was facing a pretty ugly race in Connecticut, which is maybe what one should expect if you’re sitting on the Banking Committee during the worst banking crisis in years. He made tough decisions — some of them ultimately good, some of them probably pretty bad. Those decisions are unpopular with his constituents. His choice became to lose an election or not to participate, and he chose the latter — which is by far the more friendly party move.
Why aren’t we celebrating this? It’s exactly how things are supposed to work. Well, ideally, Senators would be rewarded somehow for making unpopular but probably necessary decisions — and yeah, I’m thinking of the AIG bonus package — but so long as we live in a soundbite world, where all anyone’s heard of Senator Dodd for the last year is that he luuuuurves banks, quiet retirement into the Connecticut Countryside isn’t a bad deal, for him or the party.
The willingness of some senior Democrats to step aside is actually kind of a heartening sign of party unity. Dodd and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), the retiring parties this year, could have easily stuck around. They could have gone the me-first route that’s been particularly popular on the other side of the aisle — consider the 2010 re-election efforts of David Vitter in Louisiana or John Ensign’s announcement he’s still running in 2012 in Nevada. Instead of taking the selfish path, both Dodd and Dorgan are taking one for the team, giving up lifelong ambitions and the narrow chance of proving themselves right in order to offer a better chance for a new Democrat to take a seat in 2010.
Why does this make Democrats embattled? Doesn’t it, instead, prove we’re becoming a party that’s better organized, better focused, and perhaps more likely to keep winning?