Bob Kerrey took a lonely position against banning gay marriage in the 1990s. He opposed a ban on flag desecration, voted against welfare reform and ran up high Americans for Democratic Action scores while serving as the senator from one of the most conservative states in the nation.
But when he announced his plans to run for his old Senate seat earlier this week, it was greeted with boos, hisses and expletives from the left.
Welcome back to Washington, senator.
While the Democratic establishment in D.C. is thrilled by his prospective return — the former two-term senator, after all, gives the party a shot at winning a Nebraska seat that was considered all but lost to the party — progressives responded to the news by sharpening their knives.
In the liberal blogosphere, the most energetic quarter of the party, Kerrey’s comeback bid was lambasted as the return of yet another mushy moderate. The online left says it won’t lift a finger for him — and in some cases, it’s even rooting against Kerrey.
It’s a reaction that’s emblematic of the new normal in Washington, a place where there’s no room for committed centrists like Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe, who announced Tuesday she’ll retire after three terms — and perhaps even for members with a record of orbiting the center, such as Kerrey.
“I hope he gets carpet bombed. The more Republicans spend in Nebraska, the less they’ll have to go after Democratic Senate candidates who actually act like Democrats,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the influential blog Daily Kos. “And if it turns out he needs the help, then too bad. F—- him.”
The political world Kerrey is returning to after a decade out of politics looks nothing like the one he left in 2001, when he declined to run for a third term.
For starters, there was no such thing as Daily Kos back then. Howard Dean was still a largely unknown Vermont governor. George W. Bush was beginning his first term as president. Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator.
At the time Kerrey stepped down, his frankness and willingness to buck both his party and his conservative constituents was much lauded. Now, upon his return to the political arena, the man who once led the party’s efforts to elect Democratic senators is viewed in some quarters as something close to an apostate for his habit of questioning entitlements, his support for the invasion of Iraq and other departures from party orthodoxy.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a leading booster of liberal candidates and causes, waited just two hours after Kerrey’s announcement this week before slicing up his record and seeking to advance the interests of his nominal primary opponent.