In this morning’s Observer, I wrote about the selective rage of Congressman Anthony Weiner, who has emerged as the “primal scream” of a certain frustrated wing of the Democratic Party.
Weiner told me he’s filling a vacuum left by his fellow Democrats, including President Obama, who haven’t aggressively defended the party’s recent achievements, particularly the controversial health care bill.
In doing so, the outer borough congressman has built a national profile on his comedic stylings and combative interviews, leading some to question whether he is actually doing much in the way of legislating. On Capital New York a few months ago, Steve Kornacki wondered if Weiner had learned the wrong lessons from his mentor, Chuck Schumer, who certainly enjoys the camera lights, but also aims for achievable legislative goals, which he then prides himself on passing.
Weiner, as you might expect, had a different take. He argued that staking out a position on the left and fighting hard for it helped move legislation to the left, and also served to remind the president, the public, and his fellow politicians that progressive Democrats were compromising too.
(And he noted that he recently passed more budget amendments–four–than anyone else in Congress.)
On why he fights:
There is virtue in making the big ideological fight over whether or not something like tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires is a good thing for the country, even if you may ultimately end up doing a deal that includes that. Because I believe that it’s important on two levels. One, we have to make sure not to disenfranchise enormous numbers of Americans who think these things are very important and care very deeply about them. We don’t want to make them think that the deal was pre-cooked, and also I think this is the part the White House doesn’t fully understand, your ability to wage a tough fight makes it more likely you’re not going to lose the fight next time. Meaning, that if you lay the foundation that alright, we’re going to fight, fight, fight, fight and we may have to compromise, and that’s no vice, it makes it less likely you’re going to have to engage in that fight next time. The alternative is if you give too easy and seem like you’re constantly looking just to get a deal, the whole world is going to see it. And that’s the point that I was making. It’s not enough just to say, we’ve got better ideas, you’ve got to wage the fight for them. Because it makes the next fight that much easier.
Not to mention that it makes getting re-elected a lot easier. Because a lot of people feel, you know what, ‘That guy fought his darnedest to try to get what he wanted. It didn’t work out, but at least we know whose side he’s on.’ That’s something Fox News and the Republicans are brilliant at. Defining the two sides of the debate, often in a distorted way, and then taking a side. The president does not do a good job of that. And one of the things I try to contribute to the debate is doing that. Defining the terms in a way that are best for us and then waging that fight as best we can.
And on his accomplishments, in light of Schumer:
One, I would stipulate to the idea that I was in the minority for most of my career where Chuck Schumer was in the majority for most of his career. I would also say Chuck Schumer is a legislative dynamo and if people say I was half of Chuck, that’s still way better than most people. I also think it’s not fair.
It’s like, just someone who doesn’t really know my legislative history and how much influence I wound up having on the health care debate. I think you could just ask anyone, including Nancy Pelosi, who when it was time to decide who was going to be in the chair, and gavel that vote, and who was going to get the tally of what the vote was, said, ‘Weiner is going to get it’–kind of like the game ball.
Even on the 9/11 bill, I think that I was an important part of the many parts of the thing, as part of the legislative strategy in the red zone. On the final 20 yards of getting that thing passed, I think I was as much as anyone.
I think it’s a false choice that frequently reporters want to write. What box does this guy go in? Is he the insider guy? Is he the outsider guy? Is he the fringe player? Is he the mainstream player? I think that I’ve got a pretty good record on legislating on stuff. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out there and make a pretty forceful argument for our team’s priorities.