What has allowed Sen. Mary Landrieu to hang on in the U.S. Senate swimming against a stronger and stronger current is exactly the same thing that most likely will end her elected political career this year.
Consider Landrieu’s predicament. In the ex-Confederate states (Virginia, with its northern population tied with an umbilical cord to the big government liberalism of Washington, D.C. excepted), only four Democrats survive in the Senate (with two running for reelection also this year and endangered like Landrieu). Of the six times they have run, none has won by less than Landrieu’s biggest win ever in 2008. And while undoubtedly the presidential ticket of Democrats that won 52 percent of Louisiana’s vote in 1996 helped her win by an official count of fewer than 6,000 votes, in subsequent presidential elections Republicans would take the state with 53, 57, 59, and 58 percent of the vote. In her last election, she remarkably ran ahead of her own ticket some 12 percent.
Her last name does help; would anybody have paid attention to some 23-year-old sorority chick running for the Legislature without a famous last name in the world of state politics, much less have elected her? But the name only paid the entry fee to country club membership; as things transpired, she turned out more than capable of keeping up with the annual dues.
How she does it even befuddles it seems to a degree the guy likely to end her reign, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Discovered by a reporter milling around the same pre-game football crowd where earlier Landrieu assisted in the performance of what is called a “keg stand” (lower head below feet in a push-up stance, get pumped-up line from tapped keg into mouth, have it opened up and let pressure do the rest), Cassidy told her that Landrieu never would hang in a crowd like this. As for himself, he wandered in not long before kickoff and had not much opportunity to engage retail politicking, and was surprised completely when informed Landrieu had been there and done that.
No doubt Landrieu never has been on the receiving end of a keg stand in her life, and if she deigned to show up at fraternity parties in her sorority days chances are she’d never even assisted with one until this time. Because, as Cassidy did get correct about her, every move makes is politically calculated. More to the point, Landrieu wouldn’t be caught dead in such a situation surrounded by the boozy hoi polloiunless she figured it would win her more votes than lose them.
And that’s her primary resource in being able to stay in office for so long under increasingly adverse conditions – she can make herself appear to be whatever she wants to serve an audience’s needs, even if she would appear contradictory to different audiences. Thus, for example, she can proclaim loudly – even if she has delivered absolutely zero in terms of being able to expand drilling and transportation of its product – that she’s a friend to the petroleum industry, while winking at environmentalists and having her political action committee donate big time to industry opponents so that there are enough of them around to keep her unable to deliver, following perfectly the strategy popularized by her BFF, Pres. Barack Obama.
Aside from issue content, she achieves this by a combination of selective constituent service, fulfilling the needs of those who can bring her the most campaign support, and by appearing to care to the remaining citizenry. In that way, all audiences have some excuse to support her. Understand that she come from an exceedingly politicized family, where from the day she was born she grew up in an environment infused with the imperatives of policy combat, deal-making, and strategizing about how to win the next election. It comes entirely naturally to her and, the results show, she excels at doing it.
Yet this greatest strength of hers also contains the pattern for her destruction politically. Only so many balls may be kept in the air at once; only for so long can she prevent the determined from making others curious about what’s going on behind the curtain. The more information that is made available about her and her actions, the greater the contradictions between the image she presents and what she does in reality become apparent.
Sure, in a Dukakis-riding-a-tank moment she might mainline a football fan to show how she’s one of us, but she also disregarded regulations that let her spend at least $34,000 of taxpayers’ money on campaign activities over a dozen years that demonstrates she thinks she’s better than us and thereby has no clue as to what it’s like being one of us. She may adopt children and promote that through legislation, but her concern for them seems to begin only once they have left completely the womb, leading her own bishop (assuming she actually does live in New Orleans) to declare that her pro-abortion legislative voting behavior meant Catholics in good conscience should not vote for her. She talks about how indispensable she is for the state, yet with a voting record that put her to the far left politically in a state whose majority prefers conservatism she votes early and often against the wishes of its people.
Contradictions like these she cannot forever outrun. In a national election with these dynamics, even the most assiduous retail politicking and deal-cutting cannot keep one from getting exposed by a determined opposition, a determination fueled by the non-recursive nature of the relationship – the more she makes herself vulnerable by the intensity of the contradictions, the greater the determination of the opponents she attracts.
While Cassidy may have misdiagnosed the extent of her scripted approach to politics to exclude facilitating a fan on a mission to achieve a glorious drunk, in a more philosophical moment earlier in the campaign a staffer of his uttered something quite perceptive: this Senate campaign would come down to the electorate’s preferences, imbued in a political culture steeped in personalism and populism, of whether it has moved into a “post-pork paradigm” that would have it focus more on ideas and their consequences. As the campaign enters the month prior to the general election, in the six months since that remark the truth of this has become more apparent than ever.