After Adams, The Dems Look To Their Souls
IT ISN'T easy being a Democrat these days. On Saturday, glum-faced state party leaders wrestled with their souls as they considered what to say and do about their embattled United States senator.
Theirs is a head-on collision between party principles and loyalty to a man who, personal conduct notwithstanding, has been a champion of those principles.
Democrats see themselves as the party of the underdog, the party that defends women and minorities and workers and other regular folks against the rich and powerful. If they are to believe stories in The Seattle Times, then Adams' behavior toward his own staff contradicts everything the party stands for.
The formal statement approved by the state executive committee expressed sympathy for the women who say they were abused and harassed, and for their decisions not to have their names published.
"We view the allegations as among the most serious charges that can be leveled," the committee said.
But the party stopped short of calling for Adams' resignation or ouster. That is "a decision that Brock alone must make," they said.
Just a few hours earlier, many of them had watched ABC-TV's "Nightline" program, where fellow Democrat Tom Keefe, Adams' top legal adviser, fiercely defended his boss's record and reputation and attacked The Times for its reliance on unnamed sources.
There they go again, we might say. Another exercise in hypocrisy. Another dubious profile of courage. Look what happens to principle when it gets mixed up with personal politics in the Old Boys' Club. What good are standards of behavior if they get tossed the first time they conflict with political loyalty?
It would be easy to dismiss this as pols being pols in a tight-knit, nearly all-male club. And no doubt there's some of that at work these days around Sen. Adams.
But the Democrats' dilemma is more complicated. In politics, ideals become so intertwined with loyalty that it becomes difficult to tell them apart. In the legislative process, principles become reality in part out of personal and partisan loyalty. Loyalty, in turn, becomes a matter of principle.
Take Keefe, for example. Here's a passionate Irishman whose grandmother was a co-founder of the state Democratic Party. He's spent his career, in and out of politics, fighting for the interests of people he sees as underdogs - particularly native Americans. It was Keefe who represented David Sohappy, the Yakima Indian fisherman, against what he saw as unfair and racially-based charges of salmon-poaching.
"And I remember when Brock Adams was the first member of Congress to stand up and call for commutation of Sohappy's sentence," Keefe says.
Most recently, Adams has championed Keefe's bills in the U.S. Senate - bills to assign federal drug agents in the drug-ridden Yakima Valley, to earmark federal aid for American Samoans in Seattle and women in depressed timber communities.
As a veteran defense attorney, Keefe is particularly offended by The Times' use of unnamed sources. Does winning a seat in the U.S. Senate mean that one relinquishes his right to know and face his accusers?
Given all this, don't look for this battle-hardened Irishman to jump ship very soon.
The dilemma was similar for state Democrats in Ellensburg this weekend.
"In 40 years, Brock Adams has not taken a single bum vote," said one party loyalist from Port Angeles. "He has represented this party well. Why in the world would we lose this precious resource?"
Here the loyalty translates to pragmatic politics. Regardless of the allegations against him, Adams is chief backer of efforts to improve health care for women, to tear down the Elwha Dam and restore its salmon runs, to allow research using fetal tissues. Who knows what happens to those bills if the senator drops out.
Still, party leaders took the week's news with a mix of sadness and relief. For three years, they have tried to gear up for a Senate campaign amid persistent rumors of more allegations against their senator, amid dismal standings in the polls and the prospect of a party-splitting primary battle. Even in what looks to be a good Democratic year, their outlook was dim.
But that doesn't mean they are ready to drop the senator.
"Individually, most of us want him to resign," said one leading Democrat who, perhaps appropriately, asked to remain anonymous. "But our situation isn't unlike those women. If we formally ask for a resignation, then we become known as the party that abandoned its incumbent senator in the heat of the battle."
In the short run, there is only one way this dilemma can be lifted from the backs of Washington Democrats, and it would require the ultimate act of party loyalty. That would be for Brock Adams to step aside, hand his critical bills over to a Democratic successor, sign up for his federal pension and provide his party with an invaluable head-start toward keeping its U.S. Senate seat for another six years.
That's clearly what Democrats were hoping for in Ellensburg the other day. But few expect him to oblige any time soon. Instead, they expect their senator to sink his heels and stay - for the sheer principle of the matter.
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