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You've probably heard about this-- the Sierra Club's recent endorsement of Lincoln Chafee in the RI Senate race. On the surface, this seems like a great idea for the Sierra Club. Endorse a moderate Republican who surely helps the environment as much as any Democratic, and send a message to the Republican Party that their help on environmental issues will be rewarded. What's not to like?

And I'm sure NARAL thought the same thing when they endorsed Chafee last year, especially with the prospect of a pro-life Democratic challenging him. Why not show those Republicans that it's in their best interests to come to the pro-choice side and establish a zero-tolerance policy for pro-life Democrats in the process?

Both of these groups are following the same short-term policy: look out for #1. They're interest groups, and maybe it's the nature of single issue interest groups to not care about anything except their own immediate interests. It's not in their job descriptions to care that they're hurting the Democratic Party. But in the long run-- and even in the not-so-long run-- NARAL, the Sierra Club, and almost all the other progressive groups who endorse Republicans are only hurting their own pet issues.

Let's come up with a dream scenario in 2006. We keep all our contested seats. We even take Montana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, and Tennessee. But we lose the extremely liberal Rhode Island in a narrow race, thanks in no small part to environmental and pro-choice support for Chafee. Okay, no big deal-- he's a moderate, right? He's more liberal than some Democrats anyway (wrong, but we'll deal with that later). So now the Senate is tied 50-50 (counting the new Senator Sanders as a Democrat, of course). It's time to vote for Majority Leader. 50 votes go to Reid, 50 to whichever Republican replaces Frist as head of his party in the Senate (let's say McConnell just for kicks and giggles, since he's whip). Assuming he hasn't had another tragic hunting accident by then, Cheney steps in and casts his tie-breaking vote for McConnell.

Guess what, NARAL and the Sierra Club? Republicans still control the Senate. Republicans control the committees. Republicans decide what bills come up for a vote, and when. Conservative Republicans have plenty of leeway to shove whichever amendments they'd like down your bills. NARAL, Republicans will still control the Judiciary Committee, so they can pretty much get whichever judges they want. Oh, I forgot... the chair is a pro-choice Republican, so we don't ever have to worry about any anti-choice judges! Right, Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts?

Let's take the case of Samuel Alito. Harry Reid is a devoted pro-life Democrat, Arlen Specter is a devoted pro-choice Republican. I think it's safe to say that voting against Alito was probably the most important pro-choice vote you could make so far in the 109th Congress, and vice versa. Reid voted against Alito; Specter didn't. Why? Reid has a whole list of progressive agenda items, while Specter has his own list of Republican stances. Alito conformed with most of Specter's list, and pro-choice was just an unfortunate disagreement between the two men (note to NARAL: they were two men. A Democratic chairman of the judiciary committee could have shot down Alito and had Bush resend a nominee who wouldn't bring the court backwards in diversity.)

Now to the Sierra Club. I think it's obvious enough that having a Democratic Senate would give environmental legislation an astronomically better chance of reaching the Senate floor and passing, so I'll move on to the next step. Chafee's a wonderfully moderate Republican, but guess what? He's still more conservative than the most conservative Democrat. Some of you may know of Progressive Punch. For those who don't, it's a site that ranks all Senators and Congressmen from 1 to 100 by how progressive they are (with 100 being most progressive). Granted, there is no single definition for progressive and this is impossible to calculate entirely correctly, but if you look at Progressive Punch's methodology, I think you'll agree that they do a pretty damn good job at it. On the combined index of all issues, Chafee is more conservative than even Ben Nelson of Nebraska, by far the most conservative Democrat. Chafee is somewhat more progressive on the environment, but he's stull a full 45 points shy of Jack Reed's (the other Senator from Rhode Island, a Democrat) phenomenal score. Considering RI's liberal electoral, another Jack Reed is exactly what we'd be getting with a Democratic victory. Not to mention that the Sierra Club has opposed Chafee's environmental proporsals in the past...

There's a lot more to talk about in this subject. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos is a big champion of ending this type of single issue politics, and he's written at length about the NARAL situation in Rhode Island. But even he falls into the trap of ideology over the tangible benefits of a Democratic Senate with his quest to topple Joe Lieberman (check his healthy Progressive Punch score for a shock... yes, he's a Democrat after all.) That probably belongs in a different blog entry, but the point is this: single issue groups aren't helping anyone when they endorse Republicans to make a point. They're hurting themselves, they're hurting their voters, they're hurting their issue, and most damagingly in the long run, they're hurting the Democratic Party.

...on second thought, maybe they are helping someone. With such a tough year, I'm sure Bill Frist and the Republican Senate appreciate the assistance.