My patience with Senator Dick Saslaw has officially run out. It died a fitful death as I was reading this:
State Sen. Dick Saslaw does not mince words about his support for uranium mining. A Northern Virginia Democrat who is also the Senate minority leader, Saslaw says burying the radioactive byproduct known as tailings underground should be a solution to environmental concerns. And he says he can’t be concerned about what might happen 100 [years] from now.
“What about 10,000 years from now? I’m not going to be here,” Saslaw says. “I can’t ban something because of something that might happen 500 or 1,000 years from now.”
Here I thought the whole point of public service was to actually care about the legacy you leave. Good thing the founding fathers cared enough to set up a Constitution and system designed to work 100 or 500 years after they were gone. Good thing some foresighted people in history cared enough to preserve our national parks, our historical buildings, our water, land and air. We could at least do the same for our descendants.
What Dick Saslaw’s doing here is actually pretty unusual in politics — not simply expressing an unpopular opinion or “showing independence” by “moving to the center” (in this case, I strongly suspect that the center is not wild about the idea of uranium mining in a wet, heavily populated state) — but wantonly and maliciously slapping his own constituency in the face.
It’s the sign of an official who thinks he can say or do whatever he wants because he thinks he can get away with it. It is therefore the exact opposite of what democracy is supposed to be about.
The whole point of getting rid of royalty and nobility, and replacing them with elected officials, was to make our leaders accountable — not untouchable. An elected official acting like a landed earl lecturing the serfs is a democratic malfunction — and one crying out to be fixed.
This is far from the first time Senator Saslaw has exhibited such behavior. I wrote last year about a public event where he showed similar contempt for energy efficiency and renewables. He has also been unfortunately successful in expanding predatory lending in the state and proud of it.
Coincidentally, Saslaw’s biggest donors are in the energy and finance industries. I guess he’s been a good Democrat on issues on which he hasn’t been bought, and that’s good enough for some people.
But the main reason he seems to cling to power is that he’s tough and knows Senate procedure and bullies anyone who dares question him. When I’ve asked a few state politicians and activists about the Saslaw problem, I generally get that head-cocked-to-one-side look your dog gives you when he thinks you’ve got a screw loose. Most of his Democratic colleagues are afraid to cross him and I’ve heard the idea of running against him described as “suicidal.”
But some suicide missions are actually worthwhile. What we have here is a classic “emperor has no clothes” moment. The climate of intimidation that Saslaw uses to protect himself is only effective as long as everybody around him keeps falling for it. As soon as that veil is pierced, it can disintegrate quicker than one might think. (See the great political documentary “Street Fight” on Cory Booker’s battle against the dictatorial Sharpe James in Newark about this phenomenon.)
Saslaw has been leader of Senate Democrats since 1996. At some point, you have to ask whether the point of a political party is to support its incumbents until they keel over — or whether the point is to stand for particular principles. IMHO, that’s not a hard question.
As my BV colleague Elaine, former Arlington County Democratic chair Peter Rousselot, and others attest in the diary and comments below, it’s time for a good Democrat to give Mr. Saslaw a primary challenge for his progressive Northern Virginia district. Many of us here at Blue Virginia will strongly support a credible challenger. It’s the democratic solution in a state whose motto remains “Sic semper tyrannis.” And it would be nice to have a Democratic Senate leader who actually does care about what kind of state, country and planet we leave to future generations.