Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Conservatism is Dead, and it's Not Coming Back

There is a certain audacity in declaring the near-permanent death of a political ideology, so allow me to be perfectly clear in my meaning: Republicanism is not dead--far from it--but "conservatism" as we have come to know it is. Kiss it goodbye; it's gone, and it's not coming back.

To be completely truthful, conservatism properly understood has actually been near total demise ever since the election of Ronald Reagan. Nearly every ideological facet of what used to be known as American conservatism has been abandoned largely abandoned by both political parties--or is slowly being taken over in its most benign and idealistic form by the Democratic party as a secondary plank.

Gone is the Old Right--those Paleoconservatives who believe in the venerated American tradition of non-interventionism abroad and rural-values agrarian populism at home.

Gone is the Rockefeller Republican--the pro-business conservative who welcomes government investment in social programs but simply wants to run them more efficiently. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are two the very last of a dying breed--outcasts in both of America's political moieties.

Gone is the Small Government Conservative. As even the Wall Street Journal staff have admitted, "The the era of small government is over. Sept. 11 challenged it. Katrina killed it." The Republican Party is the Party of Big Government Conservatism now (whatever that means), as the Cato Institute has lamented at length.

Gone, also are the old Burkeian and Hamiltonian conservatives whose preference for aristocracy and Republic over mob rule and Democracy has given way to the pseudo-populism of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and the unilateral attempt to ostensibly spread direct democracy across the globe.

And gone too are the old Ayn Rand conservatives: those who view selfishness as the highest good, absent all communal forces to the contrary--including not only government but organized religion as well.

All of these proud descendants of the Burkeian conservative tradition have been utterly marginalized in today's American political discourse. And there's a very good reason for that: conservatism as we know it has ceased to provide any meaningful answers for the problems that confronted by the nation and the world. Instead, we are at a crossroads of epic proportions that will determine nothing less than the future of the free world in ways that most of us probably fail to fully grasp.


In the place of traditional conservatism--as Thomas Frank and hundreds of others have pointed out time and again--is an alliance between what Markos and Jerome call the "Corporate Cons" and the "TheoCons". I would also add the "NeoCons"--though many would simply say that they are a subset of the Corporate Cons.

The problem with this categorization, however, is the obvious difficulty that two of the above are not conservative at all, while the third is ONLY conservative of religious tradition and nothing else. The old rhetorical adage "What Are Conservatives Conserving, Exactly?" is perfectly applicable for these people--none of whom are true Conservatives at all.

Indeed, there is absolutely nothing "conservative" about either a Corporate Con or a NeoCon. In fact, their economic policies are called Neoliberal in academic circles, and their speeches in defense of the militaristic enforcement of global democracy and "freedom" are in the liberal tradition of Wilson, Roosevelt and Kennedy.

Corporate Cons, TheoCons and NeoCons all shun balanced budgets. They shun George Washington's warnings against foreign entanglements. They shun the notion of small government. They shun the notion of aristocracy understood as such by the public (not that they don't attempt to enforce it de facto by other means, of course). They shun responsible stewardship of the environment. They shun the notion of investment in social programs. They shun traditional conservative pessimism about the ability of governments to enforce their traditions and beliefs onto others. And their rhetoric about the benign consequences of allowing people utter freedom to do whatever they will economically is almost Emersonian, shunning every conservative, Humeian conservative tradition.

They aren't conservatives at all, in fact. They're simply an evil version of Liberalism.


But why did this happen? It happened because, quite simply, traditional conservatism has completely outlived its usefulness in the modern world.

Every single problem that we face nationally and globally is completely beyond the scope of simplistic, old-school conservatism to address. Nearly every problem requires the mobilization of large-scale structures to resolve. Consider them:

Nuclear proliferation.
Global warming.
Environmental degradation of other kinds.
Peak Oil.
Stateless Terrorism.
The threat of catastropic "Andromeda Strain" viruses.
The worldwide drug trade.
Worldwide water shortages.
The "double-income" trap--with concomitant "latchkey kid" syndrome.
Moral degeneration (yes, it exists, as anyone who has witnessed the decline from Glenn Miller to Britney Spears, from MLK Jr. to P-Diddy, from Doogie Howser to MTV's Real World, can easily attest.)

And the list goes on and on.

Ayn Rand has no answers for these. Neither does Burke. Nor Rockefeller. Nor even the PaleoCons, for the most part.

These problems are enormous. Daunting. Intimidating. At times, they seem utterly intractable. So much so that one school of political thought has totally withered in the face of their unrelenting pressure, while the other stands at an historic crossroads that will define its future for generations.


One way or another, you see, the era of squabbling, self-serving independent nation-states each seeking gain at the expense of the other is drawing to a close. Permanently.

To Progressives, that era will be replaced with citizens in each nation working together to improve the lives of their fellow countrymen, while the nations themselves work in increasing harmony to resolve the world's great crises.

To Corporate Cons and NeoCons--best exemplified by utter fool Thomas Friedman--that era will be replaced with the Corporate Triumphalism of McDonald's Diplomacy. The rights and prerogatives of nation-states will be subsumed under the invisible aristocracy of multi-national corporations and their largest shareholders, and the health and safety of the world's population will depend on the continued growth (read, unfettered and increasing exploitation) of financial markets worldwide under the guise of democracy and "free trade".

To TheoCons, to whom both of the above are anathema, the problems are so insurmountable and so inconsistent with their fundamental belief in God's benevolence, omniscience and omnipotence--and so impossible to resolve by turning to simple human free will or "agency"--that an increasing number simply figure that God will take care of it and wrap it all up, with a a Darbyesque bowtie of rapture and Left Behind insanity.

The only exceptions to this rule are fringe far-right and far-left groups (often virtually indistinguishable), both of which also assume that the problems are insurmountable and actually look forward to global economic and environmental collapse in order to usher in a new age of simplicity/rusticity. But these secular millennarians are thankfully few and far between.


Conservatism, then, is dead. It isn't coming back. In its place we are left with three fundamental choices that will determine the future of Liberalism and the future of the free world:

1) A Progressive Liberal vision of partnership, long-term thinking and respect for the common good that disregards race, religion, language and even national boundaries;

2) A Corporate Liberal vision of unfettered economic neoliberalism that exploits people with a view toward quarterly profits and respect for shareholders only that also disregards race, religion, language and even national boundaries;

3) A devil-may-care pessimistic vision of big-government control with no vision that simply expects Jehovah to resolve everything.

May we choose wisely. The fate of the world itself depends on it.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Call for the Contempt of Silence

Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

Joseph Welch, spoken to Joe McCarthy

In the lifecycle of every bully and pompous blowhard comes a special turning point.  After scowling, abusing and intimidating their way through life, generating the vilest of karma wherever they treat, there finally comes a point for such bullies that seems unthinkable during the heights of their influence and power--that time when people just.  stop.  listening.  The time when people are simply unfazed by even their heaviest bluster.

For Richard III, there finally came a time when no one would even lend him a horse to flee from certain death.  For Julius Caesar, the petulant request for just one demonstration of support even as he fell dying--returned only with a final dagger's thrust.  For Saddam Hussein, a shackled walk of ignominy out of courtroom even as he bellowed in protest about his Iraq.  For Joe McCarthy, disgrace came in the form of a simple question expressed from dismayed disbelief.

But when, at long last, will that moment come for the rabid ideologues of the right wing?  Our generation has been long in need of our own earthshattering moment of final disrespect; for  almost every word of disdain that can be uttered in response to these villains has been uttered at this point--save that of shocked silence, turned backs and averted gazes.

What else, indeed is left?

In today's National Review Online and Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes tells us that we should "not give up when victory is at hand" in Iraq.  This highly respected pundit and Fox News correspondent has the gall to write paragraphs like:

No one knows the tragic story of America in Vietnam better than Jim Webb, first as a Marine, then as a writer. So the newly elected Democratic senator from Virginia--a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq--wants to keep Vietnam out of the debate over Iraq. "As much as possible, we need to keep this debate away from Vietnam," Webb said last week. Iraq "is not a parallel situation." But Webb feared that many who supported the Vietnam war, and watched America abandon South Vietnam as it grew close to victory over the Communist forces of North Vietnam, might see similarities.

Indeed, they might, for certain parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are uncanny. A new general, David Petraeus, is taking over in Iraq with a credible new strategy, counterinsurgency. Four decades ago, General Creighton Abrams became the American commander in Vietnam, also with a new strategy. It called for taking and holding the villages and hamlets of South Vietnam. In a word, it was counterinsurgency, and it worked. Now in Iraq, Petraeus has as good a chance of success, starting with the pacification of Baghdad, as Abrams had. And the painful lesson of Vietnam applies in Iraq: Don't give up when victory is at hand.

What is one supposed to say to such baldfaced lies and atrocious propaganda?  There is no snark, no vehemence, no derision, no anger, no outrage that could fully do it justice.

What else is left but the contempt of silence?

What else is left for America's biggest bully, when he complains about the "militant left" conflating militant Christians with moderate ones--out of the same breath he uses to condemn all Muslims as militant?  What can one do but turn one's back, replicating one of the final and most powerful scenes of the play "Twelve Angry Men"?

What is one to say to stuffed shirt Dinesh D'Souza in response to a book with the title "The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11".  Can one do anything more than avert one's gaze, and hope people see through it for the utter crap that it is?

When Jonah Goldberg, widely published columnist and moron of the first degree, writes Liberal Fascism: Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton, are there truly any words that are appropriate?  Any that can be repeated in polite company, at any rate?

When America's #1 talk-radio host can say that "Pacifist kooks are as dangerous as Al-Qaeda" without shame; when America's #2 talk-radio host repeats debunked lies about one of America's most respected Senators having trained at a Wahhabists madrassa, when America's #3 talk radio host can say without shame about Democratic applause for healthcare during the SOTU that "Heathcare . . . Democrats stand first. They must like sick people more than Republicans"--when that's the case, is there anything to do but just turn off the radio?

When two of those assholes--Hannity and Beck--each get the 6pm primetime slot on the two most-watched cable news networks on television, is there truly anything to do but to stop watching altogether?

And don't even get me started on the quotes of the actual elected officials.

Because what, at long last, is left?  What, at long last, would they have to say before the public just started tuning out?  To what levels of depravity and lengths of wingnutty outrage would they have to stoop before people just started pulling the plug?  How wrong would they have to be before the media simply stopped giving them credence?

At what point, in short, do we stop even arguing with them, and start treating them with the utter contempt that they so richly deserve?

I'm beyond anger or outrage at this point.  I've moved into the realm of utter disrespect and sheer contempt.  The time is ripe for Democrats, progressives, realists, moderate Republicans, and true conservatives (as opposed corporate shills) to simply stand them down and shun them.

Give them no airtime.  Never appear on their shows.  Never respond to their insults, save possibly by telling them to go to hell.  If they buy time on the public airwaves to smear your name, treat them with the contempt they deserve.

The time for a devastating wall of silence for these people is long overdue.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, January 26, 2007

Apologies to DailyKos and to Senator Reid

[N.B.: This is a cross-post from a DailyKos piece--but it can also as an apology to readers of this, my personal blog, as well...]

Yesterday I wrote a http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/1/24/15483/8428">recommended diary urging Majority Leader Reid to call the GOP bluff on their vote to deny cloture on the stand-alone minimum wage bill. With a good deal of support from this community, I challenged Senator Reid to force the Republicans to conduct a full-on, old-school Strom-Thurmond-style "read-the-phone-book" filibuster on the minimum wage bill. I argued that such an outcome would be a political coup for Democrats, even if the GOP gummed up the Senate works for an entire month or more.
Well, I was wrong--not, I believe, in the spirit of what I wrote, but because what I was urging is literally impossible according to Senate rules.
I was not aware of that when I wrote the diary--and judging from the number of recommenders who supported my position without argument, it appears that many of us need a little bit of education about the filibuster. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Big Tent Democrat to educate me (and a little bit of research on my own), I have realized where I went wrong and would like to offer my humble apologies to DailyKos and to Senator Reid.

The reason I was in error is simple: if there are enough minority votes to deny cloture, an old-school filibuster is unnecessary. Cloture (an end to debate) MUST take place before voting on a bill can begin. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
Thus, even if Harry Reid schedules nothing but debate on the stand-alone minimum wage bill for the entire day, no Republicans even need show up to debate or speechify. All they have to do is come back down to the Senate floor to vote against cloture when the cloture motion comes up. As BTD correctly pointed out, failure to do any other business in the Senate would amount to obstruction, ironically, by the Democratic Majority rather than the Republican Minority.
But if that's the case, one might ask, what were Strom Thurmond's filibusters all about? Why were they necessary then, and unnecessary now?
Good question. It's the same question I asked BTD.
The answer is twofold: 1) the Senate rules have been amended since Strom Thurmond's famous filibusters. But more important is reason number two: Strom Thurmond was filibustering the cloture vote--not the bill itself. The Senate had the votes for cloture (under its rules at the time), so Strom had to resort to lengthy speechifying on the Senate floor.
Want to learn a little more? Here's Shad Satterthwaite at ThisNation.com:
The House of Representatives has a Rules Committee that places a limit on debate when a bill goes to the floor. The Senate has no such committee. As a result, a bill is informally scheduled to come up on the Senate floor where debate can be endless. A filibuster occurs when a Senator engaged in debate refuses to yield the floor and thus prevents a roll call vote from taking place. The image of a Senator standing his ground on the Senate floor is epitomized by Jimmy Stewart with his performance in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Filibusters provide a minority of Senators a way to make their voices heard....
A filibuster can take place at several stages during the legislative process in the Senate. Before a bill is even introduced, a senator can place an anonymous hold on a bill through the majority or minority leaders. A hold is simply a threat to stage a filibuster if the bill comes up for a vote. A motion to bring up a bill can be filibustered. Amendments to a bill can be filibustered. Appointments to conference committees with House members to consider the bill can be filibustered. Conference committee reports on the bill can be filibustered.

Note what it did NOT say could be filibustered, however: the actual bill on the floor itself. Doesn't happen. Never has happened. You can filibuster amendments. You can filibuster the cloture vote. You can filibuster before it's introduced. But if you have the votes to deny cloture, you deny cloture. End of story.

Thus, if the minority has the votes to deny cloture, they can essentially kill the bill until they are given the compromise, tit-for-tat legislation they demand. If they believe that the American people don't want the bill being proffered by the Majority, they can literally refuse to EVER allow cloture on the bill--and the bill dies.

As BTD points out, that is why party discipline is so terribly important when you are the minority. The Dems, for example, should have had the votes to permanently deny cloture on the Medicare bill or the Bankruptcy Bill. But because we lacked party discipline from certain key members, we failed to deny cloture. Unfortunately, with regard to the minimum wage, the GOP has had greater party discipline than we have had in recent years.
However, the GOP knows that killing the minimum wage bill permanently would be politically disastrous, so they'll force a concession or two on tax breaks for Hiltons for allowing it to go to the President's desk. Disgusting? Yes. Surprising? No.

The key upshot? If we want not to be put in this position again, let's get some more Democratic Senators elected so we can get cloture more easily.
And there you have it. I was wrong; I unintentionally misled the community; I mistakenly impugned Harry Reid's courage.

Please accept my apologies. It is my hope, however, that we have all learned something about Senate workings in the process, and thus that some good can have come from the diary.

Cheers, and let's move on to the next fight.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Be Afraid of a GOP Filibuster, Senator Reid?

So, as you've all seen, today brings the not entirely unexpected news that the House's minimum wage bill met with some resistance on the floor of the U.S. Senate and will not pass in its current form.

As the CNN article says,

Democrats' promise of a quick increase in the minimum wage ran aground Wednesday in the Senate, where lawmakers are insisting it include new tax breaks for restaurants and other businesses that rely on low-pay workers.

On a 54-43 vote, proponents lost an effort to advance a House-passed bill that would lift the pay floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour without any accompanying tax cut. Opponents of the tax cut needed 60 votes to prevail.

My question is...why?

The simplistic answer, of course, is that 60 votes are needed to reach what is known as cloture: an end to debate on the bill in question so that it can come to a vote on the floor. Without cloture, the opposing party (in this case, the Republicans) can threaten to filibuster the bill, thereby essentially shutting down the legislative process. Since filibusters are unseemly ordeals that prevent the People's business from being taken care of, traditional Senate decorum states that one doesn't send a bill to the floor without getting cloture on that bill first.

Now, most of the people who care enough to be reading this right now are implicitly aware of all this. But I wonder if many of you have considered the implications of it.

The Democratic Party is assuming that it must swallow the poison pills of accompanying tax breaks because it cannot get cloture on Minimum Wage. Harry Reid, as the article says, scheduled the cloture vote on the Senate floor today to demonstrate to Pelosi and Rangel that there was "inadequate support" for the minimum wage bill without the tax cuts. I call bullshit on that.

As much as I would like to see the rest of Pelosi's 100 hours agenda come before a Senate vote as soon as possible, I cannot think of any political theater more advantageous to Democrats than watching the GOP attempt to filibuster a minimum wage increase. Especially when the cloture margin is as slim as six measly votes.

Remember, if you will, the polling on the minimum wage: 81% popular support, with a full 66% of self-described conservatives! Filibustering this thing would be nothing short of political suicide for the GOP.

Me, I'm not afraid. I have absolutely no problem with watching the GOP bring Speaker Pelosi's incredibly popular 100 hours legislation to a dead halt in the Senate by filibustering the one most popular piece of that agenda.

I have absolutely no problem with letting the month's entire bitter partisan discourse be about nothing BUT the minimum wage.

I say, "Bring it On." Bring this bill to the floor, Mr. Reid. Bring on the filibuster, Republicans. And let's allow the chips to fall where they may.

I'm not afraid. Why is Senator Reid?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Think we were strong in '06? Wait until '08...

Remember November 7th? Remember the sweet, long-delayed taste of victory?

Well, with a little luck and a lot of hard work--and barring unforseen political catastrophes of one sort or another--we may well be on the road to another smashing November in 2008. It's certainly not guaranteed, but if I were a Republican, I would be sweating in a paroxysm of nervous agitation right now--for more different reasons than I can count.

Let's go through them one by one...

1. United Dems: DNC, DCCC and DSCC getting along fabulously.

Haven't you heard? After a long and messy feud that almost led to divorce and ugly war between the house of Rahm and the house of Howard, everything is hunky-dory again:

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the new chief election strategist for the House Democrats, welcomed Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to his office Tuesday for a “jovial” meeting in which the two pledged to work together during the 2008 election cycle....

Both agreed that they would remain “on offense,” a principle that has become a centerpiece of Van Hollen’s early tenure. In a memo released last week, he said he would not only seek to protect the newly elected freshman Democrats, but also to expand the number of competitive seats.

They also discussed candidate recruitment.

“They have a lot of shared ideas,” one of the participants said. “[Dean] appreciates what’s happening on the ground and talked about engaging more people in the [recruitment] process.”

The article also talks about how "victory is a great aphrodisiac" and how the contours of the 2008 presidential race structurally lead to more clear-cut decisions about which candidates to fund and where. Largely due to strong victories in '06, much of the heat of that Howard-Rahm feud is over and done with--and it doesn't really matter who won, or who was right, because Democrats won. And the top Dems will be working with one another cordially to improve on our gains in '08.

2. Bush's anemic numbers.

As has been pointed out repeatedly today, the latest polling looks absolutely fantastic for Dems, and absolutely horrific for Bush.

Now, polls can certainly change--we've seen it happen before. The political effects of another large-scale terrorist attack or national pandemic are unpredictable and difficult to gauge--though I doubt they would help Bush at this point, and might hurt him badly. We have little reason to believe, however, that things will change much at least for Bush (and by extension for the GOP) over the next 18 months. American history provides us no examples of deeply unpopular lame-duck presidencies making any sort of dramatic recovery.

Meanwhile, the GOP has come off of the ideological moorings that Gingrich and Reagan built for it to become a full-scale Cult of Bush. They staked everything on the reputation and popularity of a single Unitary Executive, which the GOP congress failed so spectacularly to oppose that he lifted his veto pen only once in an entire six-year period. As he falls, so do they--and the fall has been steep with no recourse or rescue in sight.

Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is failing. Social Security "reform" is dead. The Medicare Part D bill was a disaster. Anger over corporate greed is affecting even the wealthiest Americans. The immigration issue backfired in their faces (and in the long term, no political party will win without the Hispanic vote). I don't honestly see where they turn for political salvation from here.

3. Historical precedent.

Things look awfully bleak for GOP presidential chances merely on historical precedent alone, even if you discount current issues and political realities. As Mark Mellman, well-respected Democratic insider consultant (with all the myopia punctuated by strong flashes of brilliance that that entails), wrote so aptly on December 6th in The Hill:

While excitement no doubt grips GOP presidential contenders as they begin their quests, the truth is the Republican nominee faces rather dismal prospects in 2008.

Pay zero attention to the horserace polls now in circulation. Historically they have borne little relationship to the ultimate outcome. At this stage, Mondale led Reagan, to whom he later lost 49 states. Analysis of the underlying dynamics has proven a much more fruitful approach.

The most basic element of the 2008 dynamic is that a non-incumbent will be trying to extend Republican rule into a third consecutive term. Historically, that has been a very difficult feat. Since 1948, seven candidates, including Bush in ’04, have been incumbents seeking a second term for their party (note: a second party term, not a second personal term). Only one lost — Jimmy Carter in 1980. Non-incumbents attempting to keep control of the White House for their party beyond two terms — the situation Republicans face in 2008 — have fared much less well. Since 1948, the incumbent party has won only one of five such races. Voters weary of more of the same, while the party in power often runs out of intellectual and policy steam.

And Bush's anemic approval ratings don't help:

Far from a perfect linear correlation, but when incumbents’ ratings are low, it is particularly difficult to pass on the keys to the White House. Adlai Stevenson may have bombed anyway, but Harry Truman’s 32 percent approval rating did not help; nor was Lyndon Johnson’s 39 percent an asset for Hubert Humphrey.

There is so much more in this article that I highly recommend you read; I wish fair use guidelines allowed me to copy the whole thing. Mellman goes on to discuss the unpopular and quagmired "war" and the economy that is failing the middle class as further drags on the Bush coattails heading into '08.

The point, however, is that structurally, as a matter of historical precedent, the GOP will be fighting not only Democrats in their battle to retain the White House, but history as well.

4. The composition of Senate Races in '08.

While neither party truly expects to make strong headway in the House in '08 due to high presidential voter turnout that reinforces gerrymandered incumbent advantages (though I would certainly place greater bets on the Dems' increasing their majority than on GOP gains), it is in the Senate that Dems enjoy their greatest opportunities.

As Aaron Blake says in The Hill:

Senate Democrats will have a wider field of possibilities and probably more open seats available to expand their majority in 2008, though Senate Republicans will have several chances to pick off red-state Democrats.

Of the 33 seats up for election two years from now, 21 are held by Republicans. Eight of those 21 were elected with 55 percent of the vote or less in 2002, and in seven of them the incumbent is a freshman. The party also faces several retirement questions.

I won't bore you with the juicy details (you can read all about them in the article) and Markos has mentioned this several times before, but you really need to re-read that quote. Eight senators who got 55% of the vote or less in 2002 (!). Seven of them freshmen. Nothing is ever easy when it comes to unseating incumbents--but within that context, this is about as close as you can get to a gimmee without bringing dead girls or live boys into the equation.

And hopefully, the GOP's desperate bid to maintain their relative parity in the Senate will dry up money for the far more daunting task of making progess in the House--which should help our House candidates along as well.

5. The Money.

For most of us, a headline like the one in the LA Times that reads Lobbyists find New Congress is Open for Business is terrible news. We react with revulsion, anger, and the determination to wipe clean the dirty influence of big corporate money on the political process--and we're right to do so.

It's not all bad, news, however. The key sentences in the article can be found here:

Many lobby shops have been adding knowledgeable and well-connected Democrats to their rosters, turning away from the so-called K Street Project in which DeLay and other GOP leaders pressured such firms to hire conservatives and dump Democrats. emphasis added

"One of the lessons is that good lobbying is always bipartisan," said Scott Segal of Bracewell & Giuliani, a lobbying firm that maintained bipartisan credentials despite the GOP pressure.

Politics, you see, isn't just a winner-take-all game: it's a winner-take-even-more game. As long as Republicans ruled the roost and Tom Delay went spouting off about "permanent Republican majorities", the money kept rolling in for them in ever increasing proportions. Not anymore.

It may not be a comforting thought that Democrats are listening to business lobbyists, but the point is that the "K Street project" is slowly becoming unwoven--and that means greater fiscal parity between the two parties, even if it just means less money going to Republicans, and no extra money going to Dems. The GOP's vaunted money advantage will shrink rather than grow next cycle.

6. GOP Presidential Candidates don't excite the GOP base.

I don't really need to tell you much about this one. If you want to read a traditional media article about it, I suppose you could read this L.A. Times piece from yesterday.

The three supposed GOP "frontrunners" are 1) a "gang of 14" "maverick" Iraq-escalation-proposing septuagenarian hated by Dobson and the Christianist Right no matter how much he tries to embrace them; 2) a cross-dressing, thrice-divorced pro-choice, pro-gay-rights New Yorker; and 3) a hybrid healthcare passing, flip-flopping social liberal Mormon from Massachusetts.

As the L.A. Times article says:

There's absolutely no contender that is a bona fide conservative," said K.B. Forbes, who has worked for a number of conservative candidates and causes since the 1990s. "We have insiders, squishes and moderates running for president."

Imagine that our Democratic presidential frontrunners were 1) Joe Lieberman; 2) Ben Nelson; and 3) Zell Miller and you would grasp some semblance of the problem for Republicans. I wouldn't want to be them right now.

7. Strong Democratic Candidate Lineup

Let's face it: no matter who comes out the winner of the Democratic Party, that person is going to be one hellaciously battle-tested contender among a field of frankly outstanding and incredibly strong choices. Devilstower really said it best yesterday:

For the next year, the newspapers are going to be full of stories pitting Hillary against Obama. Add into the mix John Edwards, who has spent four years polishing his already powerful oratory and building his network. Mix the possibility of Bill Richardson bringing his direct, insightful voice to the race fresh from handling one of the most difficult diplomatic situations on the planet. There's enough drama and interest in the Democratic lineup to fill a dozen novels.

How much energy is this going to leave for talking about bloated old guy number one doing his best to spread more fear than bloated old guy number two? They're going to have to ad more pages to the paper just to get to a page boring enough for the Republican contest. Even Republicans aren't interested. You couldn't get a decent crowd in the cafeteria at Bob Jones University if Mitt Romney and John McCain were fighting to the death in lime Jell-o.

Hammer, meet nail. Back in 2003/2004, the right-wing was calling the Democratic contenders for president the "nine dwarves". Well, today we have some veritable political titans running for president. Regardless of whether you support each candidate or not, think about the field we're running (or talking about running):

Gore (???).

And the presence of second- and third-tier candidates like Biden, Vilsack and Kucinich only adds to the depth and character of the party, and the widely-ranging ideological and policy ground we cover.

Compared with the fireworks this crowd can produce, the American people will hardly care about Romney vs. McCain by contrast--nor should they.

8. Real policy victories for the American People in the House.

What the future may hold for Democratic accomplishments is cloudy at best over the course of the next 18 months. One thing is clear, however: Pelosi is off to a great start and the American people are noticing.

If these popular House bills stall in the Senate and/or get vetoed by Bush, it will be Bush and Senate Republicans who will take the heat for being obstructionists. The Democrats will have reversed the tables and become the party of "can", while the Republicans will have become the party of "can't".

If this factor plays out as I believe it will, there will be even stronger suppport for replacing Republican Senate candidates with "can-do" Democrats--and for replacing a suddenly veto-prone Republican president with a "can-do" Democratic one.


All of this bodes very well for Democrats in '08.

The door is open--so long as we work for it. All we have to do is have the courage to walk through it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Dem Congress is on a roll--new poll numbers prove it

Republicans and RedStaters can stew and gripe all they like about the House bills passed in the wake of the first 100 42 (!) hours of Congressional activity--but the fact is that the American people are with us.

A new LA Times/Bloomberg poll shows that approval ratings on Congress--once mired as low as 16%--have risen substantially, and that there is massive public support for the bills passed by the House.

Indeed, there's so much good stuff in here that it will be difficult for me to cleave to fair use guidelines, but I'll give it my best shot.

First off, the article gives Democrats credit for taking the lead on bipartisanship by promoting bills that attracted widespread Republican support, as opposed to the bitter party-line divided battles that ensued during GOP control. Not an extraordinary accomplishment, but I believe we can legitimately add "bipartisanship" as a feather in our cap: after all, if you're passing legislation that the vast majority of the American people support, and forcing the other party to vote with you or face daunting re-election battles, I would call that a great move toward bipartisanship. It's easy to be bipartisan when you're actually doing the work of the people, instead of giving massive handouts to corporate lobbying interests.

As for the Congressional approval rating? Well, it's up to 36%:

Overall, the poll found 36% approve of how Congress is doing its job — hardly a mandate, but up from 30% in September.

36% isn't pretty--but I would say that it's a HELL of a lot better than 16%. And we've barely gotten started.

As for the individual issues tackled by the new congress, well, it's a public opinion landslide as we knew it would be:

The student-loan rate cut that passed the House on Wednesday was supported by 79% of those polled.

Legislation aimed at lowering prices in Medicare's prescription drug program, which passed the House last week, was backed by 80%.

Repealing tax breaks for big oil companies, which the House approved Thursday, was supported by 61%.

An expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, passed by the chamber last week, was backed by 59%.

The most popular item was the push to increase the federal minimum wage, which under the House bill would rise over two years to $7.25 an hour from $5.15. The increase, which would be the first in a decade, was supported by 81% of those surveyed — including 66% of self-described conservatives.

I think it's important to re-read that last statistic: 66% of self-described conservatives supported the minimum wage increase. That support level is higher than support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq was at any point in the entire history of the debacle. I think it's safe to say at this point that any pundit or blogger who still opposes the minimum wage increase can be safely dismissed as so far out of the American mainstream that they should be taken as seriously as your average LaRouchie. That John Stossel, David Brooks or 2/3 of the editorial of the National Review still have jobs shows just how out of the warped is the political debate in Washington D.C.

In the meantime, while approval ratings for Democrats in general have gone up only very slightly, disapproval ratings have decreased sharply:

The new poll indicates a less critical view of congressional Democrats among the public — although their favorable rating is virtually unchanged at 42%, compared to 40% in September; their unfavorable rating was 32%, down from 41%.

This may not seem like much, but it's a big deal. You have to decrease the disapprovals created by negative media-induced perceptions before your approvals can begin to climb. So far, so good.

And what about Pelosi herself--that craaaaaazy nanny-state-living liberal San-Francisco values hippie that the right tried to run their entire congressional campaign against? She has a +13 percentage point approval rating that continues to improve even as her "unknown" numbers fall dramatically:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in the news spotlight since the November elections as the first woman to lead either congressional chamber, remains little known to many Americans but has made some headway in raising her national profile.

Among those with an opinion, 34% viewed her favorably, 21% unfavorably. Still, 41% of those surveyed said they had not heard enough about her to have an opinion. In December, that figure was 50%; in September, 63%.


So what is the bad news? Not much, really, in the way of bad news for the present--but a good deal in the way of challenges for the future. But it is heartening to note that the challenges Democrats face in all cases point not to public doubts about progressive causes, but rather to concerns that Democrats will not stand resolutely or effectively ENOUGH for progressive causes. In other words, to make a somewhat gross oversimplification (the left-right axis doesn't really describe these issues very well, but it can serve as adequately comprehensible shorthand in this instance), the American Public actually stands to the left of Democrats on most of the major issues of the day--and it's worried that Democrats won't stand with them.

If you're a Progressive Democrat, that's cause for satisfaction if not celebration; if you're DLC or a Republican, that's cause for some serious heartburn.

And what are these issues? First and foremost, the ongoing occupation of the civil war in Iraq:

It found that pressure is especially high for Democrats to change course in Iraq; 45% identified the war as the most important issue for the new Congress to address, a far higher figure than for any other issue.

"If they just tackle this war and get these boys home, they will be doing good," said Jerry Alexander, a retired car salesman in Savannah, Tenn., who is an independent. "They better, because that's what they were elected for."

Just how to accomplish that objective has been the subject of gallons of pixellated ink, as it were, and I'm not going to suggest a course of action here. But the point is clear: It would be difficult for Democrats to take TOO STRONG a stand on opposing further involvement in Iraq. The people EXPECT Democrats to take strong measures to at the very least give the appearance of getting something done about bringing our troops home--if not actually using congressional funding or other measures to help accomplish that goal. Iraq continues to dominate the public discourse, and the people want some tangible results from Democrats in that regard, even if Bush Cheney does have ultimate control of the Armed Forces (which most people do realize).

The second major issue is proving to voters that Congress really HAS cleaned up its ethical act:

Almost three-quarters of those surveyed — 72% — supported House-passed ethics reforms to ban gifts from lobbyists and require disclosure of pork-barrel projects. But only 27% said they believed such measures would make a real difference; 60% said they expect business as usual in the way Capitol Hill operates.

"My experience ... is that there have been reforms, but there always seems to be new or expanding loopholes people find," said Bauder.

If the Democrats' legislative bulldogs of reform ultimately turn out to be as toothless as McCain-Feingold, all of our high-profile legislation and forceful rhetoric will have been for naught--and may backfire. Our greatest challenge in this area will be to keep our promises, keep our noses clean--and above all, when we see loopholes being exploited (as with the 527s in the wake of McCain-Feingold), to close them ruthlessly and with enough fanfare to show the public we mean business.

The third and final challenge? A vague one, but important: establishing a clear brand identity.

But only 25% of those surveyed believed Democrats have formulated a clear direction for the country; 58% said they had failed to.

The bills of the first 100 hours are a great start. Standing strong on opposing the Occupation of Iraq and on ethics reform will be a great help. Above all, improving these numbers will be an issue of flag-planting. To quote Thomas Schaller on page 231 of his outstanding new book Whistling Past Dixie, which I heartily recommend to everyone here:

How can the Democratic Party reinvent its brand and, in the process, begin to discredit the Republican identity? The best way to develop a brand is with what might be called flag-planting: Taking a firm, nonnegotiable position on issues and affirming that position repeatedly. Doing so will always turn away some voters, but the resolve shown by planting flags and standing vigilantly to defend them not only helps unify and motivate the party's base but gains the respect of moderates and independents who, though perhaps disagreeing on the particulars of the policy defended, will show gruding respect for resoluteness.

Many of you will detect shades of the Overton Window in the preceding paragraph--and as you well you should. If we stand resolute on ethics, on Iraq, on protecting our resources, investing in America's future and promoting the common good, we'll do just fine. With any luck, we may get that congressional approval rating about 50% one day.

In any case, however, these numbers are great news for the Democratic Party--and even better news for the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

What we need more than anything now is the cooperation of our colleagues in the Senate to pass without serious compromise what the House has put forward--and the guts to continue to stand on principle even on issues where the polls aren't as overwhelmingly in our favor.

If we stick to our guns, we can undo much of the damage not only to the country, but even to the much maligned reputation of the American government itself. And that's something to be thankful for.

Rarely have I seen such disgusting collusion mixed with panic

I'm watching MSNBC right now in my Chicago hotel right before going to a business meeting, so this diary has to be short.

There is an advertisement put on by Pharmaceutical Lobbying industry PhRMA that exceeds the boundaries of any political advertisement I saw in the last election cycle in terms of making my blood boil.

Unfortunately, there is no online version of the ad on PhRMA's site, on MSNBC.com, YouTube or anywhere else, so I'll have to describe it from memory. Hopefully someone can find this online somewhere soon.

You see, some of you may remember the last year's scandal in which the pharma industry was caught quietly paying for ads praising senators who supported the Bush medicare prescription drug benefit. As the article says:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims credit for the ads, although a spokesman refused repeatedly to say whether it had received any funds from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Several campaign strategists not involved in the ad campaign said no legal issues were raised by the pharmaceutical industry's involvement. In political terms, though, the disclosure is likely to embolden Democratic critics of the Medicare drug program, who charge it amounts to a Republican-engineered windfall for drug companies.

Well, the Pharma industry patronage of their own massive giveaway is now completely overt and open in a very disturbing way.

The advertisement I am describing literally begs seniors to "give the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit program a chance." It begins with swelling, feel-good music about the supposedly wonderful passage of the bill and statistics showing how much money on average seniors supposedly have saved.

Then it plays some scary music with a newspaper quote about how much money would supposedly be lost by interrupting the supposedly wonderful plan (with what, PhRMA? A national healthcare plan? Oh no!).

Finally, as I said, it asks seniors to just "give the plan a chance to work". I'm not kidding. And at the end? The PhRMA logo--right there, front and center. It's direct and open lobbying to the public by a private industry in support of an unpopular government program dedicated to making huge giveaways to that very industry. It's simply unbelievable.

They KNOW people are upset. They KNOW that their preposterous profits are under threat from national momentum in a variety of areas towards a more nationalized healthcare plan.

And they've dropped all pretense of separation from the Bush Administration in literally begging America's Seniors to not rock the boat, and to keep their profits rolling in.

There is an old saying in Latin that goes "Nemo tam malus est ut malus videri volat"--it translates "Nobody is so evil that they want to appear evil."

Well, PhRMA has gotten awfully close to disproving that maxim. The fear is on their faces and the mask is coming right off in a really unprecedented way.

This fight is gonna be real, real ugly.

Update: as many say in the comments, this is just like Bush's strategy for Iraq, isn't it? "Just give us a chance! I know we're screwing you over, but give us a chance!" The difference here is that this is like Halliburton putting on an ad on MSNBC asking Americans to give the "war" a chance--with the Halliburton logo front and center. It's disgusting.

Iraq becoming Iranian client state; U.S. damages Kurd economy. Just Beautiful.

I'm in between focus groups all night tonight with clients, so apologies for the shortness of my commentary. However, I thought the community should be aware of a blistering article in today's LA Times about Iraq's moving toward closer relations with Iran--with our without U.S. approval--and the devastating blow to Kurdistan's economy that was our stupid raid on the Iranian embassy.

Some choice excerpts from the article:
Iraq edges closer to Iran, with or without the U.S.

The Iraqi government is moving to solidify relations with Iran, even as the United States turns up the rhetorical heat and bolsters its military forces to confront Tehran's influence in Iraq.

After some B.S. from Khalilzad...

Iraqis, who have echoed Tehran's calls for the U.S. to release the five men, say the three-way standoff that has ensued reveals more about American meddling in Iraqi affairs than about Iranian influence.

"We, as Iraqis, have our own interest," Zebari said in an interview with The Times. "We are bound by geographic destiny to live with" Iran, adding that the Iraqi government wanted "to engage them constructively."

Zebari's comments reinforced the growing differences between the Iraqi government's approach and that of the Bush administration, which has rejected calls by the nonpartisan Iraq Study Group to open talks with Iran and Syria.

Now that's some harsh language from the Tribune company that owns the times...Point is, though, that Iraq doesn't WANT Iran out of its business. It wants Iran's tourism dollars. It wants Iran's aid toward political stability. It wants Iran's trade benefits:

Zebari's remarks came two days after Iraq and Iran announced a security agreement. "Terrorism threatens not only Iraq but all the regional countries," Iranian radio reported Sherwan Waili, Iraq's national security minister, as saying.

The overtures to Tehran also followed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's appointment last week of a security commander for Baghdad over the objections of U.S. officials, who favored another candidate.

American officials oppose the presence in Iraq of Iranian officials and members of the Revolutionary Guard, which is controlled by religious hard-liners in Iran. Washington and Tehran have been at odds for decades and are in a standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But to Iraq, Iran is its biggest trading partner and a source of tourist revenue, mainly from the thousands of Shiite Muslim pilgrims who travel to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala every year.

In Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish north, much of the economy is founded on trade with Iran and the smuggling of contraband into the Islamic Republic. Since the 1979 founding of Iran's theocracy, Kurdistan has been a transit point for banned alcohol, movies and satellite dishes.

Meanwhile, we totally fucked up Kurdistan's economy with our all-for-show raid on the Iranian embassy there:

The U.S. raid on the Iranian office, which handled visas and other paperwork for Iraqis traveling to Iran, struck at the heart of Kurdistan's economy, which depends on commercial ties with Iran facilitated through that office.

And what do Iraqis think of that?

Iraqi officials want the U.S. to release the five Iranians. Zebari described them as "Iranian officials" working in a "liaison office" where Iraqis could go for "consular services like travel permits to Iran."

Kurdish regional authorities and the government in Baghdad knew about the Iranians in Irbil and were in the process of transforming the agency into a consulate, Zebari said.

"This is not a new discovery, this office," he said. The Iranians had been "working there publicly, openly. It was not a clandestine network. That's the thing we need to explain to our friends."

Mistake #1? Believing that the United States is your friend. Really, I mean that. Not the United States under the Bush administration, anyway--that United States thinks only for itself and whatever is politically expedient to justify the next possible war to seize the next oil fields.

Most amazing though is the brutal language that follows...

The Iraq Study Group recommended that the U.S. begin a dialogue with Iran and Syria.

But administration officials, under the sway of neoconservative intellectuals who see Iran as a danger to Israel and the U.S., have resisted such calls, saying Tehran must give up its nuclear program and stop supporting militant groups in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon before there can be talks.

Last year, Abdelaziz Hakim, a leading Shiite politician in Iraq who spent years in exile in Iran, tried to improve U.S.-Iran relations by proposing that Iraq act as a go-between or a host for talks between the two nations. Iran rejected the plan when it became public, Zebari said.

Instead, relations have worsened, creating diplomatic headaches in Iraq.

"This is not a clean war," Zebari said. "These complications, embarrassments happen. Through these last three, four years we've been through this many times."

Wow. That's about as harsh as journalist gets, people.

So let's recap:

1) Iraq is becoming an Iranian client state--whether we stay or go. Why are we there again?

2) Bush's petty political posture against Iran royally pissed off the Kurds and hurt their economy, ignoring the complexities of regional trade; and

3) We now have outright hostility towards Bush from the Tribune-owned press at the L.A. Times.

How many different ways can you say...fucked?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What Impeachment Is, and What It Must Not Be

We've had a lot of discussion of impeachment here.  Some of it has been productive; some of it has led to silly flame wars; most of it has been the product of a need to let off steam about the massive abuses of power being committed by this administration.

Many in the blogosphere will undoubtedly have seen my recent change of heart diary concerning the Impeachment of George W. Bush.  In that piece, I argued that Bush's continued intransigence about the idea that he has the power to wilfully deny the authority of Congress' laws over the Executive Branch leads to a constitutional crisis for which impeachment is the only possible solution.  I argued that impeachment must be pursued in spite what will certainly be political costs and lost opportunities for progressive framing and legislation.

Such a position, however, does not mean that any and all calls for Impeachment are productive or desirable regardless of their merits.  The Impeachment of a sitting president is a solemn and serious affair which must be carried out only under extreme duress and with clear and unassailable justification.  Failure to demonstrate such will lead inevitably to public backlash--as the Republicans discovered to their surprise in the wake of their trivial impeachment of Clinton for trivial concerns.

Indeed, the consequences of impeaching a sitting president are so politically profound, the effects so far-reaching, and the political karma so inscrutably dangerous that Impeachment must only be pursued for the gravest of reasons, and when all other alternative options have been exhausted or rendered impossible.

To me, Bush's radical interpretation of Executive power is exactly such a circumstance.  When the President declares himself a dictator accountable to no law of Congress and no Judicial order, the only threat to which he could possibly respond is that of forcible removal from office either by Impeachment (or by military coup, which I hope never happens in America--or all is lost.)

But there are far too many progressives so desperate to see this criminal removed from office that they are willing to use any reason and any justification as a basis for Presidential Impeachment.  And we mustn't do that--because each and every blatantly partisan or inadequate justification for impeachment weakens the rhetorical power of its absolute necessity.

The following are inadequate and insufficient reasons for Impeachment:

1. Being a Republican.

Impeachment, cannot, must not, and WILL not be used as a handy shortcut for removing a member of the opposite party from office just because you find his/her policies distasteful, immoral, or insane.  Some say that George Bush is a murderer on the basis of his policies in Iraq; some also say that Democrats are murderers on the basis of their abortion policies.  Neither is a sound argument for impeachment.

2. Lying to the American People.

Unfortunately, lying to the American people is not an impeachable offense.  Every president in this century has lied to the American people on countless occasions.  Lying to the American people seems to be a universal tactic of American politicians, and this president is no exception.

3. Starting a war based on false pretenses.

I know this one is tough to swallow, but starting a war based on false pretenses is NOT an impeachable offense.  It is deeply disgusting, but it is not a High Crime or Misdemeanor per se.  Those who would argue that Bush must be impeached for starting the Iraq War would have found it necessary to impeach Reagan for his actions in Grenada and Nicaragua; to impeach Lyndon Johnson for escalating the Vietnam War after the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident; to impeach FDR if it could be shown that he was warned of the possibility of the Pearl Harbor attacks; to impeach McKinley for starting the Spanish-American war on the basis of the trumped-up sinking of the Maine; even possibly to have impeached Lincoln for starting an unnecessary war against a set of states that simply wished to secede from the American union.

4. Actual impeachable crimes that cannot be proved.

We may know good and goddamn well that the Bush Administration rigged at least two elections.  We may know good and goddamn well that the Bush Administration intentionally outed a covert CIA agent for reasons of political payback.  We may know good and goddamn well that explicit order were given for the torture of U.S. citizens, residents and captives within U.S. custody.  But we can't prove any of it in a court of law.  And because impeachment is a LEGAL proceeding, such insubstantial accusations of very substantial crimes cannot be used as justifications.  As they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

5. Prevention of FUTURE crimes/depradations/invasions

Impeaching a President pre-emptively out of fear of what he might do next (like, say, bombing Iran) is as legally and morally injustifiable as invading another country out of fear that they might be making WMDs that they would then sell to terrorists.  In the case of political trials as in wars, prevention is never a legitimate reason.

6. Incompetence.

Sheer incompetence is not a High Crime or Misdemeanor.  Allowing an entire American city to drown because you were too naive, stupid, incompetent and indifferent to care may be unconscionable, but it is not a crime.  Allowing an entire war/occupation to go bust because you were too naive, stupid, incompetent, and ideologically driven to do it right may be evil, but it is not an impeachable offense.  And while we're at it...

7. Evil.

Count Dracula could be president.  Satan himself is could be vice-president.  A resurrected Adolf Hitler could be Secretary of Defense.  Jeffrey Dahmer could be the Secretary of Homeland Security.  But until you can prove that they have committed an actual crime, the knowledge that they may be evil incarnate is not an adequate justification for impeachment.

8. Violation of International Law.

While this is the most credible justification for impeachment of any named so far, it is nevertheless quite weak.  The legal challenges to the authority of international law over domestic law are numerous and daunting.  The idea of International Law itself has limited popularity.  As a general rule, if we can't find a decent, home-grown AMERICAN law to impeach the President with, we probably shouldn't be doing it at all.

Above all, Congress and the Courts have the ability and authority to mitigate the effects of all of these concerns through processes OTHER than impeachment, which must be used as a last resort.


That, among other reasons, is why I have chosen to let the Presidential signing statements be my line in the sand.  They are clearly and blatantly unconstitutional.  They are brazen in their violation of the framers' intent.  And most importantly, their very dictatorial and power-usurping nature allows for no other recourse than the President's forcible removal.

Let each person draw their own line in the sand on what constitutes grounds for impeachment in their own mind.

But let us also not fall prey to such desperation to remove this Republican, mendacious, warmongering, conspiratorial, dangerous, incompetent, evil and shameless man from power that we attempt to use any of the preceeding adjectives as legal grounds for his Impeachment.

Let us stay focused; let us stay rigorous; let us stay determined; let us stay just; and above all, let us stay as true to our Constitution as Bush has been untrue.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

And the GOP Backlash Begins...

Now this is going to be fun to watch. Shortly after Bush's "Stay the New Course Forward With More Bodybags" speech, the few remaining moderates in the GOP cant' dissassociate themselves quickly enough from the Bush's "save my ass at all costs" policy.

The sharp fire is coming in from all sides--except, perhaps, from the most important one for Democratic chances in '08.

We'll start with the New York Times.

Here's Chuck Hagel:

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska told Rice the president's plan was "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out."

Here's Voinovich:

''You're going to have to do a much better job'' explaining the rationale for the war, ''and so is the president,'' Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, told her. He said Bush could no longer count on his support.

''I've gone along with the president on this and I've bought into his dream and at this stage of the game I just don't think its going to happen,'' Voinovich said.

And Rep. Rick Keller:

In speech in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla. noted that he was breaking ranks with Bush after long supporting the president's war policy.

''At this late stage, interjecting more young American troops into the crossfire of an Iraqi civil war is simply not the right approach,'' solution,'' Keller said.

And we all know that Conservative Christianist stalwart and likely presidential candidate Sam Brownback opposes the escalation:

.S. Senator Sam Brownback today commented on President Bush’s proposal to increase the number of troops deployed to Iraq.

"I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer,” said Brownback. “Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution. In the last two days, I have met with Prime Minister Maliki, with two deputy presidents and the president of the Kurdish region. I came away from these meetings convinced that the United States should not increase its involvement until Sunnis and Shi'a are more willing to cooperate with each other instead of shooting at each other."

And from the LA Times we get more.

Ray LaHood of Illinois:

There is a lot of anxiety and heartburn here," Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said outside the House chamber, noting the conflicted feelings of many GOP lawmakers toward Bush. "He's our guy. No one wants to go against our guy. And he's the commander in chief and the guy who campaigned for all of us. But he is Iraq."

And I'll let the next series of paragraphs speak for itself:

Other GOP dissenters include Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and Sam Brownback of Kansas, a presidential candidate who once staunchly supported Bush's foreign policy.

Continuing their strident criticism of the Bush administration's war strategy, Smith called the plan a "hail Mary pass" and Hagel said it was "dangerously wrongheaded."

Also withholding support was Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, whose district is the home of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which has served two tours in Iraq.

Of course, the "plan" faces strong domestic opposition from the American people. But we knew that already.

And who, meanwhile, still supports Bush's plan? Who would be that crazy and politically naive? Only ALL THREE REPUBLICAN FRONTRUNNERS FOR THE PRESIDENCY.

Rudy Giuliani:
I think the president did the right thing tonight. And I think the important thing here -- the increase in troops -- critical and important, but the most important thing is the change in strategy. And the change in strategy is a change where what we're going to try to do is to police these areas much more effectively and to hold them much more effectively. In the past, what we were doing was, we would clean out these areas, then we would leave, and then the bad guys would come back.

And Mitt Romney:

"I agree with the President: Our strategy in Iraq must change. Our military mission, for the first time, must include securing the civilian population from violence and terror. It is impossible to defeat the insurgency without first providing security for the Iraqi people. Civilian security is the precondition for any political and economic reconstruction.

"In consultation with Generals, military experts and troops who have served on the ground in Iraq, I believe securing Iraqi civilians requires additional troops. I support adding five brigades in Baghdad and two regiments in Al-Anbar province. Success will require rapid deployment.

"This effort should be combined with clear objectives and milestones for U.S. and Iraqi leaders.

"The road ahead will be difficult but success is still possible in Iraq. I believe it is in America's national security interest to achieve it."

And, of course, John McCain, whose idea some are saying the whole "troop surge" to be in the first place:

Call it a troop surge. Call it an escalation.

But regardless of the term or the specifics, Arizona senator and potential 2008 presidential candidate John McCain has been the most prominent champion of a troop increase in Iraq since a few months after the start of the war in 2003.

But he cautions that more troops now, with the situation in Iraq tenuous, may not be the answer it would have been...

"If it doesn't succeed, then we have to explore any other options. And I'd like to tell you what a good one is - and I can't," McCain said in a televised interview Wednesday before the president's speech.

All of this, of course, looks fantastic for the Democrats--if not so much for Iraq or for our Armed Forces, which will bear the brunt of Bush's folly with their bodies and their lives.

The GOP Congress is smart enough to run away from him, in large part. The American people are smart enough to run away from him. But the GOP presidential hopefuls (outside of Brownback) are plowing straight ahead to what, in all likelihood, means electoral doom.

This should be fertile ground for Democrats to exploit; every senator and representative must be made to vote on the record whether they support this idiotic escalation or not. But unless something drastic changes, 2008 is looking better and better for Dems as the GOP fractures, and their principal candidates choose the wrong side of the divide.

Would that things looked as good for Iraq or for our troops as they do for the Democratic Party.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Elections Have Consequences

Do you know how many times we all heard that tired old line in 2004, 2005 and 2006 from Republicans? You know, the one about elections having consequences? The one telling Democrats to go shut up and fly the flag for the newly-legitimized president Emperor because of John Kerry's failure to win 118,000 votes in Ohio?

A lot. In fact, allow me for the sake of history to provide a few reminders of said obnoxious arrogance...

From the Washington Times on May 19, 2005 in support of confirming Alito:

No Republican Compromise
How many presidential and senatorial elections must Republicans win before the Democratic Party accepts the fact that elections have consequences?
George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000. Four years later, with the prospect of several Supreme Court nominations an issue in the campaign, Mr. Bush increased his vote total by nearly 25 percent, winning re-election by more than 3 million votes.

Or John McCain in the New York Times talking about the necessity of confirming John Bolton (in case anyone ever doubted McCain's wingnut credentials):

Among Mr. Bolton’s supporters, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, was among those who urged the Senate to cast aside the Democratic objections and vote on Thursday in favor of the nomination. “Elections have consequences,” Mr. McCain said.

Or Fox News, in support of the Roberts nomination (and getting in a sharp, mocking dig at the Nader voters):

To the Victor Goes the Court
Elections have consequences. George W. Bush has won two elections as president of the United States and now he gets to name Supreme Court justices. And as long as those nominees are qualified and not extreme, they deserve confirmation. His first nominee, John Roberts, should be confirmed unless something unforeseen surfaces during Senate hearings...
Some liberals opposed Al Gore and voted for Ralph Nader as a protest. Nader pulled in enough votes in key states like Florida to hand the election to George W. Bush. Once again, elections have consequences, and President Bush will have the opportunity to name Supreme Court justices who oppose all that many of those Naderites hold dear....
Above all, as I mentioned at the outset to this article, elections have consequences. George Bush won and he now gets to make these appointments. As long as he chooses highly qualified nominees like Judge Roberts, he will make his mark on the Supreme Court.
Next time we vote for president, keep the Supreme Court nominations in mind. For some of us, few things a president does in his term are more important for the future of our country.

You've heard it all before from the GOP crowd. Now, far be it from me to issue the same sort of anti-democratic and triumphalist drivel, but I have to ask whether these people whether they even realize that we had an election this past November?

The Republican Party was not just beaten--it was humiliated. They failed to snatch away ONE SINGLE SEAT from the Democrats. No representatives, no senators, no governors. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Such a thing has never happened before. We cleaned their clock at every level despite enormous gerrymandering hurdles, money imbalances, the presidential bully pulpit, the complacency and compliace of the traditional media, the distracting fuckup that is Joe Lieberman, a favorable slate of senatorial contests, infighting between our election masterminds, intentional collusion by the oil companies to drive down gas prices, and downright cheating and electoral fraud in some districts (and we may never know how many they tried to steal and failed...).

And they still got their butts waxed by incredible margins--and it could have been a lot worse. It was historic.

And yet, they act like the election simply never happened.

Their answer to Iraq remains the same: stay the course, add a few more bodies into the mix, and repackage the strategy with a new name. Again.

Their answer to Afghanistan remains the same: ignore it and hope it goes away without anybody noticing.

Their answer to the minimum wage remains the same: okay, but only if we get tax cuts for the rich as part of the package deal.

Their answer to homeland security remains the same: Over my dead body if it slows business down, or if the TSA employees get to unionize.

Their answer to Medicare and Social Security remains the same: privatize--and failing that, kick the can down the road with huge giveaways to the pharma and financial sectors.

How, indeed, would the Republican strategy and face look different is the Democrats had NOT spanked the Republicans like a red-headed stepchild? Crazy von Moustache would still be at the U.N. Rumsfeld might still be Secretary of Defense--though I think they would have replaced him anyway. But that's just about it. Outside of that, I can't see anything that the GOP is doing that reflects the slightest realization of the historic drubbing they were given.

Instead, the Party of Bush is pushing an Iraq "strategy" that has the backing of approximately 12% of the electorate, and they're going to put THAT forward as their first major policy speech of the new year.

I know it's hard to do, but clear from your mind for a moment the outrageous moral evil that is the surge escalation of the conflict in Occupied Iraq. Clear from your mind the mind-numbing stupidity of the decision, even if its architects weren't moral cretins. Clear from your mind the futility of the entire enterprise.

Instead, ask yourself what kind of blind political insanity it takes to push such a policy in the face of a devastating electoral drubbing and popular support rivaling that of NAMBLA. Because that's really what we're dealing with.

And so, it is less out of triumphalism than out of sheer exasperation that I attempt to remind the Republican Party of a maxim it has so often promulgated as a universal political truth: ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. Especially an election whose results are as unambiguous and vivid as this one.

Because at this point we know that can count on the Republican Party to be immoral, arrogant, corrupt, venal, wilfully stupid, ineffective, and incompetent. But the least they could do, as a Political Party, is to show even a Machiavellian understanding of basic Political Reality in the interests of pretending to try to win the next election.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wherein I am reluctantly dragged against my will into the Pro-Impeachment Camp

Until today, I have not supported, given present circumstances, the impeachment of George W. Bush.

This must be clearly understood. I have always been in the pragmatist camp when talk of impeachment rolls around, and I remain unabashedly in that camp. To me, Markos was and remains 100% correct in his arguments against the impeachment of the President:
1) the future is much more important than the past;
2) the American people elected us to fix this country, not to involve ourselves in mind-numbing partisan imbroglios;
3) The Democrats have for the next two years an opportunity to show the American Public what we stand for and what we are made of, and to frame ourselves for a change;
4) impeaching the President would only leave Cheney in his place--and impeaching both of them to install Pelosi would be a grave miscarriage of American Democracy.

On all these things, I have changed my mind not a whit. I remain a proud and unashamed pragmatist. Allow me to explain, therefore, my change of heart and newfound support of impeachment below the fold.

Arguments that justice must be done upon George Bush for his crimes against the constitution and against America hold little sway for me. "Justice" was quite publicly carried out against Saddam Hussein for his crimes against Iraq--but that hasn't made Iraq any safer, or relieved the pain of his crimes. Indeed, "Justice" is best done by carrying the country forward on a new path, with as much bipartisanship as progressive decency will allow, and with a minimum of partisan recrimination. On this, I have changed my mind not a whit.

Arguments that Bush must be removed from power as soon as possible in order to prevent further bloodshed and depradations also have little sway for me. Put Democrats in the presidency tomorrow, and the sands of Iraq will still swallow the blood of American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians. Put Democrats in total control tomorrow, and the lobbyists and corporations will still own the reins of power for years as we fight to loosen their grip on members of our own party. Removing Bush from power tomorrow won't immediately fix any of the great problems our country faces; indeed, the congress was more important in many ways than the Presidency itself. On this, I have changed my mind not a whit.

Arguments that future Presidents must be warned that such behavior is unacceptable hold little sway; a future Democratic president will not usurp the powers that Bush has attempted--and a failed impeachment drive will do little to stop the next Republican president from trying the same.

Arguments that world opinion demands Bush's impeachment also carry little weight for me; with Bush's clear re-election in 2004, his impeachment in 2007/2008 with little time left to serve in his administration will serve only to show that Americans are feckless, short-sighted and recriminatory.

On the inadequacy of none of these arguments have I changed my mind a whit. The potential for Democrats to act positively to take this country in a different direction with policy initiatives and responsible government outweighs any of these possible benefits of impeachment in my mind.

It is with a heavy heart and extraordinary reluctance, therefore, that I too now take up the banner of impeachment. Even now, I hold that impeachment proceedings should not begin tomorrow. Or three months from now. Or six months from now. Not even necessarily a year from now.

There is no emergency demanding impeachment with deliberate haste. And Democrats MUST show their mettle by demonstrating their ability to pass bold and progressive policy initiatives that benefit the American people.

But impeachmeent it must be. The President leaves us no other choice.

The reason I have changed my mind on this issue stems, ironically, from the same source that gave rise to my late opposition of impeachment: pragmatism.

The fact is that George Bush's continued insistence on using contra-legal signing statements to justify increasingly outrageous activities has left Americans with any shred of respect for the law with their backs against the wall. As Kagro X so brilliantly states:

But as we've sailed past the 800 mark in terms of how many of these signing statements Bush has issued, and may well be on our way to 1,000 and beyond, they're beginning to take on an additional meaning, beyond the legal and practical. They're taking on a symbolic meaning, although it might actually be true that they were meant to have this meaning all along. And that symbolic meaning is that they demonstrate that Bush is reserving for himself the right to do anything. He just keeps planting stakes further and further out, noting well that nobody's really willing to set boundaries. Don't challenge me, he says, because I'll make you prove you can make it stick. That's how I measure power. If you can't physically restrain me from doing these things, you can't stop me.

Bush, you see, is playing a momentous and deeply consequential game of Constitutional poker with the Democrats. With every round and on every issue he continues to bluff the Democrats and up the ante--and he figures that the Dems care too much about keeping their newly won chips to ever dare call his bluff. He knows that when all is said and done, there's not a soul who can or will truly call his bluff without taking the issue all the way to an impeachment proceeding--and he believes wholeheartedly that Democrats would never truly carry it that far.

As I stated in my diary of two days ago, the Republicans in general and Bush in particular are like children playing a giant game of chicken with their parents--a game where they feel that they get to be as irresponsible as they want to be, and that the Democrats will be the adults, clean up the mess, and not carry matters to such an end that the American people suffer calamitously as a result.

Further, there's no reason to believe this pattern of behavior will not continue into the forseeable future. There is no reason to believe that he won't continue to up the ante. Laws against torture? Executive privilege. Anti-corruption reforms? I'll see fit to nominate whom I choose. Subpoenas? They don't apply to me.

Well, when a destructive person hell-bent on saving his own ass or taking everything and everyone down with him continues to bluff, threaten and up the ante, the only pragmatic thing to do is to call that bluff before the ante gets too expensive for well-meaning people to contemplate.

And Impeachment really is the only option left. This was really crystalized for me in a thread on Free Republic of all places, where a commenter ironically named "Founding Father" really laid out the bare bones of the matter in a thread on Bush's laughable plan to balance the budget by 2012:

Constitutionally speaking, the President doesn't have to spend money congress appropriates; the President, through his justice department doesn't have to enforce laws congress passes; the President, again through his justice department and other executive departments doesn't have to enforce any federal court ruling (remember Andrew Jackson), I could go on but you catch my drift...

[skip to later comment by same author]

reply to: However, the President refusing to enforce Constitutional laws isn't among those checks within the Constitution.

Sorry, I didn't realize I needed to point out the obvious, which is the President refuses to do so because he doesn't believe the law is constitutional and since he has equal standing with the other branches the judicial branch can do nothing and the legislative branch has only the impeachment/conviction option.

As batshit crazy and on the wrong side of the issue as he is, the guy is right: Impeachment is the final pragmatic check and balance on a President who behaves like an Emperor. To many of these people, it is the ONLY check or balance on such a president. Indeed, in the minds of Bush and his legal team, a President can literally get away with almost ANYTHING and it's not a problem (as Nixon said, "If the President does it, that means it's legal")--after all, if the Congress finds him to be out of control, they can always impeach him! That's the check and balance!

So what we have now is a President who figures it's okay to open your mail without a warrant--after all, who's to stop him? If Congress thinks it's such a bad idea, we'll just move to impeach, right? Because if we don't move to impeach, it shows we just really didn't care bad enough--or that we figure we've got more to lose than he does.

And like the childish, addictive, irresponsible criminal he is, he'll use the same logic to continue upping the ante, calling our bluff, and DARING us to do something about it.

And he gets away with it because he also knows that we are the adults. That we actually care about the country. That we don't WANT to waste the next six months in a bitter, partisan impeachment battle. That we care about doing more than just using the reins of power to shovel pork to our biggest contributors. That we care too much about our new majority to put it in jeopardy by possibly pissing off the voters. That we are pragmatic have too much to lose, in other words.

Well, THIS pragmatist has finally had enough.

I refuse to sit back and allow myself, my party and my country to be taunted, bluffed, and intimidated by a two-bit teenage criminal who figures that my political allies and I have too much forbearance, optimism, pragmatism and common decency to hold him to account.

If it were my adult kid, I'd cut him off and change the locks. If it were my dog, I'd give him away. If it were my employee, I'd fire him on the spot.


So though it pains me greatly to say it, Impeach the sumbitch. I don't care when. I don't care how. Figure out what it will take. Figure out what the public will support. Figure out when they will support it. Above all, figure out the fastest and least controversial way to get it done, while maximizing our opportunity to pass progressive legislation.

But call his bluff. He refuses to have it any other way. And he refuses to leave us--even the avowed pragmatists among us--any other choice.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mullah Omar resurfaces--where is OUR justice?

Much has been made of the fact that there is a conflict betweeen most of the Pentagon top brass, which wants to train Iraqi forces and draw down U.S. troops, and the civilian "leadership" headed by Bush that wants "double down" and send more troops. The fact that we don't have the troops to double-down with; the fact that intensifying the American presence in Iraq will only increase resistance to that presence; the fact that training Iraqi "security forces" is essentially arming and training tribal and militia groups that will not remain a consistent or national security force--all of these facts have been well-covered before, and don't need repeating.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this conflict, however, is being largely overlooked: Finally--perhaps for the first time--the Pentagon and the Administration will have to decide whether they are fighting a war or conducting an occupation.

In fact, he just gave a long interview to a Pakistani newspaper, now being headlined at Raw Story. He appears to be alive and well in Afghanistan, directing the actions of the Taliban who are well on their way to taking that country back into their brutal hands and re-establishing Shari'a law there.

Just to put this perspective, let me ask everyone a question in wake of our being treated to multiple videos and triumphalist propaganda in the wake the botched, sectarian hanging lynching of Saddam Hussein: Can you imagine, five years after the initial invasion of Iraq, Saddam Freaking Hussein still living in Iraq, and giving lengthy interviews to Arab newspapers?

I didn't think so. But here is Mullah Omar--wanted enemy of the United States #2 directly after Bin Laden and Chief of the Taliban, free to give interviews from Afghanistan without United States interference. Free to spout REAL terrorist propaganda bullshit like:

"Our stand to grant refuge to Osama bin Laden was based on principles. If there were people who were opposed to us giving refuge to him, they should have used logic and reason. They should not have used threats."


"I had never agreed to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. If someone says that I did, then they must have been dreaming. If we had wanted to hand over Osama, we would not have given such a big sacrifice."


"Shariah is sharia. A number of Muslims have been influenced by other civilisations and that's why they seem to find Islamic injunctions too difficult [to follow]. Girls schools were either too few or were non-existent before we took over. We were preparing a strategy for girls education in accordance with shariah.

As for the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, for the rest of the world it was a matter of [preserving] archeology. It had nothing to do with political or diplomatic matters."


We have never felt the need for a permanent relationship in the present circumstances. But they [the Al-Qaeda] have set jihad as their goal while we have set the expulsion of American troops from Afghanistan as our target. This is the common goal of all the Muslims... I have neither seen [Osama Bin Laden since the American invasion] nor have made any effort to do so, but I do pray for his health and safety.

Why is this man still alive to make these sorts of statements? Why has not been made to feel the same end-of-the-rope justice to which we treated Saddam Hussein? I seem to recall quite clearly that Bush stated multiple times that any nation that harbors terrorists would be held accountable as terrorists--and that their leaders would be held to account as well. Well, Mr. Bush, Where is Mullah Omar? Where is justice? If the Pakistani news services can find him, why can't the CIA or Musharraf's government or Karzai's agents? Maybe because you don't care? Perhaps because stability, human rights and democracy in the Middle East, as well as justice for the American people, are not actually priorities for you or your buddies? Inquiring minds want to know, but we're not holding our breath for answers.


The reason I feel so passionately about this has a great deal to do with my long-standing insistence that the "Iraq War" is not a war, but an Occupation. As I have stated repeatedly, the object of a war is to to "seize (or defend) territory, kill or capture the enemy, and (hopefully) depose the enemy government and make an example of its leaders."

In this sense, the war in Afghanistan was truly a "war." Unlike the Occupation of Iraq was was never "winnable" and never will be "winnable", the war in Afghanistan was in that sense--and quite possibly remains--distinctly winnable. It was our obligation to aid the Northern Alliance in taking terrority from the Taliban and to find Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the two men with the most power in the country, and hold them accountable for crimes against America, Afghanistan and the world. That was--and still remains--a totally doable objective. And we've failed miserably to accomplish it--though it should have been a fairly simple task, for which the world community would have been thankful, by and large.

Now that failure is threatening to plunge to once again plunge the Afghan people into despair and darkness you and I can barely imagine. That failure is threatening again to put us back where we were over five years ago, with a failed Sunni state in Afghanistan, harboring terrorists and giving them free reign. That failure is once again threatening to help destabilize a now nuclear-armed Pakistan.

And all for what? Apparently, so Bush and pals could have the opportunity to see Saddam's head hang limply from a rope instead, and so that we could create another failed Islamist state--Shi'ite this time--in Iraq. What a fantastic trade!

In the meantime, every Democrat should remember this: anytime Bush laughably challenges Democrats to make good on their electoral promises as he has done recently, challenge him back to make good on HIS own promises. Anytime Bush talks about the execution of Saddam Hussein in the context of "justice", remind him that we the American People are still waiting for him to bring justice to those responsible for destroying the World Trade Center and the lives of those within it.

Where is Osama Bin Laden, Mr. Bush? And where for the love of your precious "War on Terror" is Mullah Omar? Why don't you keep your promises, Mr. Bush? And where is OUR justice, for a change?