Saturday, July 28, 2007

Now Faux News is attacking...The Huffington Post?

If you're not watching Fox & Friends right now, you're not going to be believe this: Sean Hannity is doing his best to channel the recent insane ramblings of Bill O'Reilly--but this time about the Huffington Post. Not content to beat its stick on the hornet's nest that is DailyKos, Fox apparently believes it's an intelligent move to rouse the entire progressive netroots into a virtual storm of frenzy by attempting to discredit every last one of our popular hangouts. Apparently, the recent loss of Lowe's as an advertiser hasn't scared them off: it seems they want to start up broader war on the blogs in order, I suppose, to drive away more of their advertisers. You would think that the same people who started an attack on Iraq after failing to finish the job in Afghanistan would know better by now--but then, intelligence and learning from one's mistakes was never a wingnut forte.

And the tactics they're using on HuffPo? The same patently laughable ones they're using on DailyKos.

After a red herring attack on Arianna for her use of private jets (and before another "expose" on Hillary Clinton and Vince Foster), Hannity put Arianna Huffington on his "Hot Seat". He took, like O'Reilly, one dumb comment made on the site by one commenter wishing for Darth Cheney's mechanical heart to stop, in order to attempt to impugn the entire HuffPo site. He then went on to attack Arianna for not stepping in to remove the offending the post. Arianna responded by saying, quite intelligently, that Cheney has made a lot of enemies in this country and shouldn't be suprised--and that if she had seen the offending post, she would have asked that it be removed.

Of course, the same hypocrisy that plagues Bill O'Reilly unsurprisingly afflicts Hannity as well: just a quick look over at Sean Hannity's own forums brings up the following gems, which remain blissfully undeleted by our valiant paragon of moderated political discourse:

A poster with a secret-service emulating avatar asking whether Obama isn't a terrorist plant:

Did The Terrorist Plant Obama?

Do you believe that Barak Obama is a sleeper working for al Qaeda?

If not, why not?

Another post calling Democrats the "Party of Genocide":

About time to expose Liberalism for what it is. The willful acceptance of mass murder and the complete lack of willingness to take action. Even now, Democrats in Congress are working furiously to engineer another mass murder by pulling out of Iraq and letting the region spiral into chaos.

Almost all the large-scale genocides of the past century have occurred during Democratic administrations...

Or a post that says that those who wish to take action on the Climate Crisis are members of a death cult, talking about deaths from hot European summers:

People dying of heat aids the AGW religious cause. I'm sure liberals everywhere look on the dead with pride in their courage to die for the cause.

The list goes on and on--just go to Hannity's site to see the copious amounts of hate that goes unmoderated and undeleted. The morans at Fox News are so hubristic that they don't even think to scrub their own websites in advance of making such idiotic attacks on progressive sites with far higher traffic.

More important, however, is the implications of this move: Fox News, having gotten a taste of war with DailyKos, apparently wants to broaden that war to include the entire progressive blogosphere. So far, they're bringing knives to a gunfight.

If the prospect of war between the entire progressive blogosphere and Fox News makes you as giddy and excited as it makes me, head over to join the army of volunteers at Fox Attacks to pressure Fox News' local advertisers and show these one-note morans what we're capable of.

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Get Off The Internet!

At the risk of sounding melodramatic and of telling some in the Netroots what they may already know, I think it's necessary to highlight something that may not be adequately clear to many here in Left Blogistan: We have a nearly unprecedented opportunity to SWAMP the Republicans--but only if people will commit to getting off the blogs, and on the ground for significant portions of the next 15 months.

Now, don't get me wrong: most people who have read my posts over the last couple of years know that I tend to be a blog triumphalist: I know that simply electing Democrats doesn't solve everything, that the media must be held accountable for progressive electoral messaging to gain traction, and that, as Al Gore says in his must-read Assasult on Reason, blogs on the left and right create a much-needed two-way conversation between the government and the people--a conversation that has been sorely lacking for almost a century.

That said, however, there have been three recent events that have changed my perspective and priorities in a large way. These events are the reason why I haven't been around the blogs as much over the last few weeks, and why I haven't slept more than 6 hours in I can't remember how long. These events have crystallized a cold, hard fact to me that makes me giddy with excitement and drunk with the passion to evangelize everyone I can to understand the following fact: This election, in 2008, we have the opportunity to crush the Republican Party in a way that may not be repeated in our lifetimes--but we need your time and volunteerism to do it.

The first of these occasions was attending training sessions put on by Democracy for America here in Orange County. A two-day crash course in the nuts-and-bolts of running a successful electoral campaign, this training is the best money and time that I can remember spending anywhere. DFA is also conducting training at YearlyKos--something people may want to consider doing as part of their stay in Chicago.

Among the many key points impressed upon me at the training was the cold, hard mathematical realities involved in running a campaign: everything--and I do mean everything--comes down to a simple calculation of
  • Votes needed
  • The time to persuade and GOTV
  • The money to persuade/GOTV them with
  • The people to do the persuading/GOTV

Once you figure out how many votes you're going to need to reach 52% based on previous comparable election and where those votes are, it's really just a simple math problem of volunteer hours, number of volunteers, and amount of money to spend on reaching voters. It's really that simple. Sure, a candidate like Paul Hackett who runs a true grassroots populist campaign can gain traction and do better than the numbers would indicate, and a corrupt Republican can do worse, and one major gaffe can throw everything off. But in most cases, it's just a matter of of time, people, and especially money.

The second key occasion was mentioned by Markos on the dKos frontpage just yesterday: The GOP money advantage has all but disappeared in 2008. I cannot begin to express how important this is. Throughout the past several decades, the Republicans have had weaker positions and an uphill road in convincing the American people of electing politicians actually contrary to their own self-interest. Pulling that off requires an extraordinary amount of time, money, volunteers and discipline--and in that respect, Dems actually have it easy: all we have to do is go out there and tell the truth, and we automatically tip the playing field in our favor. Even so, the Republicans have largely been able to overcome this disadvantage by doing two things:
  • Organizing an army of volunteers through churches and other conservative organizations, while weakening our own organizations such as unions
  • Taking the time to build their party infrastructure all across America even when it wasn't campaign season
  • And most importantly, outspending Democrats by factors of 2-1, 3-1, 4-1 and more during every election cycle

Now, everything has changed. As of today, the DCCC has over 10 times as much cash as the NRCC. In 2006, the NRCC had a $40 million fundraising advantage over us. As of today, the DSCC has almost 4 times as much money as the NRSC. In 2006, the DSCC did better, but not by a factor of four. And this year, the RNC's advantage over the DNC is shrinking--and will be almost entirely spent on the Presidential election. As Markos says,

Making matters worse for congressional Republicans, the RNC, which was able to focus on House and Senate races in 2006, will be refocused on its usual mission in 2008 -- the White House. So while the RNC was able to make up some of the 2006 shortfall experienced by their Senate committee, and the smaller than usual advantage by their House committee ("only" a $40 million advantage), they can't be expected to make up this year's dramatic shortfalls while still focusing on winning the presidency.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates are showing that their own fundraising negates the necessity for leaning on the DNC.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean's 50-state strategy is building the local parties, as well as concentrating on doing some important behind-the-scenes work, such as getting our voter files up to speed with those of the Republicans.

The third event to change my perspective has been working on the Ron Shepston campaign against Dirty Gary Miller in CA-42. The amount of complacency and corruption that has taken hold of the Republican party in many of their "safe" districts like Miller's is absolutely unbelievable. Most people in these areas (unless they're dominated by SBC evangelical Christians) hold centrist or even progressive values--they just haven't been given the opportunity to consider voting for a real Democrat who shares their values. Ron Shepston--and many other candidates like him--can definitely win if we pull together and provide the support they need, because the traditional advantages that the Republicans have used to crush great candidates like him are disappearing fast.

The conclusion is inescapable: as Democrats, we are drowning the Republicans with our fundraising. All the issues are lining up in our favor. The American people are with us. Every time the GOP opens its mouth, it is on the defensive. We are poised to make substantial gains in the Senate. Our presidential candidates are far more inspiring than theirs.

All we need is the time and volunteers to get out there and canvass, phonebank, drop literature, etc., to make the final push to convince wavering voters--those undecideds and leaners we call the 2s, 3s, and 4s--to get out there and vote for Dems in '08.

And it's NEVER too early to volunteer. If you have a candidate in your area facing an uphill battle against a GOP incumbent, or a candidate in your area facing a tough re-election battle in a conservative district, get off the internet for a minute and figure out how much time you can schedule to volunteers for that candidate over the next 15 months today. Some candidates may even have tough primary fights and may need all the support they can get right now. But in any case, contact your local candidates today to ask them what you can do to help provide them that crucial time and volunteer help they need.

And then when you're done, get back online and keep holding the media and the government accountable to the people. Because this election is an opportunity like we may never see again in our lifetimes.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Why We Can't All Just Get Along

When, in the course of human events (no, not that Human Events), the members of an activist community decide to lose their minds and throw feces at one another with indiscriminate abandon, a reasonable respect for human dignity and sanity impels us to more thoroughly examine the causes of said monkey-like behavior. It is going to be practically impossible to make peace between the increasingly divided pro-impeachment crowd and the focus-on-other-priorities crowd without a basic understanding of what is even at issue, and what it is we're trying to fix. Markos' recent "Can't We All Just Get Along, or Else?" post is a noble sentiment, but it won't fix much until we dig to the structural root of what the community is trying to accomplish.

The problem with the impeachment debate is that both sides are talking past one another, and usually trying to accomplish either different goals without knowing it, or--worse yet--the wrong goal for the tool in question (be it impeachment or elections).

For the last many years leading up to the 2006 elections, progressives across the blogosphere have been fighting on many fronts: from human rights to civil liberties to defense of the Constitution to privacy rights to anti-war issues and everything in between. Some of us set out to most specifically focus on getting Democrats elected, as is the purpose here at DailyKos. Some of us set out to raise awareness of issues not on the Democrats' radar, even if it came at the temporary expense of Democratic electoral fortunes. Still others of us, like Chris Bowers & Matt Stoller at MyDD and now at Open Left, have set our sights on broader movement-building among progressives.

Almost all of us, however, had a fairly single-minded objective no matter the specific focus: to prove Karl Rove wrong about his math. Most of us remember Karl Rove's famous asserations that while the rest of us were looking at our silly polls showing Americans supporting Democratic positions and distrusting Republican "leadership," he had THE math. Karl Rove's delusional math told him that America is a fundamentally "conservative" country--a beliefshared by many top Democratic consultants in the DLC mold who continue to believe that 2006 was an exception, rather than a proper reflection of American sentiment--where progressive opinions are eschewed and the ultra-conservative base free to dictate policy with impunity. No matter whether we were getting specific Democrats elected, building a broader movement, or pushing the Overton Window even farther left, our fundamental goal was the same: kill Rove's math dead and prove that this is really a majority Progressive country after all, if people will only vote their beliefs rather than their fears.

Fortunately for us, there was a definitive accountability moment for Rove's Math: it was called Election Day. And while not everyone, of course, was completely convinced by the results, we have the opportunity to prove Rove's math wrong again and again every two years: 2008, 2010 and beyond. With each victory for Democrats (whether at the Presidential, Congressional, State or Local levels) and for progressive values (usually but not always one and the same), we can convince more and more of the country that Rove's Math is, will be, and was always wrong--so long as a cadre of progressives with a spine is willing to stand up to the corporatists, NeoCons and other Republican allies. Someday soon, perhaps even the recalcitrant David Broders of the world will be forced to acknowledge that the "reality-based community" is and was always respectable, correct, and on the right side of history and American opinion--disrespecable idiots like Bill Kristol notwithstanding.

But Rove's Math is not, now, the only force we must combat: now that we have our first major electoral victory in years under our belts, we also have to deal with something I like to call ROVE'S LAW (it's really more Cheney's law, but Rove also has a heavy hand in it, as with everything). Rove's Law is just as delusional and destructive to this country, if not more so, as belief and trust in Rove's Math. Rove's Law is not all that different from Nixon's Law: When the President Does It, That Means It's Not Illegal. We can see a clear-cut example of the thinking behind Rove's Law in former White House counsel John Yoo's editorial today in the WSJ asserting that Bush's only role from here on as President is to "protect" the "Constitutional rights of Executive Privilege for future presidents." Rove's Law states that the President is a Monarch elected on four-year cycles, able to do whatever he pleases without oversight or consequence beyond the next election.

Historians understand that demagogues who are allowed to take republican or democratic (note the small r's and d's) governmental systems and subvert them under the sorts of dogmatic executive rules being pushed by proponents of Rove's Law inevitably detach governments from the accountability of their people and lead to de facto dictatorships. Rove's Law must therefore be rejected just as explicitly as his math has been.

Unfortunately, however, unlike Rove's Math, there are no number of elections that will provide a rejection of Rove's Law. We can prove by means of elections that the American people are fundamentally progressive in their beliefs; we cannot prove by means of elections that Rovian theories of presidential power are illegitimate. And this is where the fundamental crux of the misunderstanding between impeachment advocates and impeachment opponents within the Progressive community comes.

All too often, those who promote impeachment do so as a means of getting rid of George Bush and/or Dick Cheney. That is, frankly speaking, deeply misguided and ill-considered. If you want to get rid of George Bush and people like them, there's an answer for that: it's called an ELECTION. Work to win the elections you can influence, or pipe down about it. On Jan. 20, 2009, either a Democrat or another Republican will take office--and no, the world isn't going to end in the meantime because Bush stayed in office.

Yet all too often again, those who oppose impeachment believe that we can reject Rove's Law by putting Democrats in power. That is also, frankly speaking, deeply fallacious and utterly naive. Without an explicit condemnation of and especially accountability moment for Rove's Law, this problem will never be truly resolved. As much as George Bush makes Richard Nixon look like Thomas Jefferson, so will the next Executive to use this authority make Bush look like Nixon--unless something drastic is done to thoroughly reject the premises of Rove's Law.

Perhaps impeachment is not that rejection. Perhaps, as Digby said in the radio conversation with myself and clammyc, a failed impeachment drive would be worse for that accountability than doing nothing at all. But if impeachment is not answer, I have yet to hear anything coherent that would be a more significant or long-lasting approach to solving the problem.

We must be aware, of course, that there is a possible conflict between rejecting Rove's Law and rejecting Rove's Math--but we must also acknowledge that both are critically important and fundamentally separate.

When we take our positions on impeachment, we must be aware of which piece of delusional Rovism we are attempting to reject with what priority, and using what tools. We should acknowledge the progressive legitimacy of those who believe that Rove's Math is still a bigger problem than Rove's Law, and vice versa. We should acknowledge that impeachment is a bad way to get rid of Rove's Math (and Bush and Cheney), and that elections are no way to rid of Rove's Law (and the Unitary Executive theory).

Only then can we all begin to truly get along again.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tom Tomorrow Pwns the New York Times

Tom Tomorrow is your god. Bow down now.

Because this latest cartoon is among the best I've seen in years.

Just. Simply. Brilliant.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why Not Privatize the Police and Firefighters?

It is the year 70 BCE. You have worked your entire life as a hotelier with a small establishment near the Circus Maximus, offering room and board to those who come from far and wide to see the chariot races. It's not a great living, but it keeps you in bread and circuses without the need for government handouts. One night, to your horror, a fire breaks out in your hotel--who started it or how you don't know, but that doesn't matter now: you do your best to extinguish the blaze with pails of water and dirt. Unfortunately, the blaze is too much: your feeble efforts are in vain.

Suddenly, out of nowhere comes your salvation: the Fire Brigade arrives. Except that this is no ordinary fire brigade financed by the Senate and People of Rome--for no such entity exists. The very concept is a novel one to you and your fellow citizens. No, this particular Fire Brigade is run by one Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of Rome's richest and most powerful men and eventual member of the Triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Pompey. Crassus' firefighters are his personal slaves; they're not only the best at what they do--they're the only ones who do it.

Crassus steps down from his chariot, looking his usual glorious self, and asks you if you wouldn't mind filling out a bit of papyrus-work while his men prepare to fight the fire. No problem, you say--except that then you see the terms: "I hereby sell my hotel to Marcus Licinius Crassus for 5,000 sesterces (less than 1/5th its market value)." At first you scoff--"these terms are outrageous!" you say. "It's extortion!" Crassus sighs and says, "ok, have it your way" and calls his slaves off to go back home. Suddenly turning back as yet another room bursts into flames, your spirit breaks--and you call for Crassus to return with his men. And in one fateful moment, you sign away your life's work to a man with no scruples.

This is not legend: the history is all there in Plutarch's Lives and elsewhere in the record of Roman historians. This scene played itself out time and time again in the waning years of the Roman Republic, as Crassus made of himself Rome's principal landlord through the use of this private fire department. It is even alleged that Crassus also had his own arson brigade, which he utilized judiciously when nature itself was too slow in starting the desired conflagrations.

It is a scene that played on a continuing feedback loop in my mind as I watched Michael Moore's brilliant film Sicko the other night. Throughout the film, the barbaric extortion practiced by the United States healthcare system on those in desperate straits seemed as foreign and as repulsive to the citizens of Canada, France and Great Britain as Crassus' "fire brigade" seems to us. Why, they feel, must one hand over one's life savings for a service that is properly in the public domain? Why should one be forced to pay when one is least able or prepared to do so? If we have public police and firefighters, why not a public healthcare system?

I am not the first to raise this point, of course. Moore himself raises it in the context of the boogeyman that is "socialized medicine": in the film, he points out that we already have a number of "socialized" services, ranging from the police to the firefighters to the armed forces to the post office. The poignancy of this issue as it relates to the military is even the subject of a panel for YearlyKos '07. And certainly, the applicability of the model of such needed social services to the common good that is public health has been stressed by many a Democratic politician.

It is too easy, however, for conservatives to dismiss such a comparison. They point out, in proper conservative fashion, that police and fire have always been taxpayer-funded services in America, and medicine always private. They say that, unlike police or fire, healthcare is a purchaseable commodity--and as such, best handled with the famed efficiency of the "free market." They claim especially that the costs of making public such a system would be significantly greater to the average citizen than those of keeping the system private. Of course, these latter two claims are utterly spurious: the "free market" in healthcare is anything but free, while guaranteed health coverage costs less in the long run. Nevertheless, conservatives are able to kick just enough sand in the face of the public and muddy the waters just enough with these and other arguments to keep Americans in the Crassus-era of extortionary health coverage. The fact that conservatives are always on the wrong side of history--they're still calling the New Deal Unamerican to this day--troubles them not a whit: back in Ancient Rome, they'd be defending Crassus' fire department if there was money in it for them.

There is a clever reverse argument, however, that can be extremely effective and is grossly underused by proponents of guaranteed health coverage: If the free market is so effective and cost-efficient in providing critical social services, why not privatize the police force and the fire department?

This line of argument is particularly effective because it forces conservatives to explain when and why privatization is a bad thing, rather than arguing the drawbacks of making such systems public. I have used this argument many times against conservatives, and the results have never failed to be absolutely devastating. Responses to this argument tend to run along the following five lines:

1) "Because it's always been that way!" This is not a terribly clever argument, of course, nor would any major political figure use it. Nevertheless, Crassus' fire brigade is an effective couter-attack.

2) "Because health care is so much more expensive than police and fire departments!" Also a not-too-intelligent argument, the easy counter is that public healthcare saves more long run, just as public police and fire departments do.

3) "Because doctors don't make enough money under public healthcare!" This argument is simply a bold-faced lie. What actually happens is that disparities between the incomes of various types of doctors decrease--those earning the most do end up earning less.

4) "Because I don't want to pay more taxes!" To which one simply asks if they would be willing to accept a tax cut that got rid of the fire department. If no, why not? Rinse and repeat...

5) "Because I want to be able to choose private insurance!" Of course, this choice is never removed from them under a guaranteed system, just as one can always supplement the police with a private security force.


The truth of the matter, of course, is that none of the above arguments are the real reason a conservative doesn't support the privatization of the police or firefighters. The real reason is that if such large systems so essential to the public good were privatized, the private companies would find that it was only worth their while to secure the lives and property of the very rich--or to extort everyone else. Just as the salaries of private contractors in Iraq dwarf those of publicly funded soldiers at great cost to the American Public, the only people who benefit from such privatization are the privateers themselves and those bought off by them. In other words, in the absence of a State Fire Department, the only private fire departments tend to act like Crassus' noble enterprise.

Every American understands this principle on a fundamental level, whether they can articulate it or not--but rarely are Americans allowed to tap into this commonsense understanding when it comes to healthcare.

In my experience, the best way to get even conservative Americans to understand the necessity of a public healthcare system is to make them confront their own distaste for a private fire and police system--and to force them to attempt to articulate their reasons for that distaste. It's a simple process from there to applying the same reasoning to public health.

Because in the end, only the most hardened sociopath can defend the Crassus way of running a healthcare system.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why Are Good Progressives At Each Others' Throats?

There comes a time when two parties, after arguing in earnest and with the best of intentions, find that all their superficial disagreements and conflicts of point of view are boiled down to irresolvable and fundamental philosophical differences about the nature of human events. Indeed, when two otherwise reasonable and strongly allied factions argue passionately at cross-purposes, it is essential to discover once and for all why they differ, and to resolve the philosophical differences that divide the parties.

There are few better examples of such an argument than today's conflict over impeachment, succinctly expressed in MissLaura's frontpage post today. After no fewer than six recommended diaries yesterday advocating impeachment (including my own) and a frontpage post by Meteor Blades, Digby laid out in her brilliant and incomparable fashion the best possible counterargument to those demanding this extroardinary political act.

Digby's argument is one that I made in poorer fashion many times prior to my conversion to the pro-impeachment camp. To quote Digby:

But even so, that's not necessarily a good enough reason not to do it. It could be useful, if only to tie the administration up in knots until they leave the scene. But the risks are high that if you don't have a specific (and somewhat simple) crime to point to and a good chance of at least getting a quick impeachment vote in the House, that it could blow back pretty hard on the Dems. This is not because people like Bush and don't want him out of office. It's because they see that the presidential campaign is in full swing and know that Bush will be out of office soon anyway. That means many of them will likely be susceptible to the inevitable GOP screeching that the petty Democrats are playing politics, going for payback, wasting time etc. And the media will be thrilled to help the Republicans make that case.

That's not the only case that can be made against impeachment. There are many other concerns as well, including that the future is more important than the past, that the public wants solutions rather than partisan recriminations, that we actually have an opportunity to frame ourselves for a change rather than let the public be told what we stand for by Republicans, and that Bush's/Cheney's replacement would likely be Republican--and that I wouldn't want Nancy Pelosi installed as president through impeachment. Finally, as MissLaura says:

When we remember that impeachment is a nuclear political act, also remember that nuclear explosions produce nuclear fallout. We need to know the winds before we launch. To me, it's too likely the fallout would blow right over our heads. Would that really be a defense of the Constitution?

So much, so good for the arguments against impeachment. The standard arguments for impeachment, meanwhile, are well-known to all. These include:
  • That Bush/Cheney must be removed as soon as possible
  • That history will judge poorly those who did not stand against criminal action
  • That the Constitution is worth defending at all costs
  • That justice itself demands prosecution for crimes
  • That Dems will look stronger, rather than weaker, for having stood up to Bush

My intent here is not to advocate for or argue against any of these positions for or against impeachment. Some of them are well-considered; others less so (on both sides.)

My intent, rather, is to highlight why there can be such fundamental disagreement among these parties, and what the fundamental philosophical difference may be.

The answer, as it so happens, is not a terribly complex one--but it is an answer that goes to the very heart of what the Progressive movement at large and the Netroots in specific is attempting to accomplish. At the heart of the divide between the pro-impeachment progressives and those who remain skeptical of it is a fundamental dichotomy of trust. In the end, every argument for and against boils down to whether one trusts more in the power of individuals and ideologies, or in the power of structures and the constraints they place upon power itself.

Those who oppose impeachment are desperately afraid--and I don't necessarily blame them--that using up the oxygen of time, media coverage and political power on impeachment proceedings will harm Democrats irreparably as we enter the 2008 election season. They argue somewhat convincingly that all the strong stands against Bush/Cheney in the world will not serve anyone of any political stripe when Rudy McRomneyson takes the oath of office in January 2009, and the Bush/Cheney approach to governance receives a popular mandate. They argue, quite rightly, that a successful impeachment is unlikely--and that even if successful, it would be lengthy process that would not effectively cut short the rule of Bush/Cheney for more than a few months.

It is not my purpose here to poke holes in these arguments--though they are by no means unassailable. Certainly, the Republicans did not face dire electoral consequences for impeaching a very popular Bill Clinton. But let us instead take these arguments at face value, and take it as a given that Democrats will suffer somewhat electorally as a byproduct of a failed impeachment drive, while doing little to actually defray the consequences of Republican control of the White House.

These arguments rest on one presumption and one alone: That the election of Democrats in 2008 is the paramount and highest political goal over the next 18 months. That we can do little to preserve our Democracy while Bush remains in power--but that once we get Democrats in power with the right governing priorities and ideological stances, we'll be back on track. It is the same idea as that presented on a DCCC fundraising request I received today in the mail from Nancy Pelosi:

Democrats are determined to end the war in Iraq, move forward on energy independence, address global warming, start tackling America's health care crisis, and take all the other long-overdue steps needed to lead our nation out of the Bush morass. But, the Bush Administration and its Rubber Stamp Republican allies in Congress are throwing everything they've got into holding onto power and putting the special interests ahead of the American people.

As Speaker of the House I am asking you to stay with us. Don't yield to cynicism or frustration, like the Republicans want you to do. Help us win the hard-fought struggles we need to win in the days and weeks ahead that can help us make lasting real change to take America in a New Direction.

We need your steadfast support as we confront an Administration that long ago lost touch with reality. And, even as we work side by side to force the Bush Administration to face the facts in 2007, we need you to help our Democratic candidates take their message to voters in 2008.

In other words, Democratic ideologues are being blocked by Republican ideologues; don't get angry with us because we aren't getting anything effective accomplished--just work with us to get rid of the Republican ideologues in '08 so we can move forward on Iraq, energy and healthcare. In sum, they say, put the right people in power with the right ideas, and everything will be fine.

Those of us who favor impeachment, on the other hand, find all such arguments utterly hollow and tragically misguided. We do so because we understand that this battle is not, fundamentally, a partisan one but rather a structural one. We believe that any individual--regardless of party affiliation or ideology--who usurps authority and obliterates balance of power as Bush/Cheney have done is just as dangerous to Democracy as Bush/Cheney themselves. As I said in To Impeach or Not to Impeach: That is Not the Question:

The question at hand is not "What Do We Do About Bush?" or "How Do We Move America Forward in a Progressive Direction?" or even "How Do We Put Bush Behind Us and Create A Lasting Democratic Majority?" The real question at hand is instead "How in the world did this happen in America--and more importantly, how do we stop it from ever happening again?"

As evil as the NeoConservative agenda has clearly been, as utterly deficient in competence and moral compass as the Religious Right has been, as predictably disastrous as placing a formerly cocaine-addicted sociopathic dry drunk with a silver spoon in his mouth and serious daddy issues has been, and as monumentally insane as having former Nixon protégés be in charge of Executive secrecy and power has been, it should still shock Americans with a sense of civics and history how easy it has been for a nutso Commander-in-Chief and his morally-challenged cronies to subvert the Consitution, the will of the American People, and the very foundations of Democracy in a few short years. Had you told me back in 1999 that this could have happened in America even with the worst of leaders, I would have laughed in your face. I had confidence in the power of our structural institutions back then that I utterly lack today. For me, the key question--indeed, the only question--is how to effectively stop even the worst of madmen from ever having the power to wreak such havoc again.

Now, while it is true that impeachment itself does not necessarily block Unitary Executive theories of governance in and of itself, it certainly is a step in the right direction. Specific legislation or even Constitutional Amendments clarifying once and for all the exact limits of executive power may be necessary. But any impeachment proceeding does far more to address these issues than simply standing by and hoping for the election of a Democratic President.

Many of us who support impeachment, indeed, would rather elect a Giuliani who does NOT use Unitary Executive powers than a Hillary/Obama who DOES use them. That is utter heresy to ears of many--especially at a site whose ostensible goal is getting Democrats elected. But history has seen far too many Republics fall into Empire for our taste: Augustus may have been a good Emperor, but it doesn't matter; Caligula's always right behind.

For structuralists like us, the election of the right individual or ideologue in the context of the erosion of limits on power themselves is but a salve on an open wound. For us, individuals will never salvage anything. Individuals are corrupt, weak and short-lived; ideologies come and go, mutable with the change of times, circumstances and public whim. The framers understood that structure was everything and trumped political ideology or factional affiliation--re-read the Federalist Papers if you don't believe this. Individual elections and individual officials are but tumbleweeds passing through the pillars of structure. Either this question of limits on executive power gets resolved permanently, or our Republic will have a dictator elected on 4-year cycles. Tyranny is only a short milepost ahead on this road.


This question goes beyond impeachment. It is a fundamental divide that is at the heart of what it means to have a progressive movement. It is at the heart of many divides and bitter arguments between progressive blogger communities.

Are we a collection of activists dedicated to the maximum success of the Democratic Party at all costs, or do we seek to do what we believe necessary to preserve the Republic even at the price of potential electoral cost? Shall our calculus be only that of the impact on the next election, or shall it be on that of the impact on the nation at large? Do we believe that Republican rule is the greatest evil to be feared, or that unchecked power itself is the greatest evil to be feared?

This argument to me is similar to that of the two protagonists in the outstanding film Crimson Tide: with hot nuclear confrontation looming between the United States and a crazed Russian coup leader, there is a power struggle on a U.S. nuclear submarine between the Captain played by Gene Hackman and the XO played by Denzel Washington. With orders in hand to fire nuclear missiles at Russia, the sub loses contact with Washington headquarters even as another aborted message was just arriving. Hackman's captain, looking to defend the United States at all costs against its enemy Russia and follow orders to the letter of the law, insists on firing the nukes. Denzel's XO insists that nuclear war itself is the danger to be feared, and demands that the sub do everything in its power to regain contact with the Pentagon--even at the expense of danger to the crew and to American lives at home. After twin mutinies on board and near catastrophe, Denzel wins and the final message arrives not to fire the nuke. While both men were right, both were also wrong--and it is a question that plagues anyone charged with the possible use of nuclear power to this day.

The similar question for Progressives is as follows: are Republicans the greatest danger we face? Or do we face an even greater danger in allowing Unitary Executive Power and utter disregard for the laws of the United States to go unchecked, unpunished and unrebuked?

It is a fundamental question that we must resolve--and quickly.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

As the Curtain Falls, the Villains Exit Stage Right

With the breaking news of Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence still rolling hot off the presses, the curtain has finally fallen on yet another depressing piece of Bush Administration kabuki theater. All that is left in this sordid spectacle is the predictable reaction of the audience: the outraged jeers and hisses from the left, the thunderous applause from the right, and the final, painfully evenhanded judgment from the pompous theater critics in the media.

The stage was set from the beginning, when the Administration's fatal character flaw set in motion a chain of events with predictably tragic consequences. Joe Wilson chose to try to set things right in Denmark insofar as he could, and stab through the veil of Administration secrecy and lies, only to be rewarded for his effort by treasonous blades and men poisoned by lust for power. An Administration that came to power through royal coup and was obsessed with invading Iraq at all costs has reaped the inevitable electoral consequences for their transgressions, but the career suicides under a river of evil and the poisoned bodies of betrayed heroes are already too heavy to bear and too numerous to undo. The law, embodied by Fitzgerald, did what it could to hold the guilty accountable--but no more. And in the final act came the inevitable and totally forseeable denouement: illegal obstruction of justice was commuted through the twisted power of legal obstruction of justice, as those who first conspired to pour toxic lies into the ears of the American People walk as free men.

Unfortunately, that will no doubt be the final scene in this foul drama: the villains will exit stage Right, still standing and taking bows to the clamorous approbation of their fans, as the majority of the audience looks on in shocked horror and disbelief, and a vocal segment of the audience makes its displeasure clear. And the critics will turn in their remarks on the whole business with typically dispassionate false objectivity.

The reason this play will end thus is that we have no Hamlets and no Horatios willing to take the risk of committing career suicide and taking arms against this sea of evil. Our Democratic princes and princesses see themselves in quick line for the succession to the throne of our criminally wanton King George; just a few more years, they tell themselves, and this nightmare will be over and all will be well in Denmark again. In the meantime, they would prefer to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous deeds than engage in the sort of swordplay that might endanger their precious political futures. And all the while, the people perish under the weight of abject lawlessness and blatant treason.


It does not have to be thus, of course. A stark choice lies before each and every one of us--a choice by which we will be forever judged in the annals of history.

We can choose to ride out the Bush presidency, in the naive hope that the next Democratic nominee will be our Fortinbras to wipe away the darkness and make of these evil transgressions mere unpleasant memories of a bygone era, even as Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius and Laertes all walk free to wreak their havoc in other capacities.

Or we can choose to be heroes and rush headlong where angels fear to tread in defense of our honor, the Constitution, and the principles of freedom and justice to which our country is so famously and supposedly committed.

But please, elected Democrats, spare us your feigned outrage. All the soliloquies and well-publicized indignation in the world; all the legalistic and parliamentary motions of investigations, senses of the Senate, and no-confidence votes in the world accomplish exactly nothing without decisive action in their wake. Even little children know the difference between a hero and a bureaucrat.

One day those little children--the kids and grandkids of those of us young enough never to have lived in the decade of Vietnam--will ask us what we did, and what our parents did.

Long after the 2008 election is but a distant memory written about only in history textbooks, generations to come will ask not what strategies we used to achieve electoral victory in some House or Senate race somewhere, but rather what we did to stop these villains and hold them accountable for their crimes.

As a child of the Reagan years, I neither know nor care what was done in any given Senate race to win Democratic victory in the wake of Watergate. I neither know nor care how the House leadership chose to play the issue of Vietnam to achieve maximum electoral benefit.

I care instead about Bernstein. I care about Woodward. I care about Frank Church. Because those men were heroes unafraid to cross swords with the most powerful man on earth. Those are the men history will remember. Those are the men who defended America when it needed defending most.

At some point we must, as a Party and as a Movement, decide what is more important: simply winning elections, or being the extraordinary heroes that are required in these extraordinary times?


The evidence is already patently clear enough to impeach Gonzales and Dick Cheney. The outrageous lies and clear obstructions of justice are bright as day. Perhaps Bush still has far too much plausible deniability--and if so, so be it.

The only question that remains is for the Democratic leadership: will you be the heroes your nation requires in its hour of need, or will you instead sell your birthright for the mess of pottage that is the next election cycle? Will you truly allow these villains to walk off stage without feeling the blade of their own karma?

The choice is stark, and your actions will be remembered for generations to come.

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