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May 31, 2007

Exposing GOP Candidates' Bogus Populism

Noam Scheiber's irresistibly-titled "Pickup Artist: Populist Poseur Fred Thompson" in The New Republic illuminates a cornerstone of GOP strategy --- to portray their rich boy candidates as good-ole, aw-shucks working-class guys. Scheiber has some fun describing Thompson getting all gussied up in blue jeans and boots, delivering folksy speeches from the bed of a rented, used pick-up truck, and then explains something Dems need to better understand:

...Thompson is hardly the only Republican to have ridden phony populism to elective office. In 2003, Haley Barbour, perhaps the most accomplished Washington lobbyist of his generation, pig-in-a-poked and dog-won't-hunted his way to the Mississippi governor's mansion. (One of Barbour's signature tricks was to have himself paged at Ole Miss football games.) And, of course, a certain Yale-educated Northeastern Brahmin reinvented himself as a brush-clearing country boy en route to winning the White House in 2000. These days, phony populists win with such regularity that you've got to look beyond any particular candidate to find an explanation.

Republicans are very good at this scam, despite the fact that it would be extremely difficult to identify even one of their policies that actually benefits the working-class. Conversely, they are adept at portraying Democratic candidates, whose policies actually help working people, as elitists. Witness now, for example, the GOP's concerted effort to portray John Edwards, the son of two union organizers and an advocate of genuine populist policies, as an elitist.

Dems need to get wise and mount a relentless assault on the GOP's bogus populism. Reading Scheiber's article is a good start.

May 30, 2007

Party Regulars, Street Join Forces

In These Times has a pair of articles spotlighting the working relationship between the Democratic party and progressive activists. Adam Doster's "Dancing Into the Majority" provides an encouraging look at how "once alientated" activists are finding creative ways to work with the "party establishment." Says Doster:

...more and more progressives who refused to support spineless Democrats and instead backed unsuccessful third-party candidates have come to understand the pragmatic necessity of working within the Democratic Party.

Doster focuses on the innovative efforts of groups like the Progressive Democrats of America, Code Pink, the Aurora Project and the Party in the Street, as well as MoveOn, to work in coalition with the Democrats. His article explains the problems and pitfalls the groups have experienced in working with the Democratic Party, as well as the accomplishments. Doster's piece should be of interest to a broad range of progressive activist groups seeking new paths of cooperative action with the Democratic Party.

While Doster focuses on activist organizations, Connor Kenny's ITT article "Hello, I’m a Democrat: Meet the netroots activists who have moved online and into political office" shines a light on four of the nation's most energetic progressive activists: Mario Champion; Chris Bowers; Anna Brosovic; and Jeremy Horton. Notes Kenny:

In coming years, netroots activists will be moving up from local party positions to state and national ones. And, while they are more progressive than the party as a whole, first and foremost they are committed Democrats who want to win, and who are willing to put in the money and the time to make it happen. Though their outsider identity may sometimes cause them to break the door down rather than ask for a key, they want to help.

Taken together, the ITT articles paint a promising picture of the Dems' future, energized by an infusion of netroots and grasssroots activists, determined not only to win stable Democratic majorities, but to elect diverse candidates of stronger character and heightened commitment.

May 29, 2007

Wanted: Dem Senate Candidates in Key States

Chris Bowers MyDD article "Spinning Our Wheels On Senate Recruitment" should come as a wake-up call to Dem leaders looking toward '08. Bowers does a nice job of outlining the Dems bright prospects for picking up Senate seats next year, noting,
...with twenty-one potential Republican targets, only twelve defenses of our own, and a large and still increasing fundraising advantage, Republican defenses are stretched thin from the get-go. Given the national mood and the structural problems Republicans face, if all goes well, this situation should allow us to pickup between four and seven seats next year, thus returning the Senate to its pre-1994 Democratic majority.
However, Bowers makes a disturbing case that we are seriously behind schedule:
...right now this situation does not seem to be translating into many good pickup opportunities. Off hand, the problem seems to center around recruitment problems. In some states, we are failing to get our top recruits. In other states, our top recruits now seem less promising than they did just a couple months ago. Worst of all, in most states, we don't have any challengers yet....While the situation could be reversed with improvements just two or three major Senate campaigns, the way things have been going so far, further downgrades seem more likely than further upgrades. We need to start getting our best candidates in every state, or else we could waste this historic electoral opportunity.
Bowers then gets down to specific races, with capsule reports on five key races, and he notes some others that merit more attention. Granted there is still 17 months to go, and we can be confident that Chuck Schumer is on the case. But the Democratic party activists in these states would do well to address Bowers' concerns.

May 27, 2007

Reframing the Iraq Funding Debate

Apropos of the post below, Salon's Glenn Greenwald shreds the myth that Democrats have little choice but to support unrestricted funding for Iraq. As Greenwald explains in his article, challenging Newsweek's Jonathan Alter's defense of Democrats' support for funding without timelines:

...our Iraq war policy was just determined, in large part if not principally, by a complete myth: that de-funding proposals constitute an abandonment or, more ludicrously still, "endangerment" of the troops.

It is difficult to overstate how irrational this theme is, and yet it is equally difficult to overstate what a decisive role it just played in ensuring the continuation of the war. Polls consistently demonstrate that Americans overwhelmingly favor compelled withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. Other than defunding, they overwhelmingly favor every legislative mechanism for achieving that goal -- from a straightforward bill setting a mandatory time deadline to a rescission of the resolution authorizing military force to compulsory benchmarks. Yet polls are equally uniform in showing that a solid majority of Americans oppose de-funding.

Yet, rationally speaking, this makes absolutely no sense. De-funding is nothing more than a legislative instrument for ending the war, and is substantively indistinguishable in every way from the other war-ending legislative means which Americans favor.

In other words. Americans want deadlines and timetables attached to Iraq funding legislation, but many are under the false impression that voting against funding bills that have no limitations will leave our troops vulnerable. Republicans know this, and they exploit this myth effectively, so much so that many liberal Democratic leaders supported unlimited funding legislation. Thus, many of the same elected officials who advocate deadlines and timetables on Iraq funding feel compelled to vote for unrestricted funding legislation when it is offered.

Apparently most Americans don't want to spend a lot of time studying the fine points of all the Iraq funding proposals. And so the parliamentary chess game goes on, and by the time November '08 rolls around voters will be inundated with charges and countercharges about who did or didn't support the troops. But Democrats must not allow this simplistic meme to dominate concerns about Iraq policy on election day. They must make sure that the more resonant message voters take to the polls is that the GOP is the party that supports open-ended occupation of Iraq.

In his latest post at the Rockridge Institute web page, George Lakoff and co-author Glen W. Smith explain the framing psychology behind GOP myth-mongering:

Congress allowed the president to take over its job to decide the strategic mission and to put Congress in the role of merely providing funding. This allowed the president to cast Congress in the role of "refusing to fund the troops," "endangering the safety of our troops," "playing chicken with the lives of our troops," "hamstringing our troops," and so on. It allowed President Bush to portray Congress as responsible for the safety of our troops, whereas the real responsibility lay with him. By allowing the president to reframe the Constitution and take away their powers, Congress made itself fatally vulnerable. Most of the Democrats wound up adopting the president's framing of them as responsible for the safety of the troops.

But rather than reacting with expressions of disgust and let it go at that, Lakoff and Smith offer a number of interesting ideas for reframing the issue of Iraq funding, including:

Progressives must point out that it is the president, with an enabling Congress, who commenced a foolhardy adventure with no clear exit strategy or way to "win." That same president has refused to properly prepare or adequately equip soldiers — and now he is blaming Congress. When Congress passed a supplemental spending bill with reasonable timetables attached, he refused it. The betrayer is the president. Say it over and over: The president has betrayed our troops and the nation.

Lakoff and Smith point out that the current funding authorization is only good through September and that there will be other opportunities for Democrats to act. They even outline a course of action for Democratic activists. Their article should be a keeper for party strategists and activists alike.

May 25, 2007

Dem Leaders Struggling to End Iraq Quagmire

The "hawk" vs. "dove" terms now seem outdated in describing current divisions within the Democratic party, given the overwhelming opposition to Bush's Iraq policies, not only among Dems, but the nation at large. Very few Dems favor open-ended military occupation of Iraq. What we have now is more in the vein of differences over how to get out.

The bad news for Dems is well-reflected in the Senate vote (80 to 14) to support funding for our continued occupation of Iraq, without deadlines or timetables. The progressive blogosphere is generally livid about the number of Democratic Senators who refused to hang tough and oppose any further funding without timelines, including many prominent liberal Senators. Kos's Georgia10 calls it "the Capitulation Bill." And The Left Coaster Steve Soto has the list of Democrats who voted for it here. Others say they feel "betrayed" by the votes of some of the newly-elected Democratic senators, for whom they had high hopes.

But for Dems who favor deadlines and timetable restrictions on Iraq funding, there is also some good news: Three out of four Democratic Senators running for the Presidency voted against funding without timetables or deadlines -- Clinton, Dodd and Obama. Only Biden among Dem presidential candidates, voted for funding without time restrictions. Edwards, a former Senator, has also voiced his strong opposition.

Sure the 80-14 vote count is disappointing for those who wanted to see a little more backbone in the Senate, especially since 60 percent of the American people want timelines on further Iraq war funding, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted 5/18-23. No doubt, many of the Democrats who voted for the bill would have liked to vote against it, but felt they couldn't survive the political fallout. It is nonetheless encouraging that the Democratic presidential nominee will almost certainly be a strong opponent of any more blank checks for the Iraq quagmire.

May 22, 2007

Dem Pres Candidates Fund-Raising Tops GOP --- in the South

Tom Baxter, political reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an eyebrow-lifter for those who see the south as irretrievably red. Baxter's article compares fund-raising of presidential candidates' of both parties, and reports:

Democratic presidential candidates collected about 62 percent of the $1.6 million raised from Georgians in the first three months of 2007.

Democrats also led presidential fund-raising in Georgia in the same quarter leading up to the 2000 presidential election — the last race without an incumbent. But back then, their hold on the dollars wasn't nearly as tight: Democrats led Republicans by just $36,000.

Now Democrats are leading Republicans by $382,000 — a gap more than 10 times greater — according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of first-quarter presidential contributions.

Baxter notes that Barack Obama topped all other candidates of both parties in Georgia, with Romney second and Edwards third. Baxter adds:

One striking facet of the Democrat's first-quarter resurgence in the South: It isn't based on just one candidate.

In North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, Democrats held the overall advantage, and Edwards was the top fund-raiser. In Florida and Virginia, Democrats collected the most, with U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as the overall leader. Democrats also took in more in Kentucky, with Obama in the lead.

Only four states in the region — South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas — gave more money overall to Republican presidential candidates. And in South Carolina, Edwards was the leading individual candidate.

Natch, the Republican spin doctors quoted in the article pooh-pooh the Democratic Presidential candidates lead as a temporary phenomenon. Going by the numbers, however, it appears that southern Donkeys still have some kick.

May 21, 2007

Memo to Dems: Don't Blur Distinctions

Bill Scher of Liberal Oasis has an instructive riff on the Dodd-Gingrich debate on Sunday's Meet the Press. On one level, it was an odd pairing --- a 'second-tier' Democratic candidate who has one of the more impressive resumes in the field vs. an all-but announced Republican, who is arguably one of his party's most creative strategists. First, thanks to Russert for giving the nation more of an in-depth, head-t-head look at somebody besides the front-runners. But Scher picked up on something important that concerns all Dems who are faced with debating Republicans:

Dodd didn't say anything that was abhorrent. But he missed an opportunity to frontally challenge and decimate the neocon "World War III" foreign policy vision offered by Newt, and clearly contrast that fundamentally flawed vision with his own alternative.

...Dodd chose to blur distinctions by saying he agrees with Newt about "the war on terror." In fact, he doesn't...Dodd sees the difference between terrorists that must be opposed and isolated, and distasteful but rational state governments where the possibility of successful diplomacy not only exists, but can help advance democratic reform and weaken terrorist threats.

It's a fundamental difference that should be clarified and brought into the open.

If Dodd squarely put his vision up against Newt's, showing the moral and pragmatic superiority of his vision, that could have turned heads and helped him break out of the second-tier.

Instead, by blurring distinctions, Dodd made some decent points that will soon be forgotten.

Dodd's longevity in the Senate indicates he is no slouch when it comes to winning elections and making needed distinctions, and generally he is one of the Democrats' better debaters. But this presidential race is being run in the middle of an elective war that many believe is the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history. Now is not a good time to rely on subtle distinctions. Sher's point is well-taken.

May 19, 2007

Averaging Horse Race Polls Gives Best Snapshot

With the presidential election 17 months out, it may seem a little early to be paying a lot of attention to the horse race polls. But Super Tuesday is 8 and 1/2 months away, and that seems a good time to begin monitoring the Democratic polls. To put the polls in perspective, start with Chris Bowers' post, "Inflated Clinton Poll Theory: Prudence Sets In" at MyDD. Bowers argues that averaging polls gives the best snapshot:

With so many polls, it just seems unlikely to me that one extreme Clinton-Obama margin or the other is absolutely correct, or that one methodology or the other is absolutely correct. When has there ever been a large, hidden vote out that that most pollsters were missing? Outside of the Iowa caucuses and post-Katrina New Orleans, the answer over the last thirty years has been "basically never." These days, the worst-case scenario is for poll averages to be about six points off the final margin, which isn't that bad and can be accounted for in margin of error and turnout programs.

...At this point, with so many different polls floating around, with so many different methodologies, with about half of the primary and caucus electorate not even paying "somewhat" close attention, and with an ever-changing and developing campaign, the simple fact is that widely varying results among polls is unavoidable...

Average the polls--all of the polls--and don't dismiss any of them just because they seem odd or you don't like the results for your candidate. Right now, that would indicate that Clinton is probably up by 10-12 points. And so she probably is. However, as the differences between the varying polls shows, there is still a lot of movement left in this electorate. It ain't over until February 6th.

In his previous post Bowers discussed some of the problems with the most recent polls, noting:

Could the difference be social pressure, where Democrats don't tell live-interviewers that they are currently leaning against Clinton? Rasmussen's numbers consistently back up that theory, but those produced by Harris do not. Could it be that traditional live-interview polls and newer polling methodologies sample different universes of voters, thus producing different results? Possibly, but even if that is the case, it is extremely difficult to say which group of polls is sampling a more representative universe right now, both because we don't know who will vote in the 2008 primaries and because few polling firms release comprehensive crosstabs and methodologies. Could it simply be that when it comes to the 2008 Democratic nomination, live-interview polls are growing less useful due to the rising wireless-only population and social pressure, or that newer techniques are not yet able to achieve the same level of accuracy as traditional methods? Both are possible, but neither can be confirmed at this time.

The rapid increase in wireless only voters does present an interesting challenge to pollsters. Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal sheds some fresh light on the problem here.

May 16, 2007

Movement to Disempower Electoral College Picks Up Steam

Chris Kromm has an encouraging update on the effort to render the Electoral College irrelevant at Facing South. As Kromm reports on recent action by the North Carolina state senate:

This week, North Carolina became the latest state chamber to endorse a direct popular vote, as the Charlotte Observer reports:

"North Carolina would enter a compact that could eliminate the power of the Electoral College system to choose a president, according to a bill that passed the Senate Monday night. If agreed to by states representing a majority of the nation's 538 electoral votes, the measure would require North Carolina to give its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide."

Nationwide, 41 bills have been introduced. In Maryland, it's been signed by the governor, and both of Hawaii's legislative chambers have passed the hill. North Carolina is now one of five states where it's passed at least one house, the others being Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and most recently California...And if states that represent a majority of the current 538 Electoral College votes form a compact to do away with the system, they can move the country to direct popular vote for President and Vice President.

North Carolina being a moderate to moderately-conservative state, the action of its state senate bodes well for the popular vote campaign nation-wide. Apparently, this movement has some legs.

May 14, 2007

GOP and Reagan's Record on Race

There is a nice photo of Coretta Scott King standing behind Ronald Reagan as he grudgingly signs the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday bill in the Rose Garden back in 1983. The most appropriate caption for the photo would be "Checkmate!," since Reagan did not want to sign the bill and was no fan of Dr. King, or the reforms his leadership secured.

Republican apologists for Reagan are quick to note his signing of the King holiday legislation as indicative of his commitment to equality. But Reagan's dismal track record on issues of racial injustice is not likely to be recounted in much detail during the GOP convention in Summer '08. For that, you can read Alec Dubro's TomPaine.com article "Reagan White As Snow," which lays out the former President's sorry record of opposition to civil rights. Dubro quotes a nut graph from Sydney Blumenthal's article in The Guardian."

Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it "humiliating to the South"), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. "If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house," he said, "he has a right to do so." After the Republican convention in 1980, Reagan traveled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where, in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan. Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared: "I believe in states' rights."

Dubro adds:

But it was in foreign affairs that he showed that he could rise above mere opportunism and flaunt his racism for all the world to see. He was the best friend that South Africa’s apartheid government had in the developed world.

Reagan consistently opposed taking any stand against the Pretoria regime, no matter what their sins. His administration created a policy called “constructive engagement,” which meant no sanctions.

When the pressure for sanctions grew too great, even within the Republican Party, Reagan refused to relent, claiming the sanctions would hurt black workers. In 1986, Reagan vetoed a congressional sanctions vote, this time claiming that it would help the communist ANC. Moreover, “the U.S., he added, ‘must stay and build, not cut and run’.” When Congress overrode the veto, Reagan made sure that the law was barely carried out.

All of this would be history, except for the GOP's effort to use Reagan as their poster-boy for Republican philosophy and values, since the current Republican President's approval ratings are abysmal. As Dubro notes:

...Reagan showed that he was an implacable foe of racial integration of any sort, domestic or foreign, and would use any tactic to block its implementation. If any of the Republican candidates for president are ignorant of Reagan’s wretched conduct, it’s because they refuse to look.
For more good links on Reagan-glorification as a GOP tactic, see our recent post, "Reagan Myth to Cast '08 Shadow." And do not miss Frank Rich's recent column on Reagan's legacy and the GOP.

May 12, 2007

Latino Citizenship Campaign Lifts Dem Prospects

Miriam Jordan's WSJ article "Univision Gives Citizenship Drive An Unusual Lift" no doubt comes as unwelcome news in GOP circles.

Jordan reports that Univision Communications, Inc., America's largest Spanish language broadcasting network, is sponsoring an energized nation-wide campaign to help millions of green card-holders become citizens. In the greater Los Angeles area alone, citizenship applications have more than doubled in the first three months of the campaign, which began in January, compared to the same period in '06. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has extended the terms of 40 immigration adjudicators to process the upsurge in citizenship applications.

The campaign is rapidly spreading eastward, and is underway in Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Miami. It usually takes six or seven months to complete the naturalization process. In 2008, the second stage of the campaign will focus on getting the new citizens registered to vote. The impact could be decisive, as Jordan explains:

Latinos have had a lower voter-participation rate than others -- in 2004, 47% of those eligible voted, compared with 67% of whites and 60% of blacks, according to Pew Hispanic Center tabulations. However, Latino immigrants who become citizens report higher rates of political participation than native-born Latinos, according to Pew.

If the citizenship campaign culminates in two million to three million new Hispanic voters, "that could turn the tide in several states," including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, says Sergio Bendixen, a pollster who specializes in ethnic markets. In 2004, Republicans won by a small margin in those states."

An energetic naturalization campaign has long been needed to help resolve America's immigration problems. Now that one has been launched, Democrats can reasonably expect a significant advantage with these new voters. A 60-40 break favoring Dems among the new voters would not be unreasonable, given recent voting trends. Naturalization applicants currently pay a $400 fee, which does not augur well for America's commitment to equal opportunity. No surprise that Republicans want to raise the fee, and we can expect other obstructionist tactics leading up to the election.

May 10, 2007

Uptick in Support for Energy Independence Gives Dems Wedge

Democrats now have an extraordinary opportunity to win the support of a large and rapidly-growing majority of Americans concerned about energy independence and global warming. Large majorities now favor strong action to address these crises, according to a strategy memo written by Al Quinlan, Stan Greenberg, and the Center for American Progress's John Podesta.

The memo is based in part on a survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for the Center for American Progress, conducted 3/19-22. Among the findings of the poll:

More than 3/4 of people believe the effects of global warming are already here.

Americans want immediate action on global warming - 60 percent believe that increasing pollution has set global warming into motion and “we must take action now or it will be too late to stop it.”

Unlike other issues before Congress and the President there is no strong partisan divide on stopping global warming.

Further, concern about energy and global warming "now rivals health care as the top domestic issue that requires immediate action."

The strategy memo also drew from the findings of a GQR research report, noting that that 64 percent of Americans favored immediate action "to make our country less dependent on oil and move to cleaner, alternative energy sources" and 65 percent agreed that our energy policy "is seriously off on the wrong track."

According to the strategy memo, the most compelling messages and themes to use when talking about these issues include:

Messaging must be inspirational and build off the strong belief that America can do anything once we make the commitment. Americans are ready for their leaders to summon the willpower to act now.

Freedom, independence and self sufficiency are the essence of what the public believes is our ultimate energy goal. When asked in focus groups, people cited independence and self sufficiency as the most important objectives in an energy plan.

We should take the offensive, not defensive, in the economic debate and advance a message that production of clean, alternative energy will help to restore America as a leader in the world economy, create future jobs, higher incomes and put us back in the forefront of world economic advancement.

Global warming, skyrocketing gas prices and the horrible mess in Iraq are all linked to our deepening addiction to oil. The American people clearly get it and want reforms to secure energy independence from imported oil in particular and to reduce our dependency on oil in general. Only one political party has the potential to provide the needed leadership --- and the hour for action has now arrived.

May 8, 2007

Voters Want Action on Trade

In These Times Senior Editor David Moberg has an article for Democrats seeking a sharper perspective on free trade vs. fair trade policy choices. Moberg's article "Making Trade Work for Everyone: Voters aren’t happy with the reality of free trade—and Democrats are starting to listen" makes the case that trade is shaping up as a major issue in upcomming elections:

The November elections—when 37 House and Senate seats changed from “free trade” to “fair trade”—created a Democratic majority that needed to stake out a new position on trade. Globalization and offshoring of jobs ranked among the electorate’s top issues, according to polls by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Agenda. Results in key races indicate that Democrats could have picked up even more seats with a stronger message on global economic issues, according to an analysis by Chris Slevin and Todd Tucker of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, an organization critical of corporate-backed free trade.

Moberg offers some numbers to back his claim:

In a March Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Americans agreed, by a margin of 46 percent to 28 percent, that trade deals have harmed the United States. And late last year, a Pew Research Center poll found that nearly 44 percent of the people surveyed thought free trade had lowered wages, compared to 11 percent who thought it had raised wages.

Moberg addresses a range of current trade-related concerns and reform proposals, including: making worker rights in nations we trade with a priority; job training; broader health care coverage; pension reform; unemployment insurance; currency revaluation; and a "strategic pause" in negotiating new trade agrements. For Dems wanting to get up to speed on trade issues, Moberg's article is a keeper.

May 7, 2007

Lengthening List of Military Brass Oppose GOP Iraq Policy

One tactic Republicans never tire of deploying is impugning the patriotism of Democrats who want to end/de-fund U.S. military occupation of Iraq. As Bush recently said in just one version of a frequently-uttered GOP meme:

...Members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders.

One of the more effective responses for Dems is to call the roll of military brass who also believe Bush's Iraq misadventure is a disaster. It is a lengthening list, and The Nation's John Nichols has a round-up of the latest quotes of America's more thoughtful military leaders here. A couple of samples from Nichols' post:

The President vetoed our troops and the American people," says retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste. "His stubborn commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq is incomprehensible. He committed our great military to a failed strategy in violation of basic principles of war. His failure to mobilize the nation to defeat world wide Islamic extremism is tragic. We deserve more from our commander-in-chief and his administration.

Or this, from another former Major General, Paul Eaton:

This administration and the previously Republican-controlled legislature have been the most caustic agents against America's Armed Forces in memory. Less than a year ago, the Republicans imposed great hardship on the Army and Marine Corps by their failure to pass a necessary funding language. This time, the President of the United States is holding our Soldiers hostage to his ego.

There's more from our military leaders in Nichols' article. Nichols sums it up:

Add the public statements of the retired generals together with the behind-the-scenes expressions of frustration from current commanders and they form the most powerful tool that Congressional Democrats have in what will ultimately be a negotiation not with Bush but with the American people--a negotiation that, the president well understands, is about the question of which side is playing politics and which side is listening to military commanders and supporting the troops.

Democrats would do well to keep a file on the growing list of military leaders and former leaders who have the integrity to tell the truth about Bush's Iraq policy, and Dems should be ready to cite their names and message points. Republicans will be less quick to impugn their patriotism.

May 6, 2007

Dems Have Growing Mandate to Help Poor

The first presidential primary debates of both parties made it clear that only one party embraces a commitment to government policies to help people living in poverty. Fortunately for Dems, an increasing percentage of Americans are embracing this commitment as well, according to analysis of recent polls conducted by Ruy Teixeira. As Teixeira reports in his Center for American Progress post "Public Opinion Snapshot: Americans Extend Helping Hand to the Poor":

Politicians tend to avoid the subject of poverty on the theory that voters aren’t very interested in helping the poor. Yet public opinion data consistently shows that the public is very willing to extend a helping hand to the least fortunate in society.

...A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in January of this year, for example, shows that 69 percent agree that “the government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” and an identical 69 percent agree that “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.” These figures are up 10 and 12 points respectively relative to their recent low point in 1994.

Americans are also willing to consider a wide range of options for helping the poor...an NPR/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard poll from 2001...shows, four proposals garnered 80 percent support or higher: expanding subsidized day care, increasing the minimum wage, spending more for medical care for poor people, and increasing the tax credit for low-income workers. Yet every option offered, even increasing cash assistance for families, received majority support.

Teixeira's post includes a set of graphics showing strong support for a host of anti-poverty measures, and includes a link to the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty policy report "From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half" -- highly recommended for Democrats interested in anti-poverty reforms.

May 4, 2007

Denialfest in Gipperland

There was a lot to be disturbed about in the first GOP debate, other than the fact that three out of ten -- nearly a third of the GOP presidential candidate field -- apparently believe the earth is only 7,000 years old. Scarecrow's "Republican Candidates in Denial" at Firedoglake nails it well:

After the “debate,” MSNBC’s panelists tried to hype the disagreements, but they missed the fact that these men share a common mindset detached from where the rest of the country is....They do not see a nation angry at them about the war nor shamed by a government that sanctions torture. With their Reaganesqe optimism, they do not see families struggling with health care costs, job security, retirement security, and college tuition. They don’t seem to worry whether the government is doing enough to protect us from unsafe working conditions, unsafe products, unsafe foods and drugs. They apparently don’t see global warming as a national security or economic threat. American democracy is not threatened; the Constitution is not under siege, and Americans don’t hate the Bush regime for what it has done to our liberties (Paul excepted). Attacks on the rights of women, gays, and immigrants and anyone who looks like the “enemy” are non-issues.

Digby gooses a few chuckles out of the whole sorry show with his riff on Fineman's comments about how manly the GOP field looks and the softball questions lobbed their way. Pollster.com's Mark Blumenthal has a way cool "tag clouds" graphic provided by Upstream Analysis President Janet Harris, revealing the GOP candidates' respective buzzword choices here. Political Animal Kevin Drum has a flashy pie chart here showing who "won," according to SurveyUSA poll results.

Poll results notwithstanding, it does not appear that any of the GOP candidates are notably charismatic, eloquent or quick-witted. But we sorta knew that going in.

May 3, 2007

Netroots Article Generates More Buzz

Ed Kilgore's New Donkey post contributes to the discussion about Jonathan Chait's New Republic article, adding,

...Chait's piece, despite a few questionable assertions, is a very good introduction to the whole topic of the netroots' role in Democratic politics....The criticism most consistently aimed at Chait is that he overemphasizes the role of a handful of high-profile bloggers in coordinating the netroots "message." I think that's a bit unfair, since the whole piece was about the netroots as a self-conscious political movement...Chait might have dwelled a bit more on the inherent tension between the medium's decentralized nature and various effort to make it a unified political force; it's a tension you see every day in the comments threads of most "activist" sites.

Kilgore, who had an earlier post on the topic at TPM Cafe, has more to say about the article as it relates to the differing agendas of the DLC and the Netroots. His article features links to posts by Eric Alterman, Matt Yglesias and MyDD's Chris Bowers, which help to round out the discussion. Bowers' critique includes this point:

...while Chait is correct that the activist blogosphere is generally focused on achieving politically positive results, he seems to miss the fact that that in order to achieve politically positive results, it is necessary to engage in political strategy that is based on solid ideas. In other words, the activist blogosphere has long been concerned with improving the political tactics and strategies of Democrats and progressives, and we won't be very effective at that if we intentionally float misinformed ideas on political tactics and strategy. Misinformed, poorly researched, and ill-conceived strategy is not helpful in creating positive political outcomes. We need solid tactics based on solid research and analysis in order to succeed in politics. In that sense, we in the activist blogosphere are very concerned with ideas, logic and truth, but we are more focused on ideas, logical conclusions, and truth as they relate to improving political strategy rather than with debating policy specifics. That isn't propaganda--it is simply a difference between hacks and wonks.

Alterman and Yglesias's TNR responses offer their takes on Chait's article. Says Alterman:

Chait's range, linguistic felicitousness, and self-confidence are quite impressive. I found myself nodding in agreement through most of the piece at points I hadn't realized before as Chait's argument crystallized my thinking in ways that only the best opinion journalism can do...On the other hand--and this is also endemic to the best and worst of almost all opinion pieces but particularly at TNR--Chait's piece is actually empirically empty. Either we trust Chait or we don't. I didn't notice a single point of evidence in the analysis that could not be argued away....The main argument I want to have with Chait concerns what he deems to be the netroots' purposeful intellectual insularity with regard to the idealized platonic cosmopolitanism of establishment journalists and policy wonks. If history is any guide, it just ain't so...One could make a sound empirical argument--based on virtually every major event in the Bush presidency--that the MSM narrative was a convenient invention of self-interested parties while the analysis that permeated the netroots has been largely borne out (so far) by history.

Alterman recommends Chris Bowers Democratic Strategist article for a fuller consideration of the role of the Netroots as a political force. Yglesias takes Chait to task for mischaracterizing his views, and continues:

I have about a million things to say about Jonathan Chait's alternatively brilliant and infuriating essay on the netroots...Meanwhile, Chait's characterization of the netroots' beef with The New Republic and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) seems deliberately obtuse. "What makes such internal enemies so dangerous," writes Chait, "is that they engage in self-criticism." In particular, Chait--in a bit of unsubstantiated overstatement--thinks that the netroots considers "any criticism of any part of the Democratic Party or its activist base from the right" to be "treasonous." Rather, the primary issue is that netroots activists and TNR have major, persistent, principled disagreements about foreign policy. Secondarily, a certain proportion of TNR's published material evinces a kind of sneering dislike for liberal politicians and activists, even as TNR writers happily market themselves as liberal (but independent-minded!) pundits when such a label suits them. (Until its recent sale to CanWest, it was owned by men who seem to hate most liberals and liberalism as an ideology, which were strange attributes for a liberal publication.)...Chait provides an admirable reconstruction of the intellectual origins of the netroots movement, its love/hate relationship with the conservative movement, and the logic of its objections to the "centrist" political strategies that seemed so appealing in the 1990s--by far the best account by a true outsider that I'm aware of.

All in all, quite an interesting fray --- and "The Left's New Machine" is just getting started.

May 2, 2007

Netroots Cover Story Draws Heat

Today it's all about Jonathan Chait's just posted New Republic article, "The Left's New Machine: How the Netroots Became the Most Important Mass Movement in U.S. Politics," which will probably become one of the most frequently-cited resources on the political internet. Many of the political blogs have something to say about it, including these samples:

I guess most of all, and this is why I can't call Chait's piece particularly insightful, we don't gloss over substance or fake civility. More than any other forum with the exception of town halls, the internet allows us to learn what our politicians are going to do. Where else are you going to find arguments about a cap and trade versus a carbon tax? Where else are you going to be able to read about net neutrality resolutions in California, or offshore drilling in Virginia? The local blogs are incredibly substantive in their states, and I like to think that we go into depth into subject areas on MyDD and the rest of the blogs as well.(Matt Stoller, MyDD)

Not the most amazingly insightful piece written, but interesting anyhow. The most important part, and the cons and msm will never get this, is the lack of idealogical rigidity. There's a coalition of conservative, moderate, and very liberal people who just want to see the Democratic party stop acting like a whipping boy for the press and the right...I still hate the word "netroots" but it is what it is. (Oliver Willis)

If progressives want to win, Chait concludes, they need to learn to fight on the Right’s turf..From a purely pragmatic point of view, Chait has a point. It doesn’t matter how deeply you understand the issues; if you can’t win the political war, you will never be able to implement those ideas. But do you really believe that we have to make an either/or choice between being “chiefly interested” in winning or ideas? (Maggie Mahar at TPM Cafe)

The word propaganda is a loaded term in modern American parlance and he must know that. I don't actually think that advocacy journalism (or activist blogging) is dishonest, which is what Chait is suggesting, however vaguely...Liberal bloggers advocate for their political causes, people, party, ideas, etc and they make the best argument they can. The people who read us, the politicians, the electorate (to the extent that any of these arguments flow out of the sphere into the mainstream) are the judges. That is not propaganda as we understand it in 2007. I would say it's not even PR or advertising, both of which suggest some sort of message coordination of which I have also seen little evidence... (Digby's Hullabalo)

It's not a bad piece, though Chait obviously struggles to come to a firm conclusion about what the netroots is really all about. This is a predicament I can sympathize with, since I've been blogging for five years myself and I still have a hard time putting my finger on it. Is it about ideology? Sort of, but not really. Party loyalty? Yes, though not for everyone. Iron-fisted organizational discipline? Sure, except when it's not. In some way, the netroots is all about defining what it means to be a "good Democrat," but beyond that it's a helluva slippery phenomenon, one of those "I know it when I see it" kind of things.(Kevin Drum's Political Animal)

Chait has clearly struck a nerve, and there will surely be more responses to his controversial piece posted on the blogs over the next couple of days. Don't forget to sample the comment strings.

May 1, 2007

Dems Should Note Groups Public Wants to Help

Gallup has a freebie that merits a gander from Democratic strategists and candidates. The poll, conducted 3/26-29, addresses "Americans' perceptions about the relative political influence of various groups in the United States." Gallup reporter Jeffrey Jones kicks off his wrap-up analysis this way:

Of the 14 groups tested in the poll, military veterans are thought to be the most in need of increased government attention. On the other hand, the public is most likely to believe political leaders pay too much attention to big corporations and Hollywood movie executives.

What's a little fishy here is that one wonders what percentage of Americans can even name three Hollywood executives, or two for that matter. Maybe respondents conflated execs with actors. If there's a moral here for political strategists, maybe it's accept their dough graciously, but don't let Hollywood execs do your campaigning.

But Dems should take very seriously how the public views treatment of military vets. As Jones explains:

Eighty-one percent of Americans say government leaders pay too little attention to the needs of military veterans...The poll was conducted shortly after news reports about poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center focused attention on the plight of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq. This news may have helped to push veterans past the poor (77%), small-business owners (68%), and senior citizens (66%) as the group most widely viewed as lacking in government attentiveness.

This is a clear advantage for Dems, given the shoddy treatment vets have received under Bush and at the hands of Republican office-holders in general. Those who have voted in any way to cut or restrict veterans' benefits should be forced to explain their votes again and again.

A look at the five largest numbers in the survey may be more instructive. Following the 81 percent who believe vets are most in need of more government attention: 77 percent cite the poor as receiving too little attention; 76 percent say big corporations get too much attention; 74 percent say Hollywood execs get too much attention; and 68 percent say small business owners get too little attention.

In terms of political ramifications, the respondents were adults, not registered or likely voters. And it's hard to imagine that many voters will reason, "I'm not going to vote for so-and-so because he/she gives too much attention to Hollywood execs," regardless of policies, character and other priorities. But the other percentages relate to needed policy reforms supported by Dems, not Republicans -- and are too large to ignore.