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July 31, 2006

Lieberman Through the Looking Glass

Over at MyDD, Matt Stoller poses one of the first interesting questions I've read in weeks amidst the hourly torrent of abuse towards Joe Lieberman. Prompted by a Josh Marshall post depicting Lieberman's current political travails as "tragic," Matt wants to know, basically, why anybody out there ever thought highly of Lieberman:

To me, Lieberman's vicious and reactionary nature seems quite clear and consistent. Everything from his right-wing culture warring against Hollywood to his sandbagging of Clinton's health care initiative in 1994 to his fights with Arthur Levitt at the SEC to ensure that accounting loopholes could remain to his preening about Lewinsky to his undermining of Gore in 2000 indicate that he was never the stalwart and principled man his supporters imagine. I hated each of these events separately, though I never put them together until 2001, when I really started paying attention to politics. I just sort of thought, even as a kid, who are those putzes on TV grilling carnival freak Dee Snyder? I hated the culture war nonsense, I always thought it was fake pandering.The thing is, there are too many folks I respect who say he was once a great and likeable man to just discount these opinions. What's going on here? I'm honestly curious. Why was Lieberman ever considered a good man? Was it just that our moral universe is totally different now because of Bush's extremism? If you have insight on this, please let me know.
Now I have no particular reason to believe Matt Stoller respects me, so maybe I'm responding to a question posed to others. But the question itself reflects a whole lot of the dialogue of the deaf--not just about Lieberman, but about his record, the nature of progressivism, and the political history of the Democratic Party in the 1990s--surrounding this primary.I will take seriously the claim, reflected in Matt's post, that hostility to Lieberman is not just about his position on Iraq--which I strongly disagree with myself. So let's take a look at the broader indictment of Lieberman as a politician who has always embodied the qualities so hated by the netroots.To take the easy stuff first, the caricature of Joe Lieberman as a typical, egomaniacal Washington blowhard is really hard to accept if you've ever spent any time around the man. He is routinely self-deprecating in a city, and an institution (the U.S. Senate) where this quality is seen as a sign of weakness. He is notorious within the Senate itself primarily for his civility to colleagues, and his entirely atypical decent treatment of his own staff (he stands at one end of the spectrum that ranges across stern indifference and routine abuse to the ultimate Washington Boss from Hell, Arlen Specter). And while I don't have any real knowledge about the quality of Lieberman's constituent services operation, I do know that during the five-plus years he was DLC chairman, he and his staff were vigilant about any DLC pronouncement that compromised Connecticut interests.No, I'm not saying any of this is an important reason for supporting Joe Lieberman in the August 8 primary; but it is germane to Matt's question about why anyone should like the guy at all, and to the general netroots take on Joe as some sort of avatar of the Washington Establishment.Matt's recitation of Lieberman's ancient sins against progressive orthodoxy is almost as easy to swat down. This is the first time I've read anywhere that Lieberman was a serious obstacle to the Clinton Health Plan in 1994. Lord a'mighty, much of the Senate Democratic Caucus, most notably the chairman of the committee of jurisdiction, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, presented a far bigger obstacle. And the Plan itself, and particularly its marketing, were bigger problems than anything any Democratic senator said or did.The slam about Lieberman's "preening about Lewinsky" reflects another odd anti-Lieberman talking point: the idea that Joe Lieberman stabbed Bill Clinton in the back by making a speech suggesting that the Big He had done something blameworthy. At the time, Joe's "Lewinsky speech," while hardly pleasant to the White House, was considered an effort to pave the way to a censure resolution in place of impeachment. And that's of course what happened. Clinton's own endorsement of, and campaign appearance with, Lieberman should lay this slur to rest.And the stuff about Lieberman "undermining Gore" is really bizarre. I will never forget watching the Lieberman-Cheney debate, and literally scratching the TV screen in frustration that Joe wasn't hammering Cheney on this or that point. But I also knew that this approach was totally scripted by the Gore high command, which erroneously expected Cheney to do his Darth Vadar routine instead of playing the avuncular grandfather. Point B in the "Joe undermines Al" case generally revolves around the small incident during the Florida recount saga when Lieberman disclaimed any intention of challenging overseas military ballots. Again, Joe was totally doing what the Gore campaign told him to do; some of Gore's lawyers dissented from the decision, and later said so, but it wasn't Lieberman's fault. And more importantly, Gore clearly would not have been in the position to lose the election in overtime had Lieberman not been on the ballot; Joe's incredible popularity in South Florida gave the ticket its surprising strength in that state in the first place. Gore's inability to carry his own home state was a much bigger problem than anything Joe Lieberman did or did not do.The larger point raised by Matt's post is perhaps the biggest disconnect between Lieberman's supporters and detractors:
Josh isn't the only one talking as if Lieberman were once Ghandi; it's a trend among men I know that are in their thirties or above, and had a strong connection to the political establishment prior to 2001.
The suggestion here is that anyone defending Lieberman's past, as well as his present, record, is blinded by "a strong connection to the political establishment." And the planted axiom is that Lieberman has always been the embodiment of "the political establishment."I don't know if Matt Stoller can understand or accept this, but Joe's popularity among Clintonites in the 1990s was precisely a function of the belief that he did not represent "the political establishment." While he had a strong progressive record dating back decades, he was not a slave to party discipline. He was willing to innovate left and right on policy issues, just like Bill Clinton. He was willing to engage in what Matt calls "culture warring on Hollywood" because he wasn't willing to give the avaricious multinational corporations of the entertainment industry a pass on accountability for their products, any more than oil companies or HMOs. Joe Lieberman, like Bobby Kennedy, was not afraid to defy the elites in his own party in the pursuit of a broader progressive vision. And putting aside the Lewinsky Speech, Lieberman was without question the most resolute and consistent supporter of Bill Clinton's vision and agenda in the national party, at a time when "the political establishment" still viewed Clinton as a triangulating heretic.Maybe he was right, and maybe he was wrong, but the idea that Joe Lieberman has always been some sort of lifelong quasi-Republican just isn't factual. And the contradictory idea that Lieberman is the American Beauty Rose of the DC Democratic Establishment is equally off-target.The moment in the current campaign that most raised this particular issue was the sudden appearance of California Rep. Maxine Waters in Connecticut to stump for Lamont. For anyone with a political memory, this was striking: when Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman as his running-mate, the main trap that had to be run was Maxine Water's objection to Joe's mildly expressed view that maybe class-based affirmative action should ultimately replace race-based affirmative action. Lieberman was forced to kowtow to Waters personally and publicly, and the ultimate sign that Joe was acceptable to the entire party was his widely circulated photo kissing Maxine just before the Convention.That "kiss" has been forgotten in all the furor over Lieberman's "kiss" from Bush.So who represented the "party establishment" in 2000 and who represents it now? Joe Lieberman or Maxine Waters?I pose this as a real question, not as a rhetorical question. From one point of view, Lieberman represents a DC Democratic establishment that is addicted to bipartisanship, obsessed with power in Washington, and disinterested in progressive policymaking. From another point of view, Lieberman represents a progressive tradition that needs to be modernized, not abandoned--against the perpetual opposition of entrenched Democratic incumbents in Washington like Maxine Waters, who never face electoral opposition and set themselves up as guardians of this program or that. This disconnect represents a broader disagreement between those who think of the Gore and Kerry campaigns as the disastrous denouement of Clintonism, and those who think these campaigns were crippled by the older Democratic orthodoxy of interest-group liberalism.I frankly do not agree with either side of the Lieberman-Lamont fight in their contention that this is some sort of Democratic Gotterdammarung that will perpetually resolve every intraparty dispute. Much as I stubbornly admire Joe Lieberman, it's clear he is a clumsy politician who lives in the pre-Karl-Rove atmosphere that permitted genuine bipartisanship. The Clinton New Democrat tradition in the party would survive his defeat.But I also think the savaging of Lieberman as "vicious and reactionary" is a terrible sign of the defection of many progressives from reality-based politics. And to respond specifically to Matt Stoller's questions, the idea that Joe is the epitome of the "Democratic establishment" is a krazy-kat reflection of the false belief that Clintonism completely conquered Washington, and is the source of every D.C. establishment vice. If you took a straw poll of the consultants, the DNC types, and safe-seat House Members who surely represent an important part of the D.C. Democratic Establishment, I doubt you'd find anything like majority support for Joe Lieberman. He's only the embodiment of the Establishment when viewed through the looking glass of those who view all their friends as brave insurgents, and all their enemies as The Man.UPDATE: Due to a software glitch, this post went up on Tuesday, not Monday as indicated.
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July 28, 2006

More Cracker Crumbles

I'll try to move on to other topics directly, but wanted to do one more post about politics in my home state of Georgia. There was good news and bad news today for embattled incumbent Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who was surprisingly forced into an August 8 runoff by Dekalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson. The good news was her endorsement by Andrew Young, who remains a Georgia icon, and who cited a national police union contribution to Johnson (presumably motivated by her recent run-in with a Capitol Hill cop) as angering him into supporting McKinney. The bad news was a post-primary poll from Insider Advantage showing Johnson leading McKinney among likely runoff voters by a 46-21 margin.Figuring out who's actually going to vote in this kind of runoff is obviously very tricky, so the IA poll should be taken with several grains of salt. But you have to wonder how much room for growth in support the highly polarizing incumbent really has. Aside from her national notoriety, she's been in Congress for twelve of the last fourteen years, most of it representing pretty much the same district.On another front, I received an email from a Georgia observer who suggested the rumor I repeated earlier this week--about Johnson raising a ton of dough, especially from Jewish Democrats--is actually disinformation being circulated by the McKinney camp in an effort to fire up her base and to depict Johnson as a puppet of shadowy outside forces (not a new tactic for her, based on past races). I have no idea who's right about this; we'll have to see whether Johnson suddenly starts appearing on Atlanta metro television screens.The 4th congressional district runoff could have a big effect as well on two statewide Democratic runoffs, since turnout every where else is likely to be infinitesimal. In the contest to succeed Secretary of State Cathy Cox (who lost her gubernatorial race to Mark Taylor), the likelihood of a relatively high turnout in the majority-black 4th is giving new hope to second-place finisher Darryl Hicks, who is African-American, against Gail Buckner, who is white.In the other statewide runoff, for Lt. Gov., former state Rep. Jim Martin (who edged former state sen. Greg Hecht 42-38 in the primary) is running radio ads touting his endorsement by Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who is very popular among Democrats of all races. You have to feel a bit sorry for Martin and Hecht; they were able to draw a lot of attention and money on the theory that they would be facing Ralph Reed in a race that would have overshadowed everything else in Georgia politics. Running against Casey Cagle is a whole 'nother thing, though Cagle's own right-wing record, and perhaps residual anger over the harsh ads he ran against Reed, could provide some traction for a Democrat. More immediately, you wonder if either Martin or Hecht held some money back for the runoff. If not, Georgians may soon see them selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road to raise enough moolah for that last-minute runoff push.In non-runoff Georgia political news, DKos reports that a new poll for Republican candidate (and former Rep.) Max Burns shows him trailing Democratic incumbent John Barrow by one percentage point (44-43) in the always-tight 12th congressional district which runs from Augusta to Savannah. The district was originally drawn to favor Democrats, but Burns was able to beat ethically challenged Champ Walker in 2002; he then lost to Barrow 52-48 in 2004. The notorious Georgia re-redistricting of 2005 didn't reduce the Democratic advantage in the 12th, but it did remove Barrow's home town of Athens, which means he's having to solidify name ID elsewhere.Barrow's race is of national import because he is one of just a handful of incumbent Democratic House members considered vulnerable this November. Another is also from Georgia: 3d district Rep. Jim Marshall. After easily dispatching a heavily financed Republican in 2004, Marshall had to deal with a new map that significantly boosted the Republican vote. He also drew a serious challenger in former Rep. Mac Collins, who lost a Senate primary in 2004. But Marshall has had good leads in all the public polling, and like Barrow, is narrowly favored going into the general election.All in all, the politics in my home state will be as hot and sticky as the weather over the next couple of months.
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July 26, 2006

That Other August 8 Primary

It's pretty safe to say the progressive blogosphere is saturated with endless commentary and cheerleading about the August 8 Connecticut Primary involving Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. But a very interesting runoff election will occur that same day in my old stomping grounds, the 4th Congressional District of Georgia. The inimitable Rep. Cynthia McKinney will face little-known Dekalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, who stunned observers by denying McKinney a majority in the July 18 primary (she won 47 percent to Johnson's 44 percent, with a third, anti-McKinney candidate taking the balance of votes). And from what I'm hearing, it ain't looking good for the fiery lefty veteran.The rumor down in Dekalb is that Johnson is raising enormous sums of money for the runoff, some of it, no doubt, from Jewish Democrats who have always resented McKinney's outspoken pro-Palestinian views. (The night before McKinney lost her seat in 2002 to primary challenger Denise Majette, her father, then-state Rep. Billy McKinney, told a television audience that Cynthia's only problem was spelled "J-E-W-S." In a nice touch of irony, McKinney pere lost his own legislative seat the next day, in a huge upset, to a Jewish primary opponent.) McKinney has never been much of a fundraiser, and the voting patterns in the primary led a lot of observers to conclude that her once-legendary GOTV prowess is not what it used to be.Aside from money, McKinney has two big political problems. The first is that Georgia has no party registration, and her notoriety may tempt some of the district's small but significant Republican electorate to cross over; so long as they did not vote in the Republican primary on July 18, which had a very low turnout, they are free to do so. Indeed, McKinney blamed her 2002 loss to crossover voters, though the size of her defeat indicated she lost a majority of Democrats as well.But her bigger problem is her weakness among the district's large and growing African-American middle- and upper-middle-class population. They represent the political fulcrum of Dekalb County, and are much more likely to turn out for a runoff than the poorer black voters who have always served as McKinney's base.Given her situation and her personality, I'd expect some real fireworks from McKinney between now and August 8. She has always been fast to play the race card (viz. her immediate suggestion that her recent dustup with a Capitol Hill cop was motivated by racism and sexism), and the fact that her opponent is a fellow African-American won't deter her. Indeed, she won her first primary back in 1992 in no small part by charging that her two African-American opponents were puppets of the state's white political establishment.And there's no question she will allege a conspiracy to purge her from Congress. McKinney loves conspiracy theories the way a drunk loves a belt of Ten High before breakfast. Her suggestion that perhaps the White House had advance warning about 9/11 and deliberately let it happen helped paint a political bullseye on her back in 2002. And on this latest primary night, even as Cynthia was line dancing with her new friend Cindy Sheehan in front of the cameras, her staff and supporters were muttering darkly about a Diebold Conspiracy orchestrated by Secretary of State Cathy Cox to shift votes from McKinney to Johnson. (You'd think if Cox had the capacity to manipulate votes this way, she might have stolen enough votes from Mark Taylor to keep the Big Guy from narrowly winning a majority against her in the gubernatorial primary, eh?).But my guess is that McKinney has finally run out of luck. She got back into Congress in 2004 thanks to an extraordinary stroke of luck: Denise Majette's abrupt decision, shocking her own staff and certainly dismaying supporters who knew McKinney was mulling a comeback, to abandon her seat and launch a doomed Senate campaign. (In a side note, Majette has launched her own comeback effort, winning the Democratic nomination for state school superintendant).The word back home in 2004 was that McKinney had learned her lesson, and though her views were as lefty-lefty as ever, she kept a much lower profile on the campaign trail, and in Washington--until the little incident at the metal detectors in the Cannon Building. For the record, I think the whole brouhaha was ridiculous, especially the serious consideration apparently given to indicting McKinney for biffing the Capitol Hill officer with her cell phone. But it served as a reminder to many of her constituents that she remains a bit of a loose cannon in Cannon, and gave Hank Johnson the opening he needed to take advantage of the large if latent anti-McKinney vote.In any event, even as every hep blogger in Christendom obsessively follows the vote count in Connecticut on August 8, Georgia will be very much on my mind. No matter what happens, I'll relish the returns from my old neighborhood in Stone Mountain like a Varsity chili dog. Maybe McKinney will find a way to save her career one more time, but I personally doubt she and Cindy Sheehan will have much to dance about that night.
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July 25, 2006

Denver Nuggets

Just returned very early this morning from the DLC's annual meeting in Denver, exhausted but happy at how the event turned out. As I noted in yesterday's brief post, the National Conversation had a record turnout of state and local elected officials, which should help, among anybody paying attention, rebut the "DC Establishment" stereotype about the DLC. As always, it was refreshing to spend some time among electeds who are actually trying to solve problems; congressional Dems, for all their virtues, have no power to do that. And Monday's public event, including the rollout of Hillary Clinton's American Dream Initiative, was quite coherent and upbeat. Lord knows there were plenty of reporters in Denver who would have loved to ignore what was actually going on at the DLC meeting and instead written about intra-party fights, and plenty of bloggers and other DLC-detractors who would have loved to pile on. But they weren't given a hook for it, and I'm relieved and grateful for that.Tom Vilsack's and Hillary Clinton's speeches in Denver are already available on the DLC web site, and they are well worth reading. Vilsack offered a good quick summary of what the DLC is about these days. And Clinton combined an effective critique of Bush domestic policies with a very focused and specific set of counter-policies that would get the country back to what it was accomplishing when her husband was in office: expanding the middle class and dealing with supposedly intractable social and economic problems. Vilsack mentioned, as he always does, his efforts to build bridges between the DLC and the labor movement, which will begin to bear fruit in a visible way in a few weeks (stay tuned). And Clinton's economic/social agenda managed to attract praise from none other than Bob Borosage of Campaign for America's Future, who pioneered DLC-bashing long before it was cool.Last time I checked, the DLC event had not attracted much attention in the progressive blogosphere. Sure, Markos of DKos dismissed the whole deal as irrelevant in a throwaway line in a broader post on Bill Clinton's Lieberman appearance in Connecticut yesterday; but he would have done so even if we had revealed the cure for the common cold. That's his story and he's going to stick to it.Chris Bowers of MyDD, with whom I sometimes have a friendly sparring-partner relationship, did a long post cherry-picking press reports on the Denver event in order to argue that the DLC was focused on poll-driven political arguments for doing this or that.I would agree with Chris if that was what had really happened. But here's the thing: this was the most wonkified DLC gathering I can remember. The whole event was organized around a collection of 22 essays on national security; a book on state and local policies to deal with globalization; and a big and specific agenda (the aforementioned American Dream Initiative) on middle-class opportunity. I was there the whole time, and didn't hear any polling data. Yes, there was one session focused on a DLC paper about electoral and demographic trends. But that's the kind of stuff Chris normally loves; it's pure data and political analysis. He singles out for particular opprobrium the discussion of faith and politics he read about; presumably this refers to the workshop on this subject I moderated in Denver. But having been there and all, I can assure him that the main thrust of the discussion was "authenticity" in connecting progressive principles with faith traditions. And my own remarks focused on the misreading of public opinion research that leads some Democrats to say damaging things about religion and politics.I can understand the lefty impulse to describe any DLC event as revolving around poll-driven injunctions to Democrats to abandon their principles and drift to the center and right. But it's still a little odd to get bashed within the poll-and-elections-obsessed blogosphere for simply acknowledging a political dimension to the question of how progressives should pursue their values and policy goals. You can't take the politics out of politics, no matter how you want to prettify it. But anybody who was actually in Denver will agree that the big message was that Democrats need principled big ideas to take full advantage of the ongoing disaster of Republican misgovernment.
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July 24, 2006

Catching Up

Sorry for the hiaitus in posting, but I've been heads-down getting ready for and participating in the DLC's annual meeting in Denver, which concludes in a couple of hours. I'll have a fuller report tomorrow, but suffice it to say this has been the largest collection of state and local elected officials the DLC has ever attracted to this event (about 375 from 41 states). I ran three breakout sessions yesterday--on Connecting With People of Faith, Values-Based Messaging, and The Politics of Fast-Growing Areas. The first two were SRO, and the third, late in a long day, still filled a large room. What you will probably read or hear about this event in the national media is that four possible presidential candidates spoke--Tom Vilsack, Evan Bayh, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Richardson. But in many respects, it was the crowed listening to these worthies who represented the real story.
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July 19, 2006

Judgment Day

SPECIAL JOINT STATEMENT FROM BULLMOOSE AND NEWDONKEYThe Moose and the Donkey are pleased to join hands--or more precisely, hooves--and express gratification that Ralph Reed is not going to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Nor will Brother Reed, whose eyes were on much higher aspirations, hear the strains of "Hail to the Chief" unless he ponies up a few grand to attend some GOP fundraiser where the president is present.Verily, verily, Ralph Reed has discovered that the Proverb was prescient: pride goeth before the fall. Once among the highest and the mightiest in Republican councils, Reed could not win a low-turnout Republican primary in his adopted home state; indeed, state senator Casey Cagle wound up routing him by double digits.Allow the Donkey and the Moose to enjoy a little schadenfreude.The Moose does not fault brother Ralph for having been a leader in the religious right. There are many good and decent folks in the religious conservative movement. What the Moose faults Ralph for is his hypocrisy and crass cynicism as he reportedly exploited the good will of religious folks. Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff truly deserve each other. Ralph would have had us believe that he didn't know what old Jack was up to. He was merely the piano player in the bordello of corruption. This claim gives a new meaning to the word chutzpah. Ralph is many things, but he is not stupid. And Abramoff was one of Ralph's closest friends.The Donkey is from Georgia, and is relieved that even Republican primary voters could not bring themselves to ignore Reed's distinctive history of combining money-grubbing, self-righteousness, and vicious political tactics. Sure, some Georgia Democrats liked the idea of running against Ralph right down to November. But even a temporary victory for Reed would have reinforced the cynical belief in GOP circles that no one will pay an electoral price for the scandals and corruption of the Bush Era--that voters really are dumb sheep waiting for the next opportunity to be shorn.As both the Moose and the Donkey acknowledge, Ralph Reed is an excellent salesman. But he couldn't he sell himself with all his baggage to the voters of Georgia. He's had his "accountability movement," as the president might put it, and lost. Maybe this setback will begin Ralph's road to redemption. But it's good to know he won't be driving down that road in a publicly owned vehicle.
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July 18, 2006

PTL

So it's official: Ralph Reed lost his bid to become the Lieutenant Governor of Georgia tonight; he lost early and lost pretty big. At one point, long after Reed had conceded to Casey Cagle, I was on the phone with a Georgia political operative, who was watching local television, and said: "Seems to be about five people left at Ralph's party. Wonder if they've started serving liquor yet." She went on to report a more disturbing image from the tube: Cynthia McKinney (who may, in the biggest upset of the night, wind up getting knocked into a runoff) appeared to be doing the electric slide with Cindy Sheehan at her election night shindig. In any event, I wanted to report that my colleague The Moose and I agreed today to do an unprecedented joint post tomorrow if Ralph lost. We haven't been seeing eye to eye on some things lately, but we sure can agree to Praise the Lord that Ralph Reed won't be climbing any ladders to power real soon.
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No Exits

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm from Georgia, and have been c-r-a-z-y obsessed with Ralph Reed's race for Lieutenant Governor, the intended first stop of the crafty operative on the way to the White House. It's finally primary day in Georgia, and I have an unaccustomed feeling: there are no exit polls in this race, and thus we all have to wait for the actual votes to be counted. What an indignity, eh?To tell you the truth, it's a blessing. I'm one of the many fools who got hold of the general election exit polls in 2004, and "knew" John Kerry had been elected president before the actual polls had closed anywhere. Hell, I was calling up friends and family members late into the evening, and telling them to ignore that red tide on the network television electoral maps, because the exits had already decided it. Reality finally set in when I called one of my buddies working for Kerry in FL (a state carried by the Democrat, if narrowly, in the exit poll election), and he said: "We're done here, and we're done nationally." So while I wish I had access to the afternoon exits from Georgia today, it's a lot safer to just wait for the results. Who knows: maybe Ralph Reed will hear from his campaign manager at some point tonight those very words: "We're done here, and we're done nationally."
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July 14, 2006

1948 Issues

The growing conflagration in the Middle East has more dimensions than any of us can count, and I don't pretend to be an expert on the history, politics and culture of that region. But while watching the latest developments unfold like the worst of recurring nightmares, I was drawn to re-read the ominous Washington Post op-ed by Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, published on July 11. Here's the key passage:

If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be able to enjoy those same rights.... If Israel is prepared to negotiate seriously and fairly, and resolve the core 1948 issues, rather than the secondary ones from 1967, a fair and permanent peace is possible.
Haniyeh could not have made it much plainer that the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank--the "secondary" issue created by the Six-Day War of 1967--is not the main Palestinian grievance with Israel. Thus, the particular way in which Israel has sought, unilaterally, to end this occupation--exactly which Jewish settlements remain, and exactly where the famous "fence" will run--is not really the cause of the latest attacks on Israel from Gaza. And the central "1948 issue" isn't even so much where a Palestinian capital will be established, and how much territory it will possess: it's the so-called "Right of Return" of displaced Palestinians and their successors, which is fundamentally incompatible with the existence of a Jewish State. Keep in mind that the refusal to compromise on the "Right of Return" was the primary argument Yasir Arafat advanced for his fateful rejection in 2000 of a territorial settlement far more generous than any Israeli government will ever again offer. It remains a fundamental tenet of the Fatah Movement's "peace" platform. In that light, all the rhetorical differences between Fatah and Hamas on recognizing Israel may not much matter in the end. There seems to be an unspoken assumption among American policymakers that all the talk about the "Right of Return" is little more than a bid by Palestinians for huge sacks of money--presumably offered up by the U.S. and European countries--to permanently settle refugees and offer some sort of compensation to the families of former landowners who left or were expelled from Israel during the 1947-48 war. I hope there is some truth to that, but sometimes you have to believe that people mean what they say and say what they mean. Remember that the event that precipitated Arafat's rejection of the last peace deal, and his launching of the Second Intifada, was Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, hailed as a military victory by Hezbollah and widely interpreted by Palestinians as an object-lesson in how to defeat the Jews instead of negotiating with them. The central delusion of the Arab Middle East, then, is that Israel can somehow be forced to concede what her enemies have failed to wrest from her in three separate wars dating back more than a half-century. No one sane really believes any combination of Arab or even Iranian conventional forces or terrorist cadres can defeat Israel militarily. No one sane should really believe an unconditional Right of Return can be achieved through any other path. So it all does come back to those "1948 issues," and it's not suprising that more and more people on both sides of the Israeli-Arab divide are reaching the conclusion that Israel's War of Independence has never ended, and may now be breaking out anew.
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July 12, 2006

Bad News For Ralph

With six days to go until the Georgia Primary, Ralph Reed's plan to get to the White House via the Lieutenant Governorship and then the Governorship of his adopted state ain't looking like a very good bet, even for real gamblers. Two new polls came out today showing Reed trailing state senator Casey Cagle. And one of them, released by Insider Advantage, shows a really bad trend for Ralph: in just two weeks, he's gone from leading Cagle 32-27 to trailing him 41-36, indicating that late deciders are breaking towards Cagle.Yesterday there was also news casting a harsh light on Reed's troubles: the final campaign finance figures showed Cagle outraising Ralph by nearly a 3 to 1 margin in the last quarter, forcing Reed to loan a cool half million to his campaign. This is really a roll of the dice for Ralph: it's not like he's going to recoup this "loan" on the back-end if he loses next week. Given Cagle's Ralph's-a-lying-sellout -who's-supporting-gambling-and-forced-abortions-and-prostitution ad campaign, I sorta doubt he'll go out of his way to help his opponent retire his campaign debts after the primary. And Ralph's past benefactors, his ol' buddies Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist, are not in a very good position to toss any more cash his way.Maybe Reed's legendary mobilization skills will enable him to pull this out in a low-turnout primary, but if I were him, I'd spend some time petitioning the Lord for forgiveness and redemption. Insofar as the Lord seems to treat the self-righteous with special disdain, I wouldn't be surprised if Ralph gets a busy signal if he calls for divine intervention on his behalf.
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July 11, 2006

How to Persuade a Majority

Allow me to join the chorus of praise for Scott Winship's blog on the Democratic Strategist site. He slices and dices the numbers in a dispassionate way that should appeal to all Democrats.Yesterday Winship did a post reviewing all the evidence about voters' identifications as conservatives, liberals and moderates, and as Republicans and Democrats. You should definitely read the whole thing, but a lot of his analysis revolves around swing voters defined as: (a) genuine independents; (b) conservative self-identifiers who tend to agree with Democrats on key policy issues; and (c) liberal self-identifiers who tend to agree with Republicans on key policy issues. Here's what Scott says about the evidence on how to appeal to these voters:

[A]ttracting swing voters means emphasizing values and national security. These issues are crucial to improving performance among inconsistent identifiers and liberal-identifying conservatives. Values issues also appear key to keeping and improving performance among conservative-identifying liberals.It is possible that an economic populist message would be effective among inconsistent identifiers, who appear primed for both economic and cultural populism. Populism doesn't appear particularly likely to resonate among liberal-identifying conservatives, who became much more likely to support Bush between 2000 and 2004, during which time the al Qaida attacks seem to have pushed them toward Bush. Nor does it appear to be promising as a strategy aimed at conservative-identifying liberals who, after all, call themselves "conservative" mostly on the basis of their views on values issues.Finally, increasing turnout could be successful, but I found that nonvoters had pretty much the same ideological distribution as voters did. So it wouldn't necessarily yield a bumper crop of new Democratic votes.
Scott's whole analysis happens to coincide with the DLC's longstanding views on how to appeal to swing voters, and how to assess nonvoters. But don't let me taint his words with association with any particular faction in the Democratic Party; read it yourself and decide. Maybe Democratic prospects ultimately depend on obtaining a deeper understanding of popular culture, such as the national obsession with American Idolatry, but for the moment, it's good to have some empirical data on where the stubborn Donkey should go.
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July 10, 2006

Cagle Goes Medieval on Ralph Reed

I know I posted about the Ralph Reed primary in Georgia just last Friday, but with the election just eight days ahead, I will continue to blog about it as events warrant. And the latest news is that Ralph's primary opponent for the Lite Governor gig, state senator Casey Cagle, has launched a TV ad that gets pretty down 'n' dirty, using phrases like "lying about his record," and "selling out our conservative values," and "lying about Casey Cagle." The ad also gets heavily into the forced abortion and forced prostitution allegations about that libertarian paradise, the Northern Mariana Islands, which Reed promoted at the behest of his buddies Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist.The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway and Tom Baxter understated the situaton by saying: "In the Republican race for lieutenant governor, Casey Cagle has crossed into Point of No Return Land. There’s no shaking hands and wishing best of luck after a TV ad like this."The same Galloway/Baxter column provides a link to a robo-call for Ralph Reed by none other than Zell Miller, who talks about how long he's known Ralph, five or six Miller political personalities ago.
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Let's Try This One More Time....

Somebody in my office forwarded a piece from Hotline today citing a Chris Bowers MyDD post in which Chris, sort of stamping his foot, once again decries the hypocrisy of those who criticize netroots types for going after Joe Lieberman while "conservative Democrats" and "the DLC" are trying to purge Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, via a primary challenge by Rep. Ed Case. This is the third time Chris has made this argument, and after the second one, I did a response making it clear that the DLC has nothing at all to do with Case's challenge to Akaka, which is, best I can tell, mainly about Akaka's advanced age (81) and the possibility that he could be replaced at some point during the next six years by a Republican apointee. The rationale for Case's candidacy is not one for the squeamish, to be sure, but it certainly does not reflect some sort of national centrist "purge" of Akaka, whom I barely knew anything about until I started reading that I was apparently involved in a plot to drive him from office.Now I don't expect Chris Bowers to read this blog regularly, but he's pretty influential in some circles, and insofar as he seems to have lurid ideas about the DLC's trans-Pacific reach, he might want to actually find out if this DLC- goes-after-Akaka story line has any basis in reality. It doesn't.
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July 7, 2006

Will Ralph Reed Survive His Primary?

Boy, the calendar really snuck up on me like a crafty pick-pocket: the Georgia primary that will, among other things, determine Ralph Reed's political fate is just eleven days away.The Man Who Would Be Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, as part of a Master Plan to stroll into the White House in 2016 or so, is fighting for his life against primary challenger state senator Casey Cagle. A poll taken by the Georgia-based firm Insider Advantage on June 26-27 has Reed ahead of Cagle 32-27, with a gigantic 41 percent still undecided. According to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway and Tom Baxter, here's what Insider Advantage's savvy Matt Towery had to say about the poll:

Those who are shocked at the large undecided percentage in this survey should understand that these two candidates have only been up on broadcast television for under a week. As we’ve noted in the past, Reed may be well known in political circles, but the average voter has little if just a hazy idea of who he is and what office he is seeking. And Sen. Cagle suffers from the same anemic name identification.
Towery thinks the dynamics help Reed. I dunno. The release of the final Senate Indian Affairs Committee report on the Abramoff scandal, which toted up Reed's take from casino tribes to campaign against competitors at more than 5 million smackers, did not come at a good time for Ralph. And Cagle's final TV blitz is all about Reed and Abramoff (Reed is retaliating with ads claming Cagle got fat and happy from his own state legislative service).As a Democrat, I hope Reed wins the primary; his nomination will not only give likely Democratic nominee Jim Martin a good shot in November, but could wreak holy havoc on the whole GOP ticket, headed by Governor Sonny Perdue, whose private opinion of Ralph is unprintable in a family-friendly blog.But as an expatriate Georgian, who bleeds Bulldog red-and-black, yearns for the sight of landmarks like the Big Chicken, and goes home pretty regularly to get re-crackerized and eat some decent grits--I don't want my home state to do much of anything to facilitate Ralph Reed's visions of grandeur. His exposure as part of the Abramoff scam, along with long-time buddy Grover Norquist, is a perfect reflection of his role in the mutual corruption of social and economic conservatives in the latter-day GOP. Whether he loses on July 18 or in November, he needs to lose, and it will be a fine day in Georgia when the chickens all come home to roost, and Ralph Reed's political ambitions finally expire.UPDATE: A new Insider Advantage poll taken July 5-6 and released over the weekend showed Reed and Cagle tied at 37 percent, with 26 percent undecided. (The two GOPers also debated on public television on Sunday; I didn't see it, but I gather Reed played the religion card very heavily.) The same poll release had Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor leading Secretary of State Cathy Cox 49-41 in the Democratic primary for governor.
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July 6, 2006

Gettin' Crazy

I know us progressive bloggers are supposed to be boycotting The New Republic these days, but hell's bells, I've always been a bit contrary by nature, and the magazine is, well, actually very good on a regular basis.Today's TNR posts offer two very interesting takes on the way that the misuses of language can make politicians here and everywhere literally crazy.The estimable John Judis, after a whirlwind tour of modern epistemology (no kidding), suggests that the Bush administration is pursuing an insane foreign policy based on the assumption that America's enemies are insane. It's a fine piece, though I do think he should have acknowledged the odd psychopath in power (see Hitler, Adolph, and Stalin, Josef) who provides the exception to the rule of semi-rational statecraft.Meanwhile, the equally estimable Leon Wieseltier offers an assessment of Hamas' bizarre denial of Israel's formal existence, suggesting an unusually Orwellian use of language by some Palestinians about words like "exist." At the height of Leon's diatribe, he describes Hamas' position towards Israel this way: "Israel is to be accepted as just another nasty fact of life, like toxic waste or Tom Cruise."Selah.
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July 5, 2006

Obama, Politics and Faith

I waited for some of the dust to settle before commenting on Barack Obama's remarkable speech to Jim Wallis' Christian Left assemblage last week, but here's a simple summary of the reaction:1) Some folks praised Obama for calling on Democrats to reach out to people of faith, and for denying Republicans had any natural monopoly on their support.2) Some folks attacked Obama for either (a) reinforcing "Republican talking points" by suggesting Democrats had a problem with people of faith, or (b) suggesting that Democrats reach out to people who are part of the conservative base, which can't be done without compromising progressive principles.Among the critics, Chris Bowers of MyDD managed to tie himself in knots by making both negative arguments simultaneously.Lots of the critics and even some of the fans don't seem to have paid sufficient attention to what Obama actually said. Over at TPMCafe, Nathan Newman, quoting liberally from Obama's remarks, pretty decisively refutes the claim that the Illinois senator was piling onto Republican attacks on Democrats, or calling for any sort of "tilt to the right" on policy issues (beyond the single issue of church-state-separation absolutism).But uniquely, and not suprisingly, Amy Sullivan, in an article at Slate, noted a very different aspect of Obama's speech that in the long run may make it more significant: an intra-Christian argument about the connection between faith and political commitment that suggests any simple claim that God wants the faithful to vote this way or that is spiritually dangerous. Here's how Sullivan puts it:

This humbler version of faith has been in the shadows for the past few years, derided as moral relativism or even a lack of true belief. Obama stepped up not to defend this approach to religion, but to insist on the rightness of it. That should be comforting to anyone who has been deeply discomfited by Bush's version of Christianity. A questioning faith is a much better fit for a society like ours than one that allows for no challenge or reflection. It also acts as a check against liberals who would appropriate God for their own purposes, declaring Jesus to be the original Democrat and trotting out New Testament verses to justify their own policy programs. Liberals don't have the answer key to divining God's will any more than conservatives do.
In other words, Obama was fighting something of a three-front battle in this speech:(1) against conservative claims that God's Will is easy to understand, dictates culturally conservative positions, and requires nothing more than obedience;(2) against Christian Left claims that progressives of faith should simply counter their Law with our Gospel; their sexual moralism with our social-justice moralism; their scriptural authorities with our scriptural authorities;(3) against secularists of the Left or the Right (encompassing, BTW, most of the political chattering classes) who reduce religious faith to entirely secular political and cultural positions, without having any clue of the ambiguities involved in believing in a transcendent God who reveals Himself in history and human action as well as in scripture. The political import of Obama's speech is that he is engaging in an intra-Christian debate that is already undermining the Christian Right every day. In essence, the James Dobsons of the religious world have sought to lead their flocks into a prophetic stance that stakes their spiritual lives to a series of specific and highly questionable political commitments. More and more, even the most conservative evangelical Christians are chafing against this bondage, while the less conservative faithful, including the largely apolitical attendees of rapidly growing non-denominational megachurches, never bought into it much to begin with. This is an enormous potential political constituency that is waiting to hear from Our Side, not with Conservative Lite policy prescriptions; not with Christian Left counter-prophetic-absolutism; but with credible and authentic appeals to the holy fear that the faithful should respect when confronting those who make exclusive claims to represent God's Will on Earth.This is precisely the appeal Barack Obama made last week, and as a Christian, and as a Democrat, I am grateful for it.
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July 1, 2006

More GOP Chutzpah

This headline from today's Washington Post says it all: "GOP Seeks Advantage In Ruling On Trials." In other words, now that the Supreme Court has denied that George W. Bush has virtually monarchical powers to deal with terrorist suspects as he sees fit, Republicans want to suggest that any Democrats who recommends legislation complying with the decision is a terrorist-lover. Here's a sample of what we're going to hear real soon:

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's comment Thursday that the court decision "affirms the American ideal that all are entitled to the basic guarantees of our justice system." That statement, Boehner said, amounted to Pelosi's advocating "special privileges for terrorists."
You know what this line of "reasoning" reminds me of? Many years ago I happened to be in one of those states with no limitations on campaigning for judicial positions, and to my horror, I watched a TV ad where some craggy old buzzard cast a steely eye at the camera and said: "Elect me to the bench, and I'll always rule against the criminals. I'll be the hangin' judge."Now you don't need a law degree to understand that the reason we have safeguards and procedures for criminal proceedings is that you don't know who the criminal is until after the trial. Same goes for terrorist suspects. If some sort of evidence-based system for figuring out who terrorists actually are before you punish them is a "special privilege," then I'm all for it, and you should be, too.
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