Wednesday night’s CNN/YouTube Republican debate spent the first 23 minutes on immigration.
That is primarily a decision of CNN in choosing several immigration questions first, but the candidates did not need much prompting, and the conservative audience likely had no problem with it.
But the focus on immigration is extremely damaging to the field and the party in two key ways.
One, the relentless immigrant-bashing will continue to hurt the GOP, as it did in 2006.
The last congressional election saw an 11-point swing in the Latino vote towards the Democrats from the 2004 election, which was not offset by any gains among white voters. (Most voters support pathways to citizenship.)
In short, bashing immigrants got them nowhere.
Yet they persist, because their conservative base demands it.
Two, the intense focus on the issue is enticing the candidates to virulently attack each other, which is exposing the lot of them as hypocrites, panderers and flip-floppers.
As I noted in the last LiberalOasis Radio Show, every single GOP candidate with a remotely plausible shot at winning the nomination (Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and Thompson) have pro-immigrant policies and positions in their past records — supporting government services to the undocumented and/or supporting pathways for the undocumented to become citizens.
And with the exception of McCain, they are all trying to act as if their top priority is to rid America of the 12 million who have committed misdemeanors in coming here to work and feed their families.
But since each candidate feels need to prove they hate immigrants the most, they are calling out the flip-flops of each other. Everybody loses.
They continue to alienate Latinos. They lose public trust by showing their lack of principle.
And whichever candidate is the last one standing doesn’t get a boost for shining bright in a hard-fought race, just emerges bloodied and bruised.
No one can “win” this argument because, from a conservative perspective, none of them has a strong record to tout.
Yet they’ll keep digging their hole, caught up in the vitriol that drives the conservative base and separates them from the majority of the country.
Four years ago, Saddam Hussein was captured. Dem presidential front runner Howard Dean said “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.” Soon after, he was roundly attacked by his Dem rivals, and other Beltway Dems sought to undermine Dean in the New York Times (link via Left Coaster), fearful that the Dean nomination — in the face of such great success in Iraq — would make the party look soft and weak.
Now, the NY Times is floating (apparently off-the-record) concerns that the military gains in Iraq will make things complicated for a Dem nominee critical of the occupation.
Dems aren’t all of sudden sounding like Republicans on the occupation. To the extent they are accepting claims of military successes, they are still stressing that such gains don’t mean much if there’s no political success reconciling Iraq’s various factions.
But they could sharpen that message, and more clearly root it in broader foreign policy principles.
On its face, just criticizing the lack of political progress can seem like nitpicking, and stubbornly refusing to accept any sort of progress.
However, if it is well understood that Democratic foreign policy is based on support for credible democracy — not on propping up illegitimate governments through aid to dictators (like in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) or permanent occupation (like in Iraq) — it will be easier to respond to the ebbs and flows of the civil war.
It doesn’t matter if an increase in the size of the occupation has contributed to a brief decline in the number of attacks, just as it didn’t matter when Saddam was captured.
If permanent occupation is a fundamentally flawed goal, reconciliation will remain impossible, and destabilization and violence will continue to percolate.
In 2003, Dean wasn’t shifting his foreign policy views with the daily twist and turns of news. He took the long view and was vindicated in the end. Today’s Dems should heed the lesson.
Further, as the Bush Administration and its Iraqi clients start to talk more openly about a permanent presence, Dems have a fresh opportunity to crystallize the foreign policy choice before us.
The Dodd campaign was first in responding to Bush’s move to codify permanent bases in a statement.
That’s fine. But statements won’t be enough to make the issue the basis for reframing the Iraq debate and broader foreign policy discussion.
Candidates should make it a central issue to repeatedly return to when discussing alternatives.
If one candidate does that, the person will have done much to earn your vote.
If several do that, we can start reshaping the foreign policy debate before the nominees are chosen.
Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Campaign For America’s Future Senior Fellow Rick Perlstein, who discussed the influx of unsafe toys and calls for the resignation of corporate hack Nancy Nord, head of the Consumer Safety Product Commission.
The audio podcast for the show is here. And you can watch my opening monologue below, about how Dems should lead on immigration, below.
Mentioned on the broadcast:
The New Republic on immigration
Rick Perlstein’s recent appearance on NPR, where he explained to the clueless about conservative obstruction
United Steelworkers: Stop Toxic Trade
Consumers Union: Not In My Cart
Consumer Reports: 12 toy shopping tips for a safer holiday
Campaign for America’s Future report on “Toxic Toys”, and below, the shocking video:
The Obama campaign caught a big break today, as a new Iowa poll gave him a statistically insignificant but journalistically significant lead — the first time in a while that Sen. Hillary Clinton wasn’t ahead in something.
But this isn’t just a break for Obama. It’s a break for eveyrbody not named Clinton. She has to be knocked off the front-runner’s perch for anybody else to stand a chance of winning.
LiberalOasis has been very skeptical that her decline would happen, because Obama and John Edwards opted to join her in opening the door to continued Iraq occupation by Jan. 2013.
And LiberalOasis remains skeptical. This is just one poll in one state.
But one poll in the most important state can shift perceptions. If nothing else, it gives everybody a fresh opportunity.
No one should think if they keep doing what they have been doing that Clinton will keep dropping. Clinton and her team are too practiced at electoral politics.
A strong case still needs to be made why Clinton would not be as good a president as one of the others. Not why she isn’t the most electable. Why she won’t be the best president.
Part of that case is being made, as rivals hit Clinton on not taking firm positions.
But the flip side of that is showing leadership and taking firm positions.
Instead of dancing around immigration questions and always being on the defensive, will someone forcefully argue that those who commit misdemeanors crossing the border in order to feed their families are no more undermining the foundations of America than those who get illegal prescription drugs from Canada so they can live?
Will someone take the lead in the Senate to cut off aid to Pakistan’s dictator until fully open elections are held, and show what a real pro-democracy foreign policy looks like?
Will someone take the lead to expose the congressional obstructionists and pass a strong energy bill and global warming bill?
Will someone take the lead on Iraq?
And will someone resist getting sucked into petty trivial spats and instead show what they’re made of by fighting their opponents on policy and principle?
Theoretical debates about experience, change and judgment will fall by the wayside if people see leadership in action.
The race is starting to open up for the first time in weeks, but this window may not stay open long.
Now’s the time to shine.
Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Sam Seder, who discussed the writers’ strike and the Democratic race for president.
The audio podcast for the show is here. And you can watch my opening monologue below, about the Democrats on Pakistan, below.
Here’s Sen. Hillary Clinton discussing Pakistan at Thursday night’s debate:
… there’s absolutely a connection between a democratic regime and heightened security for the United States. That’s what’s so tragic about this situation.
After 9/11, President Bush had a chance to chart a different course, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, and could have been very clear about what our expectations were. We are now in a bind, and it is partly — not completely, but partly — a result of the failed policies of the Bush administration.
So, where we are today means that we have to say to President Musharraf: Look, this is not in your interest either. This is not in the interest of the United States. It is not in your interest to either stay in power or stay alive.
Sure sounds like she wished Bush pushed for democratic reform in Pakistan, instead of propping up Musharraf’s dictatorship.
But here’s what she said in a debate from August, when criticizing Sen. Barack Obama’s pledge to strike terrorists in Pakistan’s border region if Musharraf would not act on actionable intelligence:
I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamic extremists who are in bed with al Qaeda and Taliban.
Of course, as everyone now knows, Musharraf is primarily fighting for his life against lawyers and judges, not the tribal militants.
Sen. Clinton is not alone among Dem candidates in supporting Musharraf.
Both Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd have expressed support for Musharraf to maintain “stability.”
Whereas Obama, Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden have been more consistent in supporting democratic principles.
The NY Times picks up the smell of freedom:
Several senior [Bush] administration officials said that with each day that passed, more administration officials were coming around to the belief that General Musharraf’s days in power were numbered and that the United States should begin considering contingency plans, including reaching out to Pakistan’s generals.
Pakistan’s cadre of elite generals, called the corps commanders, have long been kingmakers inside the country. At the top of that cadre is Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, General Musharraf’s designated successor as army chief. General Kayani is a moderate, pro-American infantry commander who is widely seen as commanding respect within the army and, within Western circles, as a potential alternative to General Musharraf.
The reassuring line is that “General Kayani and other military leaders are widely believed to be eager to pull the army out of politics and focus its attention purely on securing the country.”
Right. Here’s what the NY Times reported after Musharraf’s coup in 1999:
But those who know the general personally, as well as military officers and defense experts, describe him as a liberal Muslim and a level-headed military commander whose commitment to democratic rule cracked when Prime Minister Sharif meddled once too often in the military’s business by trying to get rid of a second army chief within a year.
That was after Musharraf himself proclaimed: ”I shall not allow the people to be taken back to the era of sham democracy, but to a true one. And I promise you I will, if God wills it.”
And as far for the military wanting to “pull…out of politics,” here’s what that means. In another 1999 NYT piece, a think tank president observed: ”The army does not want to run the country but the army wants to be the main repository of power.”
One way or another, looks like the Bush Administration will help to maintain the undemocratic status quo.
I always felt that my foreign policy chapter in “Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!” was the most important of the book. I also sensed it would be the chapter that would gain the least traction.
Arguing, as I do, that a liberal foreign policy vision should be largely based on supporting credible democracy abroad surely seems counter-intuitive in the shambles of the Bush Era.
Bush rhetorically based his foreign policy on promoting democracy, and it’s been a total disaster. The nation’s reactive mood seems more partial to realpolitik than anything with a whiff of idealism.
But the point of the chapter was that Bush in fact was not promoting democracy of any sort, but was practicing realpolitik of the worst kind:
The argument is not that Bush shouldn’t be promoting democracy. The argument is that Bush and his fellow conservatives are totally insincere about promoting democracy. Their game is the same ol’ shortsighted, reckless unilateralism — aggressively exerting dominance over far-flung regions of the world, particularly those regions with strategically important natural resources. Never mind if such a strategy leaves, to quote Bush again, “whole regions of the world [to] simmer in resentment and tyranny — prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder.”
That approach didn’t have immediate resonance with the scarred American public, many liberals included. And so, you haven’t heard many presidential hopefuls making it.
But now there’s Pakistan.
Bush’s Pakistan policy was nothing but realpolitik, reversing the Clinton Administration policy of sanctioning Musharraf for his coup, and instead, becoming best pals. It was either our friendly dictator or Osama controlling a nuclear arsenal.
Now it is clear that the realpolitik choice was not based in reality.
Those leading the democracy movement and suffering from Musharraf’s crackdown are secular liberal attorneys and judges — not terrorists and not religious extremists.
Further. propping up Musharraf with our tax dollars didn’t do anything to get Bin Laden. His government — with Bush’s approval no less — has played footsie with tribal militants the last six years.
The fact is that conservative foreign policy has been primarily concerned with propping up leaders it likes, and taking down those it doesn’t. Supporting democracy and fighting terrorism have always taken a backseat, or more accurately, been kicked to the curb.
That reality is all the more glaring when lawyers take to the streets to get their country back, and Bush leaves them hanging.
Just as his father told the Iraqis to rise up only to sit quietly while Saddam cracked down, Dubya told the world “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you,” yet has done nothing for Pakistanis risking their lives for their freedom.
This is not an exception to Bush’s conservative foreign policy. This is conservative foreign policy. And it is a failure.
Yet we liberals have not put forth, in a coordinated way, what are the core principles behind the liberal foreign policy alternative.
If we had, even when our true principles might not have immediately resonated, we’d be better prepared in the wake of crisis like in Pakistan, to explain how we would do things differently and build more trust in our ability to take America and the globe in a more secure and prosperous direction.
That if we had a foreign policy that engaged all parties in any country, in power and out, regardless of ideology, we would show the world’s people that we were not trying to pick the leaders of their countries, and show dictators they could not expect blind support from us to stay in power illegitimately.
That would go a long way to removing the fear of Western domination in the Arab/Muslim region that helps terrorist organizations recruit.
Pakistan is simply a major event that speaks volumes about foreign policy.
The individual protesters in Burma deserve just as much as support as the protesters in Pakistan.
But unlike Burma, Pakistan crystallizes the failure of conservative foreign policy
That’s why it is critical for us to talk about Pakistan in broader terms, and explain how a liberal foreign policy would have made a difference, and still can in the future.
I’m back from vacation and I wanted to extend my thanks to Alan and Errington for keeping LiberalOasis humming while I was gone. Do sample their fine blogging, writing, and radioing regularly.
And thanks also to David for hosting the LiberalOasis Radio Show. All of his sharp podcasts from the last few weeks are here. And check out his own Pacifica radio show Midweek Politics on Wednesdays — this week he’ll interview both Sen. John Kerry and his primary opponent Ed O’Reilly.
The craziness in Pakistan marches on. Bhutto’s supporters are being arrested. Bush is supposed to be pressuring Musharraf but I’m not buying it. We supported this guy. Bin Laden is on the lose and we supported a guy that really didn’t believe in Democracy, freedom or liberty?
Nancy Nord is the acting head of the consumer protection safety commission. She is the one that told democrats that she didn’t need or want additional moneys to inspect imported toys. Ms. Nord was on Capital Hill testifying in front of the House. She got an ear full from Democrats like Edward Markey. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said it was clear the CPSC has not been fully doing its job during Nord’s two-year tenure. “The CPSC once stood for the Consumer Protection Safety Commission. Today it stands for ‘Can’t Protect the Safety of Children,”‘ Markey said. “The reality is CPSC has lost 15 percent of its workforce since 2004. … As the holidays approach, parents should not have to play toybox roulette.”
The Senate for reasons that aren’t really clear to me have confirmed Michael Mukasey for Attorney General just a few minutes ago. Why? Saying that you can’t or shouldn’t decide based on one issue is crazy. Torture is more than one issue. It is about executive power. It is about the rule of law. We know what the law says. The administration isn’t following the law and Mukasey has basically said that he doesn’t care if the administration follows the law. I have a problem with that. Unfortunately, 53 senators do not have a problem with that.
If you put enough earmarks in a bill, sooner or later you will have something for everyone. That’s exactly what the Congress did yesterday. They were able to override another Bush veto. I’m not sure that this is a formula for success. Maybe it is. The Dems are going to have to do something different to show the American people that they are the answer. They are smart enough to pull legislation passed a stick in the mud president. Look for an Iraq funding bill to have similar earmarks.
Finally, many New Yorkers don’t like Rudy Giuliani. When I say don’t like I’m being kind. Many hate him. Rudy invokes an emotional response that is quite remarkable to watch. I pointed out some of Rudy’s lack of judgment in an earlier post. Bernard Kerik is another terrible lapse in judgment. There is no excuse. He tries to apologize but it is important to point out that many people warned Rudy about Kerik. They talked about mob ties and shady deals but Rudy didn’t want to hear it. Rudy had is mind made up and went head long into the fray. It is his inability to adjust his thinking that is worrisome for me.