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The LiberalOasis Blog
February 4, 2005 PERMALINK
The Gonzales vote, 60-36, was a disappointment.
If the Dems can manage to stand together in committee, there is no reason why they can’t stand together on the floor.
For six Dem Senators to betray party values, and reduce the opposition vote to below 40, undercuts the message that the party was trying to send about torture.
(The six: Sens. Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor and Ken Salazar. Three others did not vote, two of which were on the road battling Bush on Social Security.)
When you have a party-line vote in committee, especially when it comes from an ideological cross-section of Dems, there should be no excuses.
The leadership should have enough ammo and momentum to keep the caucus in line.
The rest of the caucus should understand that the committee Dems wouldn’t have drawn a clear line unless it was morally right and politically wise.
If the caucus can’t speak in one voice on fundamental matters, then they can’t make strong statements that define their values.
Of course, perfect unity is not always possible.
For example, Ben Nelson has long been to the right of the party, a milder version of Zell Miller.
And Lieberman (whose floor statement supporting Gonzales is probably the most offensive thing he has ever done), is often all too happy to screw his party for his own ends.
But there’s a big difference between two and six, especially when 41 is a magic number in the Senate, the number that can sustain a filibuster, a sign of party strength.
And, coming off of a party-line committee vote, 41 should always be attainable.
Why didn’t it happen? It’s unclear.
The only “Yes” votes we knew in advance were Ben Nelson’s and Salazar’s.
Nelson’s just a right-leaning Senator, and Salazar planted his flag early when he introduced Gonzales to the Judiciary Cmte at the hearing.
So the Dem leadership, with its late start, was powerless to move those two.
But what happened with the other four?
Did Minority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Whip Dick Durbin not make it crystal clear to them that Dems needed to stand together against torture?
Or did Reid and Durbin do all they could and the four were simply stubborn and misguided?
Was the leadership lulled by Daily Kos’ statement that “30+” no votes would “phenomenal,” leading them to believe they did enough to satisfy the base?
Did the decision by key Dems to praise Gonzales back in November and predict his confirmation irrevocably damage the political/media dynamic, making it impossible to build enough public pressure?
And those of us outside Congress should not just point fingers at others.
We should ask ourselves, did liberal organizations and liberals in the grassroots do enough to not only make the moral case to Senators, but also the political case?
We don’t have the info to definitely answer these questions today, but they should be pondered and considered by those in and out of the Beltway.
Having said all that, we should acknowledge that 36 is better than 0.
And we may not have gotten that much without grassroots engagement, showing that our energy can and does have an impact.
And we should also understand that the Dems are still learning, slowly, how to be an effective opposition party.
Just because they are not there yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t moving in the right direction.
But we still fell short of the goal, to draw a clear distinction between the parties on torture.
The party may have tried to send a message today rejecting torture (and Reid’s floor statement was quite good).
Yet without maximum party unity, the message was not as loud and unequivocal and defining as it could have and should have been.
February 3, 2005 PERMALINK
If you had any doubt that liberal arguments can work in the Dubya Era, look no further than Bush’s State of the Union address last night.
After being blistered with criticism from the Left, Bush concluded he had no choice to adopt liberal rhetoric to sell his right-wing Social Security privatization plan.
He repeatedly used the phrase “We’ll make sure,” in order to leave the false impression of strong government regulation of the system.
He pledged that earnings would “not [be] eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees.”
Even though at a White House press briefing earlier in the day, an official said “private fund managers” would be contracted to handle the accounts, and you best believe they will get paid.
And he said the “voluntary personal retirement accounts” would be “an addition to traditional Social Security benefits,” to make the accounts sound like an add-on and obscure the fact that “traditional” benefits will be cut.
The fact that Bush felt compelled to feint leftward means he realizes what a weak position he is in.
That despite his bragging that the election gave him a mandate, in reality, this is not the issue that returned him to the White House.
Will the feint work?
One indicator is in the rest of the SOTU.
See those appeals for the liberal-sounding “Clear Skies” plan, and for his “affordable, environmentally responsible energy” plan?
Those are other attempts to fake left and go right, and he’s still flogging them in the SOTU because he can’t get them passed.
Now, the one time when this did work was when Bush passed his Medicare reform.
But in that case, Dems were too afraid in the end to block anything that included a drug benefit.
Whereas Dems are not afraid at all to stand up on Social Security.
As some mainstream media have noted, Dems even spontaneously yelled out “No!” when Bush lied about the trust fund going bankrupt in 2042 -- so fed up with the lies they were.
And most importantly, no matter how much shucking and jiving Bush does, there is no way to escape the fact that he wants to take your money out of the trust fund and put it into the markets.
Which would mean Social Security is no longer an insurance program that eliminates risk, but an investment gamble that puts your retirement at risk.
2005 vs. 1994
In 1994, Bill Clinton gave his “Health Security” SOTU. It was wildly successful.
Afterward, a CBS poll gave him 76% support for his proposals. Gallup said 84% felt he was taking the country in the right direction.
And the right-wing W. Post columnist Charles Krauthammer gave a glowing review titled “Silver-Tongued Presidency,” which said:
To watch what Clinton did with his State of the Union address, a hopeless jumble brought to life with fluency and emotional power, is to see a man who ranks with Reagan and John Kennedy as the great rhetorical presidents of the postwar era...
...Clinton delivers his core idea with such obvious conviction that, however wobbly he gets on implementation, the message gets through...
...On health care, for example, Bob Dole, who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union, had the far better brief...
...Yet Dole, with his chart and his boxes, appeared the nitpicker and the naysayer.
His declaration that there is no health care crisis (meaning that the problems of the system are not such as to warrant its reinvention), a position heavily supported by the facts, appeared cold and insensitive beside Clinton's passionate recital of individual suffering under the current system.
But Dole and the GOP stuck to their strategy.
10 months later, the health care proposal was buried and Clinton lost the Congress.
Something to keep in mind.
Because Bush may well get a poll bump out of his speech (as is typical).
But his numbers won’t be as high as Clinton’s were.
And the Dems’ “no crisis” brief is far more sound than Dole’s was.
So there’s no need to flinch at any poll bump.
Bush is the one who flinched tonight. We must remain steadfast.
Chronicling The Lies
For the best debunking of the SOTU specifics, go to ThinkProgress and keep scrolling.
February 2, 2005 PERMALINK
ABC’s The Note snarkily advised the Dems yesterday:
…is there anyone of any power and influence in the Democratic Party who realizes that their current Tower of Babble on the issue is as self-destructive to them as it is inspirational to Karl Rove?
“Self-destructive” is an overstatement, but the question is worth considering.
It’s unfair to blame the present Dem leadership for the recent, varying messages on Iraq, because the party has been fractured on Iraq since the beginning.
Dems didn’t vote in lockstep in 2002, and they didn’t run on identical platforms in the ’04 primaries.
So it’s no surprise that opinions on what should happen now run from Ted Kennedy’s “negotiate a timetable for a drawdown” (which does not equal “cut and run,” despite what Fox News says) to Joe Biden’s longstanding belief that “it will take years”.
The Senate Dem leader Harry Reid is trying to lay down a policy principle that the bulk of the party can accept:
...we need an exit strategy so that we know what victory is and how we can get there; so that we know what we need to do and so that we know when the job is done.
While this approaches the heart of the matter, it doesn’t make clear what fundamentally separates Dems from GOPers on Iraq, and foreign policy in general.
Simply saying there should be an exit strategy makes the debate seem like a question of technical competence, when there is a deeper ideological gulf between the parties that needs illuminating.
As George Lakoff says, “know your values and frame the debate.” So what are our common values in this case?
There’s a reason why there is no GOP exit strategy. Because the GOPers don’t want to leave.
They want permanent military bases in Iraq.
And we don’t. That’s the difference.
As LiberalOasis wrote last year:
The fundamental line that separates the Bushie neocons from everybody else is:
Should Iraq policy be based on desire for US military, political and economic control of the Gulf region (which fosters resentment that harms our national security)?
Or desire for peace, stability and true self-determination for the Iraqi people (which fundamentally enhances our long-term national security)?
Dems and liberals may still be split between “Withdraw Now” and “Withdraw Later” factions.
But that’s tactics. We are not split by motivations and intentions (Lieberman aside), and that’s far more important.
If our congressional leadership wants to minimize the “Tower of Babble” problem, they should fully grasp the values that bind us all, and frame away.
February 1, 2005 PERMALINK
One More Time, Loud And Clear: “No On Gonzales”
The full Senate is scheduled to vote on Alberto Gonzales today.
(UPDATE 2/1/05 1:15 PM -- On C-Span2, Sen. Maj. Leader Frist said he expects debate to continue after today, and a vote on Gonzales by Thursday.)
The Dems (and those few moderate GOPers) need one last grassroots push so they know the public demands a “No” vote and a repudiation of torture.
Dean Poised To Take DNC Chair, In The Best Way Possible
In November, LiberalOasis argued that Howard Dean should not run for DNC Chair.
The thinking was, in part, that even if he won, the accommodationist Dems would pounce on any misstep, never cut him any slack, and undermine his attempts at internal party reform.
Unsaid in that post was the assumption that any Dean victory would be close one, depriving him of a broad mandate from within the party.
As such, the "inevitable" talk has begun, which may lead to a bandwagon effect and a blowout victory, perhaps even a consensus.
Of course, we’ve been here before with Dean. Nothing’s for sure until the Feb. 12 vote.
But it’s very possible that party insiders are getting increasingly comfortable with Dean and increasingly uncomfortable with a contentious race.
That would mean a big vote for Dean, and a big mandate for reform.
More Baby Steps in Congress
We’re continuing to see development of a coordinated party message that draws favorable distinctions between the parties.
The best part, as far as LiberalOasis is concerned?
This passage from Reid, which reflects what LO wrote after Dubya’s inaugural address:
Our veterans also deserve a national security policy that keeps faith with their sacrifice.
I think all of us appreciated the President's words in his Inaugural Address about spreading freedom and democracy...
...But there is a gap between this President's words and his deeds.
There is a gap between saying we will "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions" and an Administration that gives the National Endowment for Democracy only one-third of one percent of what we give millionaires in tax breaks.
There is a gap between saying we are a global leader and standing on the sidelines as new international institutions and alliances take shape without us.
There is a gap between saying to reformers that "the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors" and an Administration that stands by in virtual silence as Saudi dissidents disappear.
And nowhere is the gap between rhetoric and reality greater than in Iraq.
Media coverage appears to be focusing on Reid’s pressuring of Bush to develop an “exit strategy” for Iraq, as opposed to the overall thrust of the speech.
That kind of thing is to be expected.
It will take a fair amount of repetition before the media start understanding and relaying how Dems are distinguishing themselves from GOPers.
Of course, the tougher gig is the actual rebuttal of the SOTU, with Reid and Pelosi will also do.
Talking to a camera in an empty room always is a letdown after a big speech in front of the Congress.
But clearly, Reid and Pelosi have put some thought into how to use this week to the Dems advantage.
And they’re going to get some help from the grassroots, specifically to pushback on Bush’s expected SOTU pitch for Social Security privatization.
ThereIsNoCrisis.com is organizing house parties (you can sign up to throw one or attend one) to help Dems counter what Bush says on Social Security.
And MoveOn.org is looking to run Social Security ads (you can help get them on the air) that will tail Bush as he goes on his post-SOTU campaign-style tour to push his agenda.
January 31, 2005 PERMALINK
(Note: No Sunday Talkshow Breakdown today)
Why isn’t LiberalOasis swept up by the splendor of democracy blooming in Iraq?
This exchange from MSNBC’s Hardball yesterday is a big reason why:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do you get any reporting about how far we’re going in forming this new government?
DANA PRIEST (W. Post): The traditional role in the CIA, in an instance like that, is to, not only be aware of what all the factions are doing, but also to try to influence them.
And as you know, after 9/11, and certainly as it applies to Iraq, there [is] virtually [a] bottomless pit of resources that is aimed at that, including money.
So they are trying buy allegiance, but also make promises.
They have been very much involved in standing up the new Iraqi intelligence service.
And…it’s an educated guess that that service is trying to support some factions over another faction.
Of course, that’s the great suspicion about the US occupation.
MATTHEWS: Is it legal to do that?
PRIEST: Is it legal? It’s legal in [the] United States, absolutely. That’s what covert action is all about.
The president has to sign a finding, and the hand of the US government is supposed to be never seen.
And that’s what they do overseas, and that’s what they’re doing in Iraq.
DAVID GREGORY (NBC W. House reporter): …Let’s not forget about the reconstruction money, some 18 billion dollars pledged by the citizens of the United States.
A small fraction of that has been spent so far.
And John Negroponte, the US Ambassador in Iraq, primarily has authority over that money.
So a new government is going to be the benefactor of that.
You know, there are strings attached, no doubt, especially when we have troops on the ground there…
That ain’t democracy.
That ain’t spreading freedom and liberty.
That’s the same old crap that continues to breed the anti-American sentiment that terrorists feed on.
Of course, there are unique elements to what’s going in Iraq.
They wanted a convoluted caucus system (discussed here in 11/03) that would be easier to manipulate, but they relented under pressure from Ayatollah Sistani.
However, that doesn’t mean the Bushies gave up on influencing the outcome.
They gave CIA-buddy Iyad Allawi, who has his own slate in the elections, a leg up by maneuvering to appoint him interim prime minister.
Giving Ahmed Chalabi some anti-American sheen by driving a public wedge between him and White House, easing his transition to being a prominent member of the Sistani-endorsed slate.
In turn, the US has old friends on two rival slates, the two expected to win the most votes. Very convenient.
The joy on the Iraqi faces that we saw on TV yesterday is a reminder that the desire for freedom and enfranchisement is universal.
There was great hope in those faces. The Iraqi people, and all oppressed peoples, deserve to feel hope for once.
But sadly, hopes can be dashed.
It is that painful prospect that restrains any jubilation in this space.
The Blog Wire
Hullabaloo: "Is it at all possible that Ahmad Chalabi is going to be 'elected' under American occupation and be allowed to take an active role? It sure seems like a funny way to establish the legitimacy of this election."
James Wolcott: "What I dread is how this day will be used by the new centurions"
Raed In The Middle (Iraqi blogger): "What matters is not the election, what matters is what will happen next, when the Iraqi people start asking the occupying forces to leave the country, and leave their 14 permanent bases in Iraq. When Shia start asking bushtani why is he siding with the occupation army..."
Tell Me A Secret (Iraqi blogger): "the journalists asked the executive director: how did you know that the percentage of the voters in iraq is 72% like you announced? he answered: 'well, the head of every voting center estimated that basing on the length of the line of the voters as he saw it!' ... see how scientific? how accurate?"
Oliver Willis: "Pardon me if I've had enough of these Iraqi 'turning points'. I work in Washington, D.C. so I can't just pretend and make the terrorists go away like the other sheep."
Political Animal: "The election is good news, but it's still security that's the real issue. It seems unlikely that anything has changed much on that score."
Back To Iraq 3.0: "I don't know what's going to happen next, and a civil war may still erupt, but if it does, the elected government -- one elected by Shi'a and Kurds, for the most part -- will have the moral high ground in it."
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