In The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel calls out Andrew Cuomo’s sad attempt to use recent corruption scandals as a pretext to bury the Working Families Party. “The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts — each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.”
Most progressive-minded folks in and around the New York area already know this, but just in case and since the Governor is clearly gunning for 2016 and beyond: Andrew Cuomo is not one of us. He’s just another ambitious centrist-Dem type who harbors no real values of his own, and who will do whatever it takes to keep moving up the political food chain — which usually means doing whatever the people holding the bags of money want him to do. Note the paragraph and links from Buzzfeed below.
“His recent rhetoric aside, Cuomo has staked out a relatively conservative record on economic issues, from cutting programs cherished by many in his own party and battling public workers, to eschewing progressive taxation and moving to silence Occupy Wall Street protestors. Such an agenda has helped Cuomo win favor with the well-heeled business and donor community in New York, influential conservative editorial pages, and Republicans, all adding up to very high approval ratings[.]“ Simply put, he’s emphatically not the candidate progressives should rally around in 2016.
Put another way, when it comes to our elected representatives, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate intensity. A new study finds politicians consistently overstate the conservatism of the American electorate. Which may be why we’re all very busy discussing ridiculous cuts to everything in Washington right now, instead of working harder to create jobs and foster economic growth.
“‘The whole era,’ concluded Bourne in disgust, ‘has been spiritually wasted.’” Let’s hope, down the road a-ways from 2012, the last few years won’t feel the same. Anyway, that line’s from the first paragraph of the now completed(!) dissertation, which I sent off to my advisor and the committee this afternoon. It’s been a very long road, and I’m sure the euphoria will take hold in a bit. As for now, I just feel as per the clip above — plus exhausted with a twinge of Comic Guy.
FWIW, the final draft, with footnotes and bibliography and all that, clocked in at 1269 pages. If anyone’s interested on what’s covered and the general layout, I posted the table of contents below. That is obviously far too long for public — or anyone’s — consumption. I mean, I wrote the damned thing and I only read, like, the conclusion and stuff…It’s about the 20′s, right?
Seriously though, I’m sure I could have condensed it more than I did. For example, here’s the part on p. 527 where I talk about how the Harding administration used the Herrin Massacre as a public relations coup against the labor movement in 1922:
“All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy.“
That goes on for about 70 pages. And I think, if I’d just worked at it a little harder, I could’ve really gotten that down to 40. Ohhhhh well.
At any rate, I’m way too tired to be blogging at the moment, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks to everyone for putting up with all the navel-gazing posts about this over the past few weeks, months, and years. FWIW, the general GitM readership got a shout-out on the acknowledgments page. With that in mind, work is crazy through election day, but this site should hopefully resume to normal status updates soon thereafter. First I need to sleep for awhile, clean up my paper-, book-, and dog-hair-strewn apartment, do some more sleeping, see all the movies I’ve missed — the only one I’ve seen in months was Looper (I liked it) — take my man Berk to the park, sleep some more, get a life, stuff like that.
Also, there is still the actual defense to consider, which will happen sometime in the next two months. But I am assuming that today was the day I destroyed the Ring, and that will be more of an “I’m a scarred, melancholy badass now, so let’s kick Saruman out of the Shire” Scouring-level event. Also, I’m not counting any chickens, trust me, but I did go ahead and put the batteries in my brand-new sonic screwdriver.
Uphill All The Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism 1919-1929
CHAPTER ONE: THE “TRAGEDY OF THE PEACE MESSIAH” 31
CHAPTER FIVE: THE POLITICS OF NORMALCY 357
CHAPTER NINE: THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA 824
It used to be a central tenet of progressivism was working to shorten the work week. Now, even unemployment-soothing innovations like workshare go nowhere, and, as Mother Jones‘s Monika Bauerlein and Claira Jeffrey explain (with handy graphs), we are all victims of the Great Speedup…but not the beneficiaries. “For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top…In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on — the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games — paid off. For them.”
Ex-Grayson staffer (and friend) Matt Stoller dissects the lack of political will for infrastructure reinvestment in today’s political climate. “Ultimately, of course, we will have no choice but to rebuild our infrastructure or risk social collapse…Meanwhile, the ideological fight is not over whether to spend more on infrastructure. It’s whether we should privatize what’s left.“
Proving Matt’s point is this thoroughly sad column by ex-Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a man who until very recently was a senior advisor to the president. (Now, he works for a “private investment firm,” natch.). Says Klain: “Hoover Dam nostalgia is misguided…[I]t’s time to let go of the idea that a handful of marquee construction projects, even majestic and lasting ones, can solve our employment problem. Such endeavors alone didn’t bring us out of the Depression in the 1930s, and they won’t end our current predicament.“
Uh, is anyone actually saying that we should only do “a handful of marquee construction projects“? No, no, they’re not. They’re saying we should build big things, build small things, rebuild and repair things big and small, and otherwise put people back to work in any way possible. Where’s the vision? It’s going to take something a mite bigger and more audacious to get the economy moving again than an employer-side payroll tax cut.
“‘This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,’ West laments…’I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.“
In a discussion with TruthOut‘s Chris Hedges, Cornel West — who admittedly is nursing some rather petty personal grievances here as well — lays hard into the DLC-centrism of President Obama. “I have to take some responsibility,’ he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. ‘I could have been reading into it more than was there.‘” You and me both, brother. You and me both.
“At any rate, this was a terrible accident; 147 young people, they were all young men and women, were killed, lost their lives and a number of others were badly injured…This made a terrible impression on the people of the State of New York. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere. It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 girls and boys killed in a factory. It was a terrible thing for the people of the City of New York and the State of New York to face.” — Frances Perkins
I meant to post on this a few weeks ago, but busy-ness conspired against it: 100 years ago last month, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground. And ultimately, from its ashes, a New Deal — something the Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the world might should consider.
Megg at Quiddity uncovers a keen historical reproduction of the time Theodore Roosevelt fought Bigfoot. (Actually, kids, this is really just a metaphorical representation of TR’s 1910 Oswatomie speech quoted above — unlike the time Abe and Iorek Byrnison brought forth the Emancipation Proclamation. That actually happened.)
Oh yes, it is: Delving into the exit poll numbers for California, Robert Cruickshank points out how the GOP have staked their territory on ground that is fast eroding. “[T]here’s really no evidence that the 2010 election portends long-term doom for Democrats. Instead it is Republicans who are in trouble. They won by appealing to a shrinking group of people who are determined to hog democracy and prosperity for themselves at the exclusion of the young and the nonwhite.” In other words, demography is destiny, and, when it comes to the GOP, to paraphrase the Peppers, even a tidal wave can’t save them all from Californication.
Speaking of Golden State politics: Unfortunately, Prop 19, which decriminalized marijuana usage, also went down to defeat. (A victim of the older midterm electorate, it still pulled more votes than any Republican in the state.) That being said, the die has been cast now — it’s only a matter of time. “‘There’s a fair amount of latent support for legalization in California,’ said Anna Greenberg…’It is our view, looking at this research, that if indeed legalization goes on ballot in 2012 in California, that it is poised to win.”
“The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and ‘if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.’” As part of a continuing pattern of late, President Obama tells Rolling Stone that progressives need to stop whining about the way things are going and get happy, because, in what’s become a new talking point, “If you look at the checklist, we’ve already covered about 70 percent [of the 2008 campaign promises.]” (70%?! Uh, can I see this checklist?)
Anyway, this latest weird effusion against the base has already been well-critiqued and well-answered many times. See, for example, Glenn Greenwald and David Dayen: “I’ve never seen a politician run an election with the message ‘Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me.’” I would only add two things:
1) As it turns out, the unhappy Dems among us are more likely to vote, so perhaps berating them for not clapping enough is not altogether productive. (Unless, of course, the WH is doing it as a Sistah Souljah bank shot to get independents, on the classic establishment premise that indies love hippie-punching.)
2) I’d love to live in a world where progressive bloggers have the power to move ginormous voting blocs, I really would. But it takes a certain type of top-down, Beltway-obsessive mentality to think that’s what’s going on here. The biggest reason voters are depressed is because the economy is, quite obviously, not doing so well at the moment, and people are feeling the pinch. And, that aside, most Obama voters don’t need blogs to tell them that this administration, on all too many fronts, hasn’t lived up to its promises.
If this White House wants to engage the base (and I really, really hope they do, for reasons personal, professional, and patriotic), then, for Pete’s sake, don’t browbeat and lecture the Left for being disappointed — Try to make them less disappointed! Give them some red meat, respond to their concerns, and, you know, do the things you were elected to do. Why this even has to be said is beyond me.
“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.’ Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: ‘They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.’” In the virulently stupid department, insulting the base and further depressing midterm turnout = change we can believe in? Um, no, not really. Thankfully, I was away from civilization when press secretary Robert Gibbs threw his whiny temper tantrum about “the professional left,” so I missed out on the initial bout of aggravation about it.
Suffice to say, Robert Borosage, among others, was on the case: “The left is pushing the president from the left? The horror. The shame…The president is in trouble because his historic reforms were too timid, not too bold…We can argue about whether the president fought hard enough, or compromised too soon — but the reality is that the reforms, as bold as they were, are not sufficient to deal with the mess we are in.” And that doesn’t even get into the torture and civil liberties clusterfrak, where reform has been non-existent. Dennis Kucinich? I’d be happy with the Barack Obama I ostensibly voted for, thanks much.
“‘We are lobbying,’ Shaunna Thomas, director of the P Street Project, said in an interview Friday. ‘We are living on the Hill…The goal is to move progressive policy and to win progressive policy, but also to move progressive ideas.’” As of last week’s Netroots Nation, a new progressive lobbying outfit, the P Street Project, has launched in DC. (Full disclosure: Shaunna is a friend of mine.) “‘I think P Street, working with the PCCC, can help organize the tremendous amount of energy in the general public and among progressive members of Congress,” [Rep. Jared] Polis said in an interview.‘” Godspeed!
“I don’t know what my biggest contribution has been. I think it has been simply showing up for work every day, trying to fight the good fight for average people…But I leave more discontented when I came here because of the terrible things that have been done to this economy by political leaders who allowed Wall Street to turn Wall Street banks into gambling casinos which damned near destroyed the economy.“
On the eve of his retirement, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey has some choice words for the administration, and himself. “I think the more important thing was what was my biggest failure…our failure to stop the ripoff of the middle class by the economic elite of this country, and this is not just something that happened because of the forces of the market.”
“No wonder President George W. Bush can now openly brag about the water-boarding policy he once denied even existed. The courts have become complicit in the great American cop-out on torture.” And let’s not forget the Obama administration in all this. Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick surveys the wreckage from the Supreme Court’s recent capitulation on the Maher Arar case, wherein we, the United States of America, abducted, deported, and were ultimately responsible for the torturing of an innocent man, and are now trying to sweep it under the rug like it never happened. Look forward, not backward! (unless you’re a whistleblower)
In very related news, borrowing the riff from this great cartoon, The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart finally drops the hammer on the Bushification of Obama on the civil liberties front. Like many progressives, I’m discontented for a lot of reasons with this administration at this moment, but Obama’s egregious record on this front still stands above them all. An end to imperial powers and civil liberties violations of the Dubya era should have been an absolutely non-negotiable aspect of “change we can believe in” — particularly coming from Obama “the constitutional scholar.” And a White House that will capitulate on these basic human rights will capitulate on anything. Which, when you get right down to it, they pretty much have.
“There’s got to be more to life than explaining Senate procedures to angry constituents or begging Blue Dogs to do what they ought to do by rote.” After forty fighting years in the House, David Obey — formidable Wisconsin progressive, master of both legislative arcana and the harmonica, and powerful Chair of the Appropriations Committee — announces his retirement at the end of this term.
Obey’s exactly the type of guy you want in Congress — he’s got his priorities straight and was never afraid to fight for them — and he will be missed. “He pondered retirement before, but stayed on because he was angry at what he saw as the ‘arrogance’ of the second President Bush. ‘I was determined to outlast him,’ he said.“
Update: Chairman Obey’s full official statement is definitely worth a read. “I am, frankly, weary of having to beg on a daily basis that both parties recognize that we do no favor for the country if we neglect to make the long-term investments in education, science, health, and energy that are necessary to modernize our economy…I do not want to be in a position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator legislation that is inadequate to that task and, given the mood of the country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed.
I am also increasingly weary of having to deal with a press which has become increasingly focused on trivia, driven at least in part by the financial collapse of the news industry and the need, with the 24-hour news cycle, to fill the air waves with hot air. I say that regretfully because I regard what is happening to the news profession as nothing short of a national catastrophe which I know pains many quality journalists as much as it pains me. Both our professions have been coarsened in recent years and the nation is the loser for it.“
Well, first off, thanks, Massachusetts! To my many friends from the Bay State, I say this: Speaking as a son of South Carolina, I never, ever want to get the “you-hicks-are-keeping-us-back” routine from y’all again, thanks much.
So, yes, Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. And thus, in a truly bitter irony, a man who spent his life trying to achieve health care reform for all Americans has now been replaced by a guy sworn to kill the health care bill and armed with the 41st vote(?) that could potentially make it happen. (Yes, Virginia, it’s true. In our system, 41 > 59.) Well, in Brown’s defense, he has a nice truck.
Why did this happen? Well, everybody has a theory. Here’s mine, which boils down to two reasons.
1. Martha Coakley. I didn’t watch enough of the MA race to determine if she was a lousy candidate through-and-through, although I have my suspicions. Nonetheless, Ms. Coakley was undeniably a gaffe-prone standard-bearer. From calling Curt Schilling a Yankee to misspelling the name of the state in a political ad to, weirdly, insulting the very idea of glad-handing in public, Coakley was an out-and-out gaffe machine. Couple that with a lackadaisical campaign and the inexplicable decision to take an extended vacation in the heat of the race, and you have a recipe for disaster. There’s a reason we’ve been telling the story of the Tortoise and the Hare for a couple thousand years now.
2. Change. In fending off Rahm Emanuel’s charge that she’s at fault for this fiasco, pollster Celinda Lake aptly summed up the main problem here: ““If Scott Brown wins tonight he’ll win because he became the change-oriented candidate. Voters are still voting for the change they voted for in 2008, but they want to see it.” Put another way: All across the country, the current occupants of the White House tapped into a deep and strongly-felt yearning for a transformative presidency in 2008…and then spent pretty much the entirety of their first-year in office playing the same old tired in-the-Beltway reindeer games that made people ill in the first place. This is not change voters believed in, and it has made voters angry, or depressed, or both.
Equally demoralizing is the neverending spectacle of a stalled-out health care bill. If I’d hazard a guess, most voters aren’t really delving into the ins and outs of this all-consuming debate, particularly by Month Eight or whatever it is. But they can see just from casually following along that the Democrats are really struggling to get this done, that the White House has been letting the bill get bogged down and eviscerated in the Senate — first in August, and again in November/December — and that, from the Big Pharma deal to the disappearing public option to all of the Lieberman/Stupak/Nelson/Snowe shenanigans on display, the usual Washington rules are in full effect right now. Once again, this is not change people can believe in. With each passing month that the bill has languished, we Dems have looked weaker and weaker. And if you continually force voters to choose between venal and incompetent, they’ll tend to gravitate toward the former.
Now, the good news: 1. First, and this cannot be stressed enough, we have an 18-seat majority in the Senate. It’s 59-41 people…most presidents can only dream of having that kind of majority, Dubya included. So there’s really no good reason — none, zip, zero — that we shouldn’t see more progressive accomplishments from this administration in the year to come. It just takes an act of will. I don’t remember the Republicans getting all kerfuffled about operating with 51 votes. Nor did Hubert Humphrey and the Johnson Senate have any problem with blithely ignoring the Senate parliamentarian when it got in the way of legislation.
2. It’s January of 2010, i.e. almost a full year before the “real” election day. In other words, this Brown victory is really just a shot across the bow. And if the administration course-corrects now, we may even end up gaining a year in time — and several seats we might well have lost — had this lazy centrist drift continued on until next November.
Of course, that’s only good news if the administration and the Democratic Party draw the right lessons from yesterday’s defeat. Suffice to say, this afternoon, it does not look good: Enabled, as usual, by the Serious People™ who comprise the broken-down wreck we once called beltway journalism, all the usual suspects are currently blaming Coakley’s loss on “the Left,” or more specifically the hippie-liberal cast of Obama’s administration thus far. Uh, say what now?
It’s hard to answer this ridiculous charge any better than did the estimable Glenn Greenwald this afternoon: “‘In what universe must someone be living to believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by ‘the Left,’ let alone ‘the furthest left elements” of the Party? As Ezra Klein says, the Left ‘ha[s] gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months’….The very idea that an administration run by Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel and staffed with centrists, Wall Street mavens, and former Bush officials — and a Congress beholden to Blue Dogs and Lieberdems — has been captive ‘to the Left’ is so patently false that everyone should be too embarrassed to utter it.“
Truer words and all that. If we want to stop seeing these sorts of Brownian upsets in the future, the answer is emphatically not to curl up within the usual GOP-lite protective camouflage and hope the flak dies down. People see through that malarkey immediately. (As Harry Truman is rumored to have said, “In an election between a Republican and a Republican, the Republican wins every time.“) No, the answer is to move forward from this point with the courage of our convictions, and to start delivering to American families the real and fundamental change they were promised a year ago. It’s just that simple, folks.
“Remember, Jeannette Rankin was elected before women could vote. So who says men don’t vote for a woman?” Resorting to a blatant gender pitch once more, Sen. Clinton name-drops Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the nation’s first female representative. (She also took hold of the recent Kinsley meme: “‘Do you realize how much longer it takes for me to get ready than my opponents?” Clinton said. ‘I think I should get points for what I do, plus having to spend so much time getting ready.’“)
Just to set the record straight, Jeannette Rankin was a committed pacifist who not only led the “Jeannette Rankin Brigade” to protest the Vietnam War late in her life, but voted against American entry into both World Wars (and was the only person to vote against entry into WWII.) So, their common womanhood aside, I think it’s safe to say Rankin would be thoroughly disgusted by Clinton’s record on Iraq and Iran, and might well roundly reject the comparison.
“‘This convention,’ wrote H.L. Mencken, the most famous reporter of the age, is ‘almost as vain and idiotic as a golf tournament or a disarmament conference.’” Those political junkies out there pining for a brokered convention, be careful what you wish for: The WP‘s Peter Carlson reminds everyone of the 1924 Democratic Convention in New York, which stalled out between Al Smith and William McAdoo before finally deciding on Wall St. lawyer John W. Davis, who in turn lost to Republican Calvin Coolidge and — in twelve states — Progressive Robert La Follette. (For the longer version, see Robert Murray’s The 103rd Ballot. Which reminds me, having spent the day myself in 1924, it seemed a strange confluence to find this staring back at me upon my return to 2008.)
A disaster for the Democrats that year, the “unconventional convention” did at least provide choice grist for political wags then, and has ever since. “This thing has got to come to an end,” Will Rogers pleaded well into the nine-day stretch. “New York invited you people here as guests, not to live.” (Rogers also noted on the day of the infamous KKK resolution that it “will always remain burned in my memory as long as I live as being the day when I heard the most religion preached, and the least practiced, of any day in the world’s history.“) When William Jennings Bryan, after days of thundering himself hoarse, wheeled around to support the final Davis ticket (which included as a sop to the Bryanites his younger brother in the veep slot), one reporter quipped: “If monkeys had votes, Mr. Bryan would be a champion of evolution.”
And then there were the snafus. The Carlson piece talks about the Democratic decision to broadcast the convention on the newfangled radio, which turned out be a public relations catastrophe for the party. And there was worse. The Texas delegation — aghast that they shared a block with St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a city with Wall Street and the House of Morgan — had to be talked out of burning a cross. And when the convention band tried to appease their southern guests at one point by striking up a “Dixie” song, they obliviously settled in on “Marching Through Georgia.” Speaking of the Civil War, progressive Republican Hiram Johnson quipped once the Democratic ordeal was over, “How true was Grant’s exclamation that the Democratic Party could be relied upon to do the wrong thing at the right time.” (Let’s try not to live down to that assessment this year, please.)
From Senator Obama’s impressive victory speech in Wisconsin this evening:
“The politics of hope does not mean hoping things come easy. Because nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere stood up when it was hard; stood up when they were told – no you can’t, and said yes we can.
And where better to affirm our ideals than here in Wisconsin, where a century ago the progressive movement was born. It was rooted in the principle that the voices of the people can speak louder than special interests; that citizens can be connected to their government and to one another; and that all of us share a common destiny, an American Dream.
Yes we can reclaim that dream. Yes we can heal this nation.“
The progressives are back!
Hello, all. So…can you guess who I’m supporting in Tuesday’s NH primary?
In any case, now seems as good a time as any to plug some GitM spinoffs I’ve recently put together, if anyone is interested. First up, if you usually come here just for the movie reviews, I’ve created GitM Reviews as a separate review site (although — don’t worry — they’ll always be posted here first.) Second, if your interest was piqued by any of the entries on civic progressivism of late, I’ve also created Small-R Republic as a central clearinghouse for that information. (Again, everything will be either posted here first or linked to as written.)
Both of these are projects I’m only starting to develop online, but they’re enough off the ground that they can bear page views and/or advice from the regulars. (Also, while I’ve refrained from putting advertising here and plan to continue to, I may decide to put up ads on GitMreviews…so if anyone has had a particularly good or terrible experience with an ad provider, please let me know.)
An Early Round Knockout…
…or a new Democratic Frontrunner?
Barring a split decision of some kind, we should have our first real sense of how Election 2008 will all shake out by late this evening. Obviously, it seems somewhat bizarre to choose our two presidential candidates — a full eleven months before Election Day — solely by who can best navigate the byzantine complexities of the Iowa caucus system. But the cycle being as accelerated as it is, and with money, name recognition, and the post-Iowa press bounce playing the roles that they do, it’s hard to see any other Democratic candidate gaining enough traction between now and Super Duper Tuesday (February 5) to stop Senator Clinton should she win tonight. And — given her high negatives — it’s almost as hard to envision how Clinton might be able to come back should she definitively lose Iowa and New Hampshire to Obama or Edwards. So, with that mind, it’s seems like the last, best time to write up an primary endorsement. Now, as long-time readers might remember, I threw myself behind Bill Bradley in 2000 and tepidly endorsed Howard Dean in 2004, so the track record around here isn’t too good. But, hope springs eternal, so regarding 2008…
THE REST OF THE FIELD:
Even if it is a bit unfair, the fact that no other candidate besides the top three is breaking the 15% viability threshold in the polls helps facilitate clumping them together like this. Still, in a perfect world, CHRIS DODD in particular would merit a closer look from voters. An experienced Senate progressive who’s stressed the importance of universal service, Dodd would likely make a fine president. But, for whatever reason, Dodd never established the media presence to be a true contender in 2008, and he goes down as the top of the second tier.
Senator JOE BIDEN has run a much better campaign than I ever expected, particularly given his dismal performance during the Alito hearings and his “clean and articulate” flub out of the gate. Indeed, Biden has shown a nuanced understanding of global issues and an impressive command over the foreign policy domain, and he has distinguished himself in debates with wit and (surprisingly enough) brevity. If he is inclined to take the job, I expect he’d make a fine Secretary of State in the next Democratic administration (although he may face some competition from the likes of Richard Holbrooke, particularly if Clinton wins the nomination.)
His considerable record notwithstanding, BILL RICHARDSON has never made a positive impression on me this election cycle. He has scowled his way through debates (when he wasn’t capitulating to Clinton), he’s shown himself to be a practitioner of the Dubya Fratboy school of leadership (nicknames, backslapping, etc.), and I’ve yet to hear anything from him that seems even remotely inspiring. In a way, he’s been the Fred Thompson of the Democratic side — the theoretical Dark Horse candidate who’s been a total non-starter. At any rate, the fact that the New Mexico Governor can’t even break the top three in nearby Nevada suggests his presidential bid isn’t long for this world. (For what it’s worth, he’s apparently asked his supporters to back Obama in the caucuses.)
As in the 2004 cycle, DENNIS KUCINICH has been a breath of fresh air on stage — he’s the one (semi-viable) candidate who unabashedly refuses to join his colleagues in the protective camouflage of GOP-lite centrism. (This is no small feat given how reflexive this knee-jerk “triangulating” tendency has become among Dems in recent years.) Still, even he recognizes that Iowa will not be kind to him, and has also asked his supporters to vote Obama. So, (MIKE GRAVEL notwithstanding, I suppose, although, despite his impressive record of service, he never seemed much more than a novelty act), that leaves the Big Three:
Senator Clinton is a smart, tough, and formidable leader, and although the presidential merits of her experience as First Lady has lately been called more into question, no one can deny that she’s a battle-tested veteran of the partisan wars of the 1990s, or that she’s the candidate most accustomed to the vicissitudes of the GOP attack machine. She’d make a very good president, particularly compared to George W. Bush and any Republican running.
Still, I’ve already described my major concerns about Clinton’s candidacy here, here, and particularly here, so if you’ll permit me to quote from that last entry, my issues are thus: “ She’s thoroughly lousy on campaign finance reform, to my mind the issue that bears on virtually all others;  she apparently didn’t have the wherewithal or leadership instincts to realize the Iraq war was a terrible idea in 2003 (it didn’t take all that much to figure it out, particularly when you figure how much more information Clinton had access to than we did);  her view of centrism is apparently to act like Joe Lieberman every so often; and  most of the nation has already decided for various reasons that they don’t like her.” Once you factor in her unseemly corporate backers, her woeful view of human rights versus national security, her recent campaign missteps and tribulations, and the dynasty issue to that list, I find it hard to get very enthused about Senator Clinton’s candidacy.
If 2004 taught us anything, it’s that the electability issue is a bit of a canard. We picked John Kerry because we believed he was more “electable” than Howard Dean, and that may have even been true. But can anyone name a single state that Kerry won in the general election that Dean wouldn’t also have carried? All that being said, given her very strong negatives, I do think Senator Clinton is not only the least “electable” of the Big Three, but the only candidate — in either party — who could manage to reunite the fractured GOP this cycle. It may not be her fault, but she will invariably bring out the wingnuts in force to vote against her. I’d even go so far as to say that the GOP is banking on Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. It’s the best possible outcome for them, and they know it.
And given that the leadership Clinton offers is the same unambitious and uninspiring blend of triangulated-to-death DLC centrism practiced by her husband, why even take the chance? This is not to say Bill Clinton was a bad president, not at all. Given the times he was working in and the low-down, unprincipled miscreants he was often forced to contend with, you could even say he accomplished amazing things, once he got his sea legs. Still, we are now at a moment when the Republican party is in rout. The conservative movement which began in 1964, coalesced during the 70′s and 80′s, and gave us the likes of Reagan, Gingrich, and Bush has now — at long last — been thoroughly discredited. Our nation has paid a heavy price for this realization, in both blood and treasure. Now more than ever, it is time for Democrats to shake off the protective camouflage and step into the sunlight. Put simply, it is time for change.
John Edwards is a candidate I’ve always thought highly of and, indeed, I voted for him in the NY primary in 2004. While he got off to a shaky start this cycle, Edwards — arguably the candidate with the most to win or lose today — has improved considerably over the past few months. In fact, I probably agreed with him more than any other candidate onstage in most of the debates. He was often the only person to suggest that the current system is fundamentally broken, and that stronger lobbying and campaign finance laws are needed to cleanse the taint of money from our political process and to make it responsive again to the needs and aspirations of everyday voters. As I said in the two long posts on progressivism several weeks ago, I agree — as many progressives did a century ago — that the unchecked influence of vast sums of money in Washington is arguably the central political problem facing our republic. Countless terrible decisions made by this administration, and by their Democratic counterparts in Congress, flow directly from the sad fact that dollars speak louder than people. And all the 12-point policy proposals in the world on health care, taxes, education, whathaveyou, won’t change a thing until this underlying problem is recognized and rectified. To my mind, Edwards should be applauded for ringing the alarm bell loudly and strongly. (Not for nothing has Ralph Nader endorsed him.) If this argument carries Edwards all the way to the presidency, the result would almost assuredly be good for the country.
That being said, if I were caucusing in Iowa today, I would not be voting for John Edwards. Not because of any fault of Edwards — he’s my strong second choice — but rather because I think there is one other candidate out there who shows more progressive potential. More on him in a moment, but, before I switch topics, here’s the rub. As much as I admire Edwards for articulating the problem before us, I don’t actually agree all that much with his solution to that problem. Put simply, Edwards is sounding the chord of populism, and populism is not progressivism. Populism speaks in a language of class, of insiders and outsiders, of haves and have-nots. Populism is often characterized by free-floating anger towards an elite “insider” cadre of some sort, and, while it’s reductionist to group everyone together like this, populism has worked as well for Tom Watson and Huey Long as it has for Joe McCarthy and Ronald Reagan. It’s a blunt instrument that despises elites of any kind and relies on and perpetuates an us-versus-them mentality among Americans. From everything I’ve seen of him in the debates and otherwise, John Edwards isn’t really using the inclusive language of progressive citizenship to make his case. He’s wielding the often divisive cudgel of populism. Now, if I have to pick a side, I’m obviously with the people against the oligarchs. And if this is the only way America will wake up and recognize the stench of legalized corruption, so be it. But I still think this nation will embrace civic progressivism along the lines I recently discussed, given the right leadership…
If Edwards has been articulating the key progressive problem — corruption in government — then Barack Obama embodies the key progressive solution. Like no other candidate we’ve seen on the Left in nearly a half-century, Obama has the potential to restore Americans’ faith in government and bring people back into the political process. Many skeptics among the punditry have derided Obama as a “hopemonger,” but, to my mind, his optimistic appeal shouldn’t be taken lightly. In a country where less than half of us vote anymore, anything that encourages people who have felt disenfranchised to look anew at or become enthused about our common citizenship is a godsend. In short, Obama — young, thoughtful, intelligent, charismatic — seems the only candidate with the potential to spark a true progressive revival. True, Obama isn’t quite speaking the language of progressivism yet. But he’s been veering closer to it than either Clinton or Edwards (Note, for example, the line quoted in his stump speech at the link above: “Americans all across the country are hungry for — desperate for — a new type of politics. Something different. A politics focused not on what divides us but on our common values and our common ideals.” This argument that we are one people, all in it together and bound together as citizens by our commonalities, is the very warp and woof of civic progressivism.)
What goes for the nation goes for the globe. As Andrew Sullivan noted in his endorsement of Obama back in November, an Obama presidency single-handedly “rebrands” the United States in the eyes of the world. No other candidate running suggests so immediately and profoundly that we live by the democratic ideals we espouse, that we are a nation of diversity committed to individual flourishing, and that America is a land where anyone and everyone has the opportunity to rise to their full potential.
This holds true for our enemies as much as our friends (many of whom will be glad to see anyone but Dubya in the Oval Office.) As Sullivan put it, “Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man — Barack Hussein Obama — is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.“
Progressive potential and global symbolism aside, Obama has shown himself to possess the requisite talents needed to make an excellent president. As we all know, he was the only major candidate with the judgment to speak out against the Iraq War from the start. In debates, he’s proven himself light on his feet and displayed a quick, voracious mind. (As Slate‘s Michael Kinsley put it, “When I hear him discussing some issue, I hear intelligence and reflection and almost a joy in thinking it through.“) During his tenure in the Senate, he’s shown a pronounced ability to work with people across the aisle, and counts among his friends and working partners such paleolithic conservatives as Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn. His Dreams from My Father testifies to a life of travel and experience that would serve him well in the Oval Office. And, unlike Senator Clinton, Obama has been a friend to campaign finance and lobbying reform, which remains crucial to any real change happening in the next four-to-eight years.
Now, obviously there are some lacunae surrounding Obama. He is a young man, and relatively new to national politics. He has admittedly been vague at times, and could have done considerably more these past few months, when given the nation’s ear, to highlight the issues he finds important. There’s a possibility — maybe even a strong possibility — that he’ll end up a Tommy Carcetti-like president: a well-meaning reformer outmatched and buffeted to and fro by the entrenched forces arrayed against him. After nearly eight years of Dubya, Washington is pretty screwed up these days, and I’m not naive enough to think any one politician can undo all the damage that’s been wrought in recent years. Still, given the Democratic field, my money’s on Barack Obama. He has the potential to be a very special candidate — the kind that comes around only once or twice a generation — and I hope this evening sees the first of many successes for his campaign.
GitM votes Obama.
America. Land of the free, home of the obese illiterates? “We are doing a better job of teaching kids to read in elementary school. But once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading. Because these people then read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they do more poorly in school, in the job market and in civic life.” An extremely frightening new study by the National Endowment for the Arts finds that, despite the best efforts of the First Lady (which I applaud) over the past seven years, Americans increasingly can’t read so good. “The NEA reports that in 2006, 15-to-24-year-olds spent just 7 to 10 minutes a day voluntarily reading anything at all. It also notes that between 1992 and 2003, the percentage of college graduates who tested as ‘proficient in reading prose’ declined from 40 percent to 31 percent.“
Uh, what?! How can over two-thirds of college graduates not be able to read “proficiently”? This is the type of dire news that demands a Sputnik-level response from our political leaders. “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both, as James Madison put it in 1822. “[A] people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” Or, see Thomas Paine: “[I]t is monarchical and aristocratical government only that requires ignorance for its support,” and that’s what we’ll be getting (more of) if this troubling trend continues. Not to get all progressive up in here, but education and citizenship are the lifeblood of the republic. Without them, the whole experiment falls apart.
Well, it may seem like they’ve been going at it for awhile now…nevertheless, the first official Democratic primary debate was held last night, co-sponsored by the good folks at CNN and YouTube. [Transcript.] (As you likely heard, this gimmick this time was that the questions were submitted by Youtube users the nation over. All in all, they turned out to be a mixed bag, but no more or less cutting than the ones usually conjured up by George Stephanopoulos, Anderson Cooper, or some other venerable talking head of the moment. Still, not a single query on campaign finance reform managed to sneak through the vetters…so now, I kinda wish I had at least tried to submit one.)
And the verdict this time? Well, no one broke out of the pack as a result of their performance last night, which — the talking heads tell me (hey, David Gergen’s gotta eat) — means a win for Clinton. But, as with the past few debates, I still find my position further solidifying in favor of Obama and Edwards, and against the Senator from New York. (My reasons have been put forth previously here and here.) In fact, the most irritating moment of the debate for me, and I’ll admit that this’ll be considered well beyond stupid and pedantic to most people, was Senator Clinton’s butchering of the distinction between “liberal” and “progressive” to contort her way out of having to name herself the former. For what it’s worth, the key element of a turn-of-the-century progressive was never “someone who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms” — that would be a liberal. Indeed, arguably the major flaw in the progressive movement — until after WWI — was its inattentiveness to individual rights and freedoms…hence, Prohibition, or, to take an even more sordid example, the proliferation of Jim Crow in the South.
But, more importantly, and this is what really irked me, Hillary Clinton has proven herself to be the least progressive of the Democratic candidates, in that she’s been the most willing to get into bed with corporate interests time and time again. (And, for you historians reading this, yes, I’m calling shenanigans on Kolko.)
Ok, I’ll concede, Clinton can’t honestly be expected to deliver a comprehensive historical disquisition about liberalism v. progressivism in a 45-second debate answer. But, please don’t chalk up my concern simply to being an aggrieved aspiring egghead just yet. (And, hey, speaking of parochial, Obama mentioned my hometown, Florence, SC, tonight, albeit not in a positive light. But I digress again.) The fact is, the differences between liberalism and progressivism do matter, particularly when you consider [a] how often politicians in our party seem confused, or even ignorant, about the Left’s guiding political philosophies these days, and [b] how different a truly progressive presidential candidate would seem from what Hillary Clinton has yet offered us.
Most importantly, a true “modern progressive” would push campaign finance reform, ethics in government, and voting reform though the heavens fall. These are hardly central tenets of the Clinton campaign, to say the least. And, along with the obvious necessities of a sane, competent, foreign policy, accessible, affordable health care, and comprehensively reworked environmental and energy plans, a real “modern progressive” would also extol education, civics reform, universal (if not mandatory) service, community-building, a vast increase in arts and science funding, an end to child poverty…all ways to help renew the bonds of citizenship, to help encourage an active, engaged, self-governing electorate, and to help foster a new generation of Americans more attuned and responsive to the concerns of their fellow men and women — here and around the globe — than they are to the self-absorbed and increasingly inescapable dictates of rapacious consumerism and the corporate bottom line.
It’s late, and I’ve clearly started soapboxing. Still, what I wrote back in 2000 here, before I came to Columbia, still holds: “I know it all sounds a bit academic and removed from reality, but, what can I say? This is where my idealism (or what vestiges of it that survive this election cycle) lies.” Well, it’s been a few election cycles since then, and in many other ways the years since have not been kind, in terms of progressivism or otherwise. I’d very much like to continue indulging in “the audacity of hope” when it comes to such matters — I know it’s way early in the game, and that we’re probably still at least a good 3 or 4 “Macaca moments” out before this all gets decided. But increasingly, and particularly after listening to these debates thus far and the virtual Clinton coronation by the talking heads thereafter, other quotes often come to mind as well. For example: “Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”
I’m not saying Clinton would make a terrible president — Obviously, she’d be much better than the current fiasco of an administration. (But, as always, who wouldn’t be?) But I do increasingly fear her tenure — if it’s marked by the same confused, wishy-washy and corporate-friendly Republican-lite “centrism” her campaign and the DLC have pushed in the past — will make for yet another missed opportunity in terms of fostering real progressive change in this country. (And Senator Clinton, to get to the point: I know progressives. I’ve spent the past six years and change studying progressives. And, you, Madam, have been no progressive.)
“The issue: Feingold’s recently signed campaign finance reform bill. Clinton, whose husband’s leasing of the Lincoln Bedroom had helped inspire the new law, was accompanied by an attorney. The attorney’s job: Look for loopholes, loopholes that would allow the Democrats to keep raking in soft money — unregulated, unlimited contributions to the party coffers. When Feingold objected, Clinton scolded him like Empress Livia dressing down a courtier. ‘You’re not living in the real world,’ she shouted. ‘Senator,’ Feingold responded coolly, ‘I do live in the real world, and I’m doing just fine in it.’” Hey, Hillary…want to see what a real “modern progressive” looks like? Writer Edward McClellan reviews Sanford Horwitt’s Feingold, a new biography of the Senator, for Salon, placing him in a long tradition of Wisconsin mavericks dating back to the inimitable Robert La Follette. “As Horwitt puts it, Feingold’s campaign was in the tradition of La Follette’s ‘progressives, who “mostly thought of themselves as perpetual underdogs against the big-money interests.‘”
World of Demcraft? In a review of Stephen Duncombe’s intriguing new Dream, Slate‘s Joshua Glenn argues that progressives need to liven up their image, perhaps by taking a cue from games like Grand Theft Auto: “‘If a game offers power, excitement, and the room to explore, people will play evening after evening after evening, almost regardless of the results,’ he writes. ‘Perhaps the problem is not that people don’t want to get involved in politics, but rather that they don’t want to take part in a professionalized politics so interested in efficiency that there is no space for them, or they don’t want to spend time in a political world so cramped that there’s no freedom to explore and discover, to know or master.’“
After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that it is my duty as a believer in the progressive principles it was my privilege to fight for under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt, as well as my duty as a citizen, to support the democratic national ticket in this campaign. I have prepared a statement giving some of my reasons for reaching this decision, a copy of which statement I enclose. If you are sufficiently interested to read this and write me, how you, personally, react in the present situation I will be obliged to you.
Ah, the archives are great fun.
“What the Democrats still don’t have is a philosophy, a big idea that unites their proposals and converts them from a hodgepodge of narrow and specific fixes into a vision for society. Indeed, the party and the constellation of interests around it don’t even think in philosophical terms and haven’t for quite some time. There’s a reason for this: They’ve all been trained to believe — by the media, by their pollsters — that their philosophy is an electoral loser. Like the dogs in the famous “learned helplessness” psychological experiments of the 1960s — the dogs were administered electrical shocks from which they could escape, but from which, after a while, they didn’t even try to, instead crouching in the corner in resignation and fear — the Democrats have given up attempting big ideas. Any effort at doing so, they’re convinced, will result in electrical (and electoral) shock.“
By way of The Late Adopter (whom y’all really should be reading), The American Prospect‘s Michael Tomasky makes the case for a Democratic turn towards small-r republicanism and a renewed embrace of the common good. This is the closest article I’ve seen in some time to my own thoughts on where the Dems need to go these days (and in fact sounds a lot like a side-project I’ve been working on in my spare time, which I’ll share with y’all more as it progresses.) “The task before today’s Democratic Party isn’t just to eke out electoral victories; it’s to govern, and to change our course in profound ways. I’d like to think they can do it. But the Democrats must become republicans first.“
“The Bull Moose has temporarily turned into a performing elephant. But the Moose will be back — around March 2008, if everything goes according to plan.” As much of the press hammers John McCain for his blatant re-positioning maneuvers of late, Slate throws a lovefest of sorts for the mythical maverick today, with Jacob Weisberg arguing he’s really a TR progressive and John Dickerson promoting him as the happy crusader. I’ve used this line before, but it fits to a tee. Given McCain’s frequent bouts of water-carrying for the Dubya administration, my view of the Senator’s vaunted independence — until proven wrong — is the same as Sen. George Norris’ take on his progressive colleague William Borah, who indulged a similar maverick reputation back in the teens, twenties, and thirties: He only “shoots until he sees the whites of their eyes.“
Congrats to DC friend Franklin Foer, who was recently named to replace Peter Beinart at TNR. My advice to him would be much the same as Jack Shafer’s: “The New Republic needs revival, but Foer can’t hope to revive it by pleasing [owner Marty] Peretz.” With a long and illustrious history ranging back to Herbert Croly and Walters Lippmann and Weyl, TNR should be a flagship of progressivism, and so much more than just the “Joe Lieberman Weekly.” Godspeed, Frank.
Looks like Spielberg and Neeson’s Lincoln may have started a welcome trend. Trading in the aviator glasses for pince-nez, Leonardo di Caprio will apparently star as TR in Martin Scorsese’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, based on the Edmund Morris biography. Hmm…I can see that, provided the film doesn’t carry too far into the presidential years. Bully for him.
With a tip-off from the Progressive Patriots Fund, I had the opportunity yesterday to catch Sen. Russ Feingold speak on the Patriot Act and the NSA wiretapping scandal over at Cardozo Law School. (Their pics are a lot better than mine — I forgot to charge my batteries, and thus only got in 2 or 3 shots before my camera died on me.) And how was he? Well, all-in-all, he came off as a convincing candidate for the election ahead, as well as an impressive, informed, and personable fellow. To be honest, I found his remarks a bit lawyerly (then again, he’s a lawyer speaking before a law school, so that’s not really a fair criticism), but, taken in full, he seemed a committeed progressive and a refreshingly candid leader, the type of dynamic, independent thinker the Senate should be teeming with, if the system came anywhere close to working these days.
The gist of Sen. Feingold’s remarks was thus: Al Qaeda is the central threat facing America and has been since 9/11. Yet, instead of bringing the nation together to eliminate this terrorist organization, the Dubya White House has chosen time and time again to endanger our national security and compromise our most fundamental American values for their own ideological or power-hoarding purposes. (Iraq, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, secret gulags, you name it.) Along those lines and as we now all know, the Patriot Act, which only Feingold voted against in 2001, contains some terrible provisions therein, the most notorious example affecting Middle America being Section 215 (which gives law enforcement, among other things, the right to see what you’ve been reading.)
Yet, as per the norm, Dubya has refused to admit that it’s even possible that something might be wrong with the Patriot Act now that it’s up for renewal — only that it’s necessary to defeat the evildoers and that any microscopic change in the statute could rend the fabric of freedom irreparably. (Despite this now-somewhat hoary ploy, Feingold and others have succeeded in blocking a permanent blanket extension for now, as y’all know if you’ve been visiting here lately.) And, of course, Dubya has taken this same tack of obfuscation and fear-mongering to cover up his brazen wiretapping power-grab — which, according to Congress’s own research arm, broke at least two laws and counting.
Again, this story is not news to many Dems out there, but Feingold laid it out in clear, comprehensible, and systematic fashion. (The only “breaking news” made was the Senator announcing this letter to Gonzales, asking him why he, in effect, lied to the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings about the NSA wiretaps.) And he had some good lines throughout — In reply to Rove’s ridiculous claim that Dems were “pre-9/11″, Feingold quipped that the GOP suffered from a “pre-1776″ mentality these days. (He also retold the recent Patrick Henry exchange.) To be honest, I’d liked to have heard more in this vein — In terms of breaking down the legislative legerdemain and legal issues at hand, Feingold was superb. But I thought the speech needed more narrative sweep and rhetorical grandeur, more explanation of why this battle matters so much to the workings of the republic. He doesn’t have to turn into Robert Byrd overnight. Still, I thought the remarks could have benefited from more dramatic heft and historical resonance: Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Lincoln, Wilson…they’re all relevant here. (Then again, as I said above, I was an historian sitting in a room full of lawyers, so I was a tougher sell than most.)
Along those lines, if there was a problem with this presentation, it’s that the Senator, while clearly outraged, at times seemed much less livid about all this than many in the audience, who occasionally sounded ready to hoist the black flag. (In fact, many will no doubt be happy to hear that Feingold was asked twice “why Democrats are so lame.” As he noted (and as the blogosphere can attest this week), if a crowd in New York City is this irate with the party, the Dems might be in serious trouble nationwide in November. Still, he also emphasized that the Democrats could be more effective fighters if they actually controlled a house of Congress — You can’t hold hearings if you’re in the minority.
In terms of other questions, Feingold said he supports and will take part in the very late-developing (and now already defunct) Alito filbuster (Roll Call.) In fact, he thought the Dems made a crucial mistake in capitulating to the original “Gang of 14″ compromise, arguing cogently that Dems have seen nothing for it and may well have had the votes to win Catkiller‘s game of nuclear chicken. Since Casino Jack and lobbying reform seemed too big a subject to address competently in the time allotted, I asked him a question about his thoughts on the NYT decision to spike the NSA story for a year, his general view of the mass media’s performance in serving as a check on these types of executive abuses, and (’cause it seemed apropos) his thoughts on the burgeoning blogosphere’s role in all this. He didn’t really go after the Times decision, and said that, in terms of the recent Patriot Act debate, he thought the press had actually done an ok job. Regarding blogs, he called the Internet “a miracle for populist politics,” which was a good enough soundbite that everyone in my row dutifully wrote it down at the same time.
And, of course, Sen. Feingold was asked — a couple of times — whether or not he was running for President in 2008. Naturally, he played it coy — After all, we still have just under two years before the Iowa caucus. But, for what it’s worth, I was impressed by him — He’s not a first-class emoter like Edwards or Clinton, of course. Instead, he comes across as a highly intelligent, capable, and nuanced thinker, a la Bradley, Kerry, or Gore on his better days. But unlike those three, he also seemed much more comfortable in his own skin, more naturally himself at the podium, and — most importantly — more content to play the maverick if his lefty principles dictate thus. (Although, as I said, I’d like to see him tone down the lawyer-ese and rev up more Wellstone-ish fire if he does make a White House run.) I suppose there’s a small, bordering-on-infinitesimal chance that Rodham Clinton, Biden, Warner, or someone else might drop all the “New Democrat” protective camouflage this time around and begin loudly and undefensively proclaiming progressive principles to the Heavens. But, until that unlikely event, my candidate in the 2008 Democratic primary is Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. (Update: 1776 link via Medley.)
Ambitious Dems Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. and Governor Mark Warner try to establish their presidential bona fides by joining in on the anti-Dean pileup. I wouldn’t have used Deans’s “white christian” line — We shouldn’t be in the business of reinforcing the GOP’s hold on white Christian voters, particularly when so much of the Republicans’ bellicose, intolerant, and avarice-fueled agenda is flagrantly anti-Christian in any real sense. Today’s GOP may talk the talk of Jesus, but their leaders continually prostrate themselves before the altar of Mammon. As any good Christian knows, you can’t serve them both.
All that being said, it’s highly dismaying to watch the Dems eat their own like this. Obviously, our lazy, cowed excuse for a national newsmedia is going to leap at every possible note of intemperance to emanate from Dr. Dean, because it’s an easy story that won’t tick off the White House and doesn’t involve much in the way of reporting. So every two-bit Democratic official that wants to start generating some media buzz and moderate cred for a 2008 bid is currently mouthing off to reporters about the former Governor of Vermont.
Do Republicans do this? Not hardly. I don’t remember GOP officials rushing to lambast Bill Frist for his “against people of faith” photo-op, or Tom DeLay for all the garbage that routinely comes out of his mouth, to say nothing of all the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Coulters, etc. But one Dem uses stronger rhetoric than usual to characterize the opposition and we fall over each other to condemn him in the name of electable statesmanship. It’s pathetic. Word to the wise, Dems: Let Dean be Dean — we didn’t pick him for his social nicety — and concentrate your rhetorical firepower on the opposing trench.