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The Standard-Bearers

In a 1990 cover story for The Nation, Contributing Editor Kai Bird called Jimmy Carter "the very model of an ex-president." He described his work on human rights, education, preventive health care, and conflict resolution as a "return to the populist warpath, telling people what he perceives to be the hard truths on the larger issues."

Bird noted that his take on Carter wasn't altogether too common: "…he was never a liberal as defined by the party's traditional liberal constituency groups."

Yet more than 25 years later, Carter has become the moral standard-bearer for the progressive Democratic flank. As Patrick Doherty's recent Tompaine.com blog "Carter on A Roll," points out, this ex-President is courageously "calling a spade a spade today," breaking "the unwritten rule that former Presidents shall not contradict sitting Presidents on major issues of policy."

Just the other day, the former President called the Iraq war unjust, unnecessary and based on false pretenses. (He's been saying that for some three years now.) The next day, Carter published an op-ed ("Colonization of Palestine Precludes Peace") arguing that the main obstacle to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

Many progressive Democrats today stand with Carter as he speaks out on the toughest issues of our time, like torture, Iraq, the Middle East conflict and domestic surveillance. Yet it is equally clear that there is another kind of Democrat who ducks and dodges where Carter engages. And when it comes to calling out those so-called "leaders" who triangulate, capitulate, and calculate, Carter shares the mantle as standard-bearer with a fearless, tireless, truth-telling warrior of a reporter: Molly Ivins.

In her recent column, "Enough of the D.C. Dems," Ivins characteristically pulls no punches in writing of Washington Democrats' "sheer gutlessness and spinelessness" on Iraq, public campaign financing, and national healthcare.

She urges progressives to find a candidate and start organizing now in order to lock-up the nomination. "What happens now is not up to the has-beens in Washington who run this party. It is up to us. So let's get off our butts and start building a progressive movement that can block the nomination of Hillary Clinton or any other candidate who supposedly has ‘all the money sewed up.' "

When it comes to style of delivery, Jimmy and Molly couldn't be more different. But as for substance, these two kindred souls are blazing a trail for every good small d democrat to follow.

Who Knew? GOP says Feingold's Setting Dem Agenda

The Republican National Committee has made a remarkable discovery. U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long been thought to be an outsider in the Senate Democratic Caucus, is not a maverick at all.

It turns out that Feingold is a "Democratic leader" who, according to RNC researchers, is pretty much setting the party's agenda.

In one of a series of talking-points memos distributed from the Republican headquarters in Washington since Feingold proposed on Monday that the president should be censured, the senator's photo appears next to a bold headline that declares: "THE DEBATE IS OVER: DEMS FIND THEIR AGENDA." A subhead reads: "Dem Leaders 'Ecstatically' Embrace Sen. Feingold's Plan To Weaken The Tools To Fight The War On Terror."

Apart from the fact that the underlying premise of the memo is inaccurate - there's no Democratic plan to weaken the tools to fight the war on terror, which has already been effectively undermined by the misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq and determination of the White House to treat "homeland security" as a slogan rather than an imperative - the RNC's announcement makes what, even in these hyperbolic times, is a remarkable claim.

Not only has Feingold proposed censuring President Bush for authorizing illegal eavesdropping on the telephone conversations of American citizens but, according to the Republican memorandums, this is now the "agenda" of the Democratic Party.

In a breathless headline, the RNC announces: "Dem Leaders (Are) Embracing (Feingold's) Plan To Censure President For Intercepting Foreign Terrorists Before They Hit Us Again."

It would probably be a bit picayune to note that Feingold does not want to stop intercepting foreign terrorists. He just wants the president to follow the law when listening in on phone calls placed by American citizens on American soil.

But what's really intriguing about the "news" that Democratic leaders have gotten on board for the Feingold plan is the fact that, well, they haven't done so. Indeed, there is little evidence that Washington Democrats are in any more of a fighting mood this year than they were in 2002 or 2004.

Only two senators, Iowa's Tom Harkin and California's Barbara Boxer, have expressed clear support for Feingold's censure proposal.

The statements of support from Harkin and Boxer quoted in the RNC memos, which have been widely circulated to reporters, pundits and politicos in Washington and beyond. But so too are statements from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry that are portrayed as endorsements even though Reid, Durbin and Kerry have only said that Feingold is a "man of principle" and that the censure motion is "interesting" as a "catalyst" for debate.

Feingold read those comments as a tepid response from Democratic leaders and said so. "I'm amazed at Democrats ... cowering with this president's numbers so low," he told reporters. "The administration ... just has to raise the specter of the war on terror, and Democrats run and hide."

MoveOn.org, similarly concerned, launched an online campaign to get Democratic senators to back the censure motion. The campaign proved so popular, gaining more than 200,000 signatures on pro-censure petitions in a day, that MoveOn upped its goal from 250,000 signatures to 350,000 signatures. But MoveOn still expresses concern: "Right now it's unclear how many of Senator Feingold's colleagues will stand with him in this important fight."

The online activists must not have gotten the memo from the RNC.

Of course, the MoveOn folks are a cynical bunch. They may think that these RNC memos suggest a "they-doth-protest-too-much" scenario in which the Republicans are trying to "spin" the censure debate in a manner that causes the actual if spineless leaders of the Democratic Party to distance themselves from the one member of the Senate Democratic Caucus who has decided to raise fundamental questions about the illegal actions of the administration.

Really cynical folks might even conclude that -- with polling showing Americans do want the president and his administration held to account -- the Republicans have an ulterior motive. By scaring Democratic leaders off and forcing the censure issue back into the closet before, the White House political team can again spin away a serious threat to the president -- much like the threat that Karl Rove admitted he feared could have emerged in the 2004 presidential election if, instead of Kerry, Democrats had nominated a presidential candidate who aggressively challenged administration's Iraq policies.

But the Republicans need not worry. As long as most congressional Democrats continue to "cower," the wedge that divides those "leaders" from the party's base voters, as well as the many Republicans and independents who worry about warrantless wiretapping, will remain firmly in place. And prospects for the fundamental political debate about this administration's misdeeds remain almost as slim as in the 2002 and 2004 election cycles.

California's Cannibal Republicans

Want another way, other than Bush's rock-bottom poll numbers, to measure the depth of the Republican crisis?

Take a look at what happened late Wednesday night out here in California. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's centerpiece proposal for re-election went down in smoking flames -- mostly because of Republican opposition.

During his January State of the State address, Arnold had proposed an FDR-scale $222 billion plan for the rebuilding of California's infrastructure. The ambitious and popular plan, the most massive in state history, which would have built new roads, levees, schools, bike and foot paths, parks and rail lines was a shrewd political move to the center by a governor whose previous set of conservative "reform" proposals were shredded last fall in a special election.

While the past few weeks had seen furious off-and-on negotiations between the Governor and the legislature's majority Democrats to put an infrastructure agreement on the June ballot, Schwarzenegger never did get his own party on board.

Actually, that's a gross understatement. To get the 2/3 majority vote he needed to succeed, the Republican Governor only had to secure the support of two GOP state senators and only six GOP assembly members. Democrats were ready to support a deal.

But the governor failed to deliver his own party. As the clock ticked toward a midnight deadline last night, the legislature hung Arnold out to dry and purposefully reached no agreement. It's possible that some future and vastly trimmed-down deal will be struck. But for the moment, the governor has been stranded with virtually nothing left to run on in his November re-election quest.

The whole episode raises serious questions about what, if any, strategic sense California Republicans have. Already a big underdog party in a very blue California, the only thing Republicans had going for them was the movie star governor.

But ideological dogma has, apparently, gotten in the way of realpolitik. California's Republican legislators have succumbed to their chronic taxaphobia and have seriously jeopardized, if not torpedoed, their own governor's chance of re-election.

Former Sacramento-based Democratic political consultant Bill Bradley is all over the developing story. Bradley says the whole affair reveals what a "rookie" Schwarzenegger still is after nearly three years in office. A rookie who now might be headed right for the showers.

Another Cover-Up?

The patient reader can find much to entertain and enlighten in theNew York Times, if one searches diligently. I came acrossthis pearl today, entitled "Editors' Note."

"The cover photograph in The Times Magazine on Sunday renderedcolors incorrectly for the jacket, shirt and tie worn by Mark Warner,the former Virginia governor who is a possible candidate for thepresidency. The jacket was charcoal, not maroon; the shirt was lightblue, not pink; the tie was dark blue with stripes, not maroon."

The editors blamed this on the film. "The change escaped noticebecause of a misunderstanding by the editors." I wanted to read more.Did editors disagree on whether pink is blue? Or did Governor Warnerlook more presidential in a maroon jacket? The Times did notelaborate.

Turning to the hard news, I began looking for a story I had assumedwould be on page one--the record current accounts deficit of $804billion reported for 2005. The total is up 20 percent and is ominousnews. It describes America's deepening financial dependency on foreigncreditors--China, Japan and others--thanks to trade deficits anddeindustrialization. People who got upset by the Dubai port deal wouldbe apoplectic if they understood the meaning.

Searching, searching, searching. I did finally find thestory on C8, the Real Estate page in the Times businesssection. It was buried under a feature, "Career Switchers Add New DepthTo Talent Pool in Real Estate." Actually, the trade numbers didn'teven get a headline, only a couple of paragraphs in story on Februaryretail sales. The Washington Post did worse--a short squib in "InternationalBriefing." The Wall Street Journal chose an upbeat approach. "Foreign investors' appetite for US assets remained strong..."

What's going on here? Why are the leading newspapers suppressing thisstory when arguably it is the most serious threat of all to America'sfuture? The bloggers who went to arms over Dubai ought to get on thecase and hammer the reporters and editors for explanations. Theguerillas will encounter the same elite opacity that surrounded theDubai issue. Why disturb ignorant readers with this complicatedsubject? It might arouse xenophobic reactions. Let's make the worldlook pink instead of dark blue.

Denny Hastert's Very Long, Very Bad Day

Watch the news out of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office today. It may well be the site of the best the debate about the continued funding of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Anti-war activists plan to visit the Illinois Republican's office this afternoon and to begin reading aloud the names of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis killed in the war. They say they won't stop until Hastert meets with them to discuss the $67 billion "supplemental" military spending bill that is scheduled for a House vote late today.

They want Hastert to agree to oppose the White House's request for the additional money top fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That's not going to happen, as Hastert is a reliable rubberstamp for White House initiatives.

But the confrontation could draw additional attention to the upcoming vote -- and to the broader issue of the administration's abuse of supplemental spending bills to fund the fighting -- which has received far less coverage than it should from the Washington press corps.

The names will be read by Toledoan Mike Ferner, a Vietnam-era vet, and Chicagoan Jeff Leys, members of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV), who began a water-only fast and daily vigil at the Capitol since February 15, the third anniversary of global protests against invasion of Iraq, that is scheduled to end on the anniversary of the invasion, March 20.

From NATO to Nation

One thing I've always found perplexing is Wesley Clark's continued high-standing amongst the progressive blogosphere. For months he's consistently either won or placed second in the Daily Kos and MyDD straw polls, for example. Yesterday our ace DC intern Cora Currier bumped into Clark in the Senate and much to her surprise, wooing Nation readers was on the General's mind. I'm posting her dispatch below:

 

I was in Senator Carl Levin's office yesterday talking to an aide when General Wesley Clark strode into the room. He was waiting for a meeting and sat down on the couch near us. Levin's aide asked where I worked and when I replied, "The Nation," Clark jumped into the conversation. Introducing himself, he said: "Now, how are we going to get Nation readers to vote for someone like me?" I didn't know what to say. "I'm a military man," he continued, "and the military scares liberals. They say, oh, no, he's bombed people. People forget that as commander of NATO I was in charge of school children, and communities." He left soon after but gave me his card. "Nation," he said again, pointing to himself.

 

Let's take our own highly unscientific straw poll. If Clark runs again, would you support him?

These Folks Know About Ethics

Bill Clinton certainly had his flaws as a President. He was a militant free trader, who used all of his political skills to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normalization of trade policy with China and a host of other initiatives that slowly but surely kicked the legs out from under American workers, communities and industries. His welfare, education and telecommunications reforms were bumbling at best, and more often malignant. He showed only slightly more respect for the Constitution than the current president, and his military misadventures and meddling in the affairs of other countries suggest that he had no respect at all for George Washington's warning about avoiding "foreign entanglements."

But Clinton's presidency saw significant progress on some fronts, including the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a tax increase that reversed the growth in federal deficits that had ballooned during the spending-spree presidency of Ronald Reagan, the nation's last minimum-wage increase and a period of economic growth that lasted long enough to actually begin to modestly improve the circumstance of the country's poor. The relative health of the economy during the second term of his presidency surely contributed to the 65 percent approval rating that Clinton took with him when he left the White House, which represented the highest end-of-term enthusiasm level for any President in the post-Eisenhower era.

Clinton remains a beloved figure in many circles, and that surely accounts for the substantial continuing interest in the former president and his life – and interest that has created something of a tourist boom for tiny Hope, Arkansas, the community where the 42nd president grew up.

Last week, the U.S. House voted on a perfunctory measure authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to designate the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope, Arkansas, as a National Historic Site and unit of the National Park System. It is notable that, at a time when Republicans are banging away on critics of the Bush administration for not respecting the office of the presidency, the vote was not the unanimous show of approval that might have been expected.

Republican members of the House forced a roll-call vote -- extremely rare on such matters -- and a dozen of them then voted against so honoring Clinton's birthplace.

The "no" votes came from Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, Florida's Ginny Brown-Waite, Utah's Chris Cannon, California's John Doolittle, Virginia's Virgil Goode, Oklahoma's Ernest Istook, Texan Ron Paul, Pennsylvania's Bill Shuster, Georgia's Lynn Westmoreland and North Carolinians Virginia Foxx, Walter Jones and Patrick McHenry.

Ron Paul gets a pass. The former Libertarian Party presidential candidate is against just about everything the government does.

Give Walter Jones a pass, as well. He's a principled critic of the free-trade policies of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, who says, "If it had been a historic site for George W. Bush, I would have voted against it. I've seen this country outsource jobs and outsource security. I can't even get money for people of my district."

But what about the rest of these "no" voters? Were they just so offended by Clinton's personal transgressions that they could not bring themselves to help a little town in southwest Arkansas stir up some tourism?

Istook's spokesman said the congressman "has never been a big fan of Bill Clinton" – which was, at least, honest. But many of the other members suggested that they had ethical problems with Clinton.

"There are a lot of things to be concerned about, but designating this as a historic site is a joke," growled McHenry, who said of Clinton: "history has not made a final judgment on his presidency," and then added as an aside: "Maybe it should be a landmark. He is only the second president to be impeached."

Brown-Waite, who forced the roll-call vote on the designation, grumbled that: "(Clinton) has some explaining to do."

Frankly, this is an interesting crew to set itself up as the defenders of political virtue and elective ethics.

Indeed, we could be looking at something of a "people-who-live-in-glass-houses" scenario here, considering the fact that:

• Doolittle's name has been more closely associated with that of Jack Abramoff, the GOP "super lobbyist" who pleaded guilty to three felony corruption charges in January, than any member of the House except DeLay and Ohio Republican Bob Ney, accepted more than $100,000 in contributions from the lobbyist and his clients. Doolittle wrote letters and contacted federal agencies on behalf of those clients. The congressman has, as well, been linked to San Diego businessman Brent Wilkes, who has been implicated in the November bribery conviction of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

• Istook took $29,000 from Abramoff and his lobbying partners and, according to the Associated Press, repeatedly signed letters on behalf of Abramoff clients after accepting those contributions.

• Shuster had to give away campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates after the scandal blew up.• Westmoreland accepted more than $15,000 from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ARMPAC, was a leader in efforts to apply ethics standards to DeLay and has been repeatedly linked to "K Street Project" concerns. Westmoreland is, as well, a close ally Abramoff-tied lobbyist Ralph Reed, and an active supporter of Reeds campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia this year.

• Foxx also accepted $15,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC and also voted to weaken House ethics rules in order to protect her mentor.

• Blackburn's another major recipient of DeLay's largesse and a loyal ally of the indicted ex-leader, having contributed $5,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund. McHenry's one of DeLay's biggest defenders in the House, having declared after the Texan's legal troubles arose that, "I think in this situation Tom DeLay has become a whipping post for all the liberals in Washington."

• Brown-Waite took $20,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC, voted to weaken the ethics rules, contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund. She also met with Abramoff and took money from his clients.

• Cannon took thousands of dollars from associates of Abramoff and then actually hired one of them, David Safavian, to be his chief of staff.

• Goode, along with his friend Duke Cunningham, has been linked to the defense contractor MZM – the company accused of bribing Cunningham with millions of dollars in exchange for defense contracts. Goode recently donated $88,000 in political contributions he had received from MZM and its associates to charity. According to a USA Today investigation: "In more than 30 instances, donations from MZM's political action committee or company employees went to two members of the House Appropriations Committee -- Cunningham and Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va. -- in the days surrounding key votes or contract awards that helped MZM grow."

Feingold Day Two: The Dems Fold

Last night I raised some strategic questions about Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's move to formally censure President Bush. On the conclusion of Day Two of this drama, I have more questions.As one might expect, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist immediately took up Feingold's challenge and was ready to call a vote. At a time when the President is losing on every issue around him, he would have easily won this up-down partisan vote.The Democrats, of course, dodged the whole matter. You know it's kind of hard to see the 800lb, polka-dotted elephant in the room when you have the limited vision of a jackass.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters he would not comment on the issue while the Democratic leadership mulls the issue. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said, "Feingold has a point that he wants to make by introducing that resolution." And then she added nothing else/

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the resolution "raises some very important issues," but she refused to discuss what they were. Hmmm.

Senate Minority Leader Reid said he was going to do some research and see if he could find any support for Feingold's resolution.

The Wisconsin Senator, meanwhile, seemed to be fuming. Feingold told the media Tuesday afternoon:

"I'm amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president's numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide. … Too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004. In the face of this, they'll say we'd better just focus on domestic issues. … [Democrats shouldn't] cower to the argument, that whatever you do, if you question the administration, you're helping the terrorists…"

True enough. But to come back to the point I raised yesterday, why does Feingold say he is amazed? I'm not. And I am sure you, dear reader, are unequally caught by surprise. Unless, that is, Feingold was given some sort of promise by other Democrats that they would join him but then decided to let him twist. I don't think so. The Democrats are merely in their predictable default position.

So, if you will, an in-progress balance sheet of the move to censure now follows. On the plus side: some bad publicity for Bush that reminds people he broke the FISA law; some good publicity for Russ Feingold as one of those rare Senators with principles and cojones. On the negative side: a distraction from the horrific news coming from Iraq; a distraction from the Republican's internal wars over immigration and Presidential succession; a temporary uniting of Senate Republicans in defense of Bush; a nationwide demonstration of the dysfunction of the Democratic Party (though that last point might be just as well put in the plus column).

My question: are the pro-Feingold forces strategically better off today than 48 hours ago? Is this the way Feingold wanted his move to play out? What's next? I wish I had more answers and fewer questions.

P.S. Some reports suggest that even some liberal Dems feel they were blindsided by Feingold suddenly announcing this move on a talk show last Sunday without first lining up his ducks. Other reports say some liberal Democrats are angry because this motion could short-circuit future Congressional hearings during which Republicans like Lindsay Graham and Arlen Specter would have been forced to publicly chastise Bush. I don't know the veracity of these reports. It might be CYA by some embarrassed Dems. Or it might indicate a strategic fumble by Feingold.

Ned Lamont v. Joe Lieberman

Ned Lamont, the Connecticut cable television entrepreneur whose anger over Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman's support of Bush administration policies spurred him to explore whether to mount a primary challenge to the most prominent Democratic supporter of the war on Iraq, is done exploring.

Lamont's running, and he's got a message for the globetrotting incumbent who returned from his most recent trip to Iraq with a ringing endorsement of the occupation: "Senator," the challenger said, "stop by Bridgeport on your way back from Baghdad and listen to your constituents..."

What Lamont thinks Lieberman's constituents will tell the senator when Connecticut Democrats vote in the August 9 primary is that the Bush administration must be challenged, not coddled.

Making pointed reference to the incumbent's status as the Democrat that Republicans love to love, Lamont declared his candidacy with a Monday announcement that, "I am jumping into this Senate primary because voters deserve a choice."

That choice, the challanger suggests, is between a "Republican-lite" incumbent who cooperates with the administration and a progressive who will confront the president when Bush is wrong.

"Let's have the debate," Lamont announced in a speech that spelled out the differences between the three-term incumbent and a progressive challenger who promises he won't be "complicit" with this White House.

Lamont's declaration of candidacy was blunt and aggressive in its critique of Lieberman, signaling that this will not be a tepid challenge to a Democratic incumbent who has broken faith with the progressive base of the Democratic party.

Here's an excerpt from Lamont's announcement speech.

Let's have the debate.

Three years ago politicians with years of political experience rushed our troops off to war; they told us the war would be easy; we'd be greeted as liberators.

Now three years later, America is no safer, Israel is no safer, the Middle East is even less stable, Iran is on the prowl, Osama Bid Laden is on the prowl, and we have 130,000 valiant troops stuck in the middle of a violent civil war in the heart of Iraq.

Those who got us into this mess should be held accountable.

In Washington they give you a medal; in my world they say: "You're fired."

I say it is time for the Iraqis to take control of their own destiny and we're just getting in the way.

Let's have the debate.

The $250 million a day we are spending in Iraq is better spent on pre-school and healthcare, public transit and veterans benefits.

Let's have the debate.

I would have lead the opposition to the nomination of Judge Alito? Next year the Supreme Court will hear the South Dakota law which outlaws a woman's right to choose, even in the case of rape and incest.

Let's have the debate.

I believe that President George Bush's illegal wiretaps, his reckless fiscal and environmental policies are weakening America and leaving too many hardworking citizens behind.

I doubt that anybody will call me "George Bush's favorite Democrat."

Do you remember that Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska? Part of the 6,371 earmarks, which are multi million dollar pork ridden special favors for special congressmen, added to a bill at the last moment, under the cloak of darkness. And it's all legal, the big easy for career politicians.

If you are not shouting from the rafters that this is wrong, then you are complicit and part of the problem.

I am not a shouter, but I come to this race as someone who is obviously not afraid of a challenge. I am ready challenge business as usual, I am ready to fight for our Democratic values and I will tell the Bush administration to put their haughty arrogance in their back pocket and deal with the rest of the world with respect. That's how America will start winning again in a post 9-11 world.

As I travel the state I have heard from thousands of you - students and elderly, veterans and teachers, small business and labor, even a few courageous political leaders: let's have a primary, let's have the debate: how did we get into this mess and how do we get out?

Sure, there are some that have not been quite so encouraging: Ned, don't jeopardize a safe seat.

I tell them, Connecticut is a progressive state. You're not losing a Senator, you're gaining a Democrat.

They tell me, Ned, don't rock the boat.

And I tell them, baby, it's high time we "rock the boat."

We are running for the heart and soul of the Democratic party; we're showing the country that we can win as proud Democrats fueled by your grassroots support and energy and passion; and on August 9 the pundits will be shaking their heads and noting: here come the Democrats.