Now that he's an all-but-declared candidate, surging in the polls and touring key primary states, Fred Thompson's campaign is starting to come together. One of Thompson's top operatives is an old PR hand named Ken Rietz.
Since Rietz is hardly a household name, here are a few things you should know about him.
Back in the 1970s, the late investigative reporter Jack Anderson described Rietz as a "key member of a Nixon campaign 'spy' team." Roll Call recently explained what that entailed: "When the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Rietz acknowledged he had paid a college student $150 a week to infiltrate a peace vigil at the White House and set up the demonstrators for drug arrest charges. He also tried to plant a driver with then-Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine), a presidential candidate, to get inside information."
Rietz resigned from the RNC, then led by George Bush I, and became an organizer for Ronald Reagan in California. In the 1980s Rietz joined the huge PR firm Burson-Marsteller, now run by Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn.
One of Rietz's big assignments at Burson, as reported by Tom Edsall today, was to set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris. The group, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, was founded in 1993 "to give the appearance of grassroots opposition to smoke-free laws without its corporate involvement being detected." Rietz is now one of a number of powerful tobacco-industry allies in Thompson's inner circle.
During the 2004 election Rietz headed a shadowy 527 called the November Fund, funded largely by the Chamber of Commerce, that ran $10 million in ads in battleground states attacking John Edwards and the "trial-lawyer lobby in DC." In September 2004, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the November Fund illegally received $500,000 from the Chamber of Commerce, colluded with the Bush-Cheney campaign and violated a moratorium on attacking candidates by name 60 days before an election. CREW head Melanie Sloan called the group's work "illegal and unethical."
Today, Rietz is largely in charge of Thompson's media strategy, organizing conference calls, recruiting talent and orchestrating "grassroots" buzz for the candidate.
It's a good thing that Thompson plays a District Attorney on Law & Order. Because in real life his close associates represent anything but.
The Olympics are always big business, and the next summer's Games in Beijing may well be the most profitable in history. Much of the money is made through licensing; sale of Beijing Games mascots alone is expected to bring in profits of more than $300 million. But the workers making clothing and other items bearing the Olympic logo are not exactly sharing in this windfall. "No Medal for the Olympics on Labour Rights," a new report by PlayFair 2008, a coalition of human rights groups hoping to pressure the International Olympic Committee to set -- and enforce -- ethical standards, found, at the Chinese factories making official Olympic goods, grotesque disregard for workers' health and safety and for local labor laws. One of the companies involved, Mainland Headwear, which has the exclusive right to make Olympic hats, paid its employees half the legal minimum wage. Other companies were hiring children as young as twelve. Several others require workers to work more than thirteen hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as two weeks without a day off, to meet extremely tight deadlines for retailers eager to hawk Olympic goods. One worker said, "To hell with the Olympics product, I am so tired."
Human rights issues will -- and should -- loom large in discussions of next summer's Games, not least because the host is China, a country that is justly criticized for abuses. That doesn't mean, however, that we should join folks like would-be-president Bill Richardson, who's been taking a cue from Jimmy Carter and calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics (over China's lackadaisical response to the Darfur crisis). The Games -- while certainly a huge marketing opportunity for corporations -- are also about internationalism, human solidarity and fun, and a boycott is a slap in the face to athletes who have spent years training. (Other presidential candidates have soundly rejected the idea.) And of course, it's always hypocritical for Americans to boycott other countries on human rights grounds; in this case, the international community can rightly bring up Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and just a few other little problems for which the US is eminently to blame. (Then again, as the New Republic has reported, Richardson may be a wee bit out of his depth on such matters, despite having once been US Ambassador to the UN.) But that doesn't mean we should do nothing. PlayFair 2008 is seizing the opportunity presented by the Games to press for improved conditions in the sporting goods sector. The coalition is not calling on the Olympics Committee to throw people out of work by canceling factory contracts, rather, to live up to its own stated commitment to social responsibility and ethical sourcing by working with the factories to improve conditions. Check out the website to find out what PlayFair 2008 is asking the Olympics, sportswear companies, governments, and investors to do, and to find out how your organization can support its efforts.
The recent CIA documents dump, the so-called "family jewels," tell but part of the story. Our new secretary of defense knows most of the rest.
It's fitting that, as part 3 of Roger Morris' monumental portrait of Robert Gates, the CIA, and a half-century-plus of American covert action comes to a close at the Tomdispatch.com website, a CIA document dump of previously secret materials from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s has put the years when our Secretary of Defense first entered the Agency back in the news. Assassination plots against foreign leaders, kidnappings, warrantless wiretapping of reporters, the illegal opening of American mail, illegal break-ins, behavior modification experiments on "unwitting" citizens, illegal surveillance of domestic dissident groups and critics of the Agency -- it seems never to end.
And yet, you have to read Morris' latest wild ride, "The Rise and Rise of Robert Gates," to realize how much this list still lacks when it comes to the acts of the CIA. It is, after all, one of the ironies of our moment that our (relatively) new secretary of defense now travels the American world -- to Kabul and Baghdad's Green Zone in particular, where he frets about Tehran -- only to find himself, in essence, confronting (though our media never bothers to say so) the consequences of the misdeeds of his younger self. It's a grisly record and, not surprisingly, a grisly world has been its result.
If you haven't read bestselling author (and former National Security Council staffer) Roger Morris' first two parts on Gates and the CIA -- "The Gates Inheritance" and "The World That Made Bob," then do so and prepare yourself for the mayhem of the world Gates helped make when, in the 1980s, he came into his own. That this is the man meant to save us from the disparate fundamentalisms of Bush the Younger and Dick Cheney tells us a great deal about just how low we've sunk.
Remember that old story about the pot and the kettle. Well, Tom Edsall of the Huffington Post reports today that John McCain, the once-crusading reformer, has more lobbyists on his staff than any other '08 presidential candidate.
Two of his top guns are Congressmen-turned-lobbyists Tom Loeffler of Texas and Slade Gordon of Washington, who represent clients such PhrMA, the powerful pharmaceutical industry trade group whose influence McCain used to regularly deride. McCain called the Medicare privatization bill of 2003 the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind Bill." Now those very same lobbyists are members of his inner circle.
One of McCain's top operatives is Charlie Black, an ally of Ahmad Chalabi and Lockheed Martin, another company McCain has criticized for its sweetheart deals with the Defense Department. (Black's lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, also happens to be a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, the huge PR firm run by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn.)
On the flipside, Edsall reports that of the major Democratic candidates Barack Obama has the fewest ties to K Street. Perhaps that's why he just gave the strongest speech yet of this campaign season about how to clean up the cesspool in Washington.
"From Jack Abramoff to Tom Delay, from briberies to indictments, the scandals that have plagued Washington over the last few years have been too numerous to recall," Obama told voters in New Hampshire on Friday.
"But their most troubling aspect goes far beyond the headlines that focus on the culprits and their crimes. It's an entire culture in Washington - some of it legal, some of it not - that allows this to happen. Because what's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result.
It was a great speech. One that almost made me yearn for the McCain of 2000.
Reviews of "A Mighty Heart" -- the cinematic rendering of the tragic kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- inevitably touched on the heroism of journalists, who bravely follow stories into the brutal, shadowy world of terrorists or the dangerous frontlines of a war zone.
Ever since 9/11, life has grown far more perilous for Western journalists, as they report stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots in the Middle East in the midst of the so-called "war on terror." The latest casualty is Alan Johnston of the BBC, who has been kidnapped by Palestinian militants.
While the level media attention given to the plight of Western correspondents is well-deserved, it is also tragically lopsided. Consider, for example, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff. A casualty of a roadside bomb in Iraq, Woodruff's injuries and long road to recovery became fodder for a much-publicized book and documentary. There was much talk of Woodruff's undoubted journalistic and personal courage.
If you look at the statistics released by the Committee to Protect Journalists, you realize that Woodruff lucky to survive in a country where more reporters have died since 2003 than anywhere else in the world. But he was also an anomaly, hardly representative of who really pays the price for press freedom in Iraq. According to the CPJ, of the
108 journalists killed in Iraq on duty, 86 were Iraqi,twelve were European, and eight were from other countries. The number of American journalists killed in Iraq: two.
This isn't to take anything away from the heroism of a Woodruff or a Danny Pearl, but to acknowledge that much of our own knowledge of the war relies on the indomitable courage of Iraqi journalists, who do much of the actual on-the-ground reporting for Western media outlets at a time when western reporters are "virtually under house arrest," as Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi put it in a 2004 email. The 86 dead Iraqis, for example, include five employees of The Associated Press, The most recent victim being Said M. Fakhry, 26, an AP Television News cameraman shot dead May 31 in his Baghdad neighborhood. And even when foreign correspondents are kidnapped by militants, the Iraqi journalists accompanying them are almost always killed immediately -- even terrorists know that the life of an Iraqi has no collateral value in Mideast politics.
According to AP, things are getting worse by the day: "More than a dozen other Iraqi media employees have disappeared -- apparent victims of kidnap gangs and sectarian death squads."
The lives of of these journalists don't merit a major book deal, network news special, or a Hollywood flick, but it doesn't make their work any less valuable for us Americans. At a 2005 conference, I was introduced to Huda Ahmed, who received recognition for her extraordinary bravery from her employer, Knight Ridder. I asked her why she chose to do this kind of work, whose risks far outweighed the apparent rewards. "For my country," she said. That's the kind of patriotism we can all learn from.
The union representing more than 65,000 Southern California grocery workers has voted to authorize a region-wide strike against the giant Vons and Ralphs supermarket chains. A few months ago the same union authorized a strike against the Albertsons chain.
The new vote comes after an impasse was reached in contract talks last week. More than 90% of members approved the possible strike action.
At central issue, no surprise, are wages and health care benefits. Only 3 1/2 years ago the union went out on a bitterly fought 142 day strike that ended in a disappointing manner. The markets were able to impose a new two-tier contract, severely cutting back wage rates and insurance benefits for newer employees.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union is currently trying to win back some of those concessions it was forced to accept. The two-tier system hasn't met the expectations of the employers either, helping to create a less stable and less professional work force. The unions are hopeful that this time around they can gain the upper hand.
The actual walkout could begin anytime after a required 72 hour advance notice if offered.
Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel has come up with the right response to Dick Cheney's attempt to suggest that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the executive branch.
The House Democratic Caucus chairman wants to take the Cheney at his word. Cheney says his office is "not an entity within the executive branch," so Emanuel wants to take away the tens of millions of dollars that are allocated to the White House to maintain it.
The root of the controversy is in a fight that the vice president has picked with the National Archives, which is charged with keeping tabs on how the offices of the president, the vice president and their appointees handle classified documents.
Under federal legislation enacted in 1995, members of the executive branch must work with the Archives to preserve classified documents. The law was backed up, at least in part, by an executive order issued four years ago by President Bush. But Cheney and his staff have refused for five years to file reports that are required as part of the oversight process. Why? Because the vice president -- that's the vice president -- claims he is not exactly a member of the executive branch.
So what is Cheney? Because the vice president serves in the frequently ceremonial position of president of the Senate, Cheney's office now claims that he is a member of the legislative branch -- and thus unburdened by any responsibility to cooperate with the Archives.
Forget the fact that the Constitution clearly defines the vice presidency as an executive position.
Forget the fact that, since then-Congressman Cheney wrote the Iran-Contra investigation minority report defending the "right" of the Reagan administration to set its own foreign policy, he has been a consistent and aggressive advocate for increasing the authority of the executive branch.
Forget the fact that, since the Supreme Court handed power to the Buch-Cheney ticket in December 2OOO, Cheney has fashioned himself as the most powerful vice president in history.
Forget the fact that when Cheney has steadfastly refused to share classified information with the U.S. House and Senate.
Forget the fact that when Cheney actually makes his way to Capitol Hill it is famously to spew obscenities at Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy.
O.K., says Emanuel.
If Cheney's a member of the legislative branch, the Democratic Caucus chair suggests, the vice president won't need all the money that currently goes to pay for his executive office, extensive staff and that secure undisclosed location that is so often his haunt. So Emanuel plans this week to offer an amendment to a spending bill that would defund the Office of the Vice President.
Of course, there would still be funding for the Office of the Senate President. But, let's be frank, the rare tie-breaking duties and ceremonial administrative functions associated with that position won't require more than a smidgen of the money that now goes to the vice president's epic executive-branch operations.
"This amendment will ensure that the vice president's funding is consistent with his legal arguments," say Emanuel, a former aide to President Clinton who, like Cheney, has served in both the legislative and executive branches.
Come to think of it, no matter what branch of the government he happens to occupy, doesn't it make sense to defund Cheney? At this point in the Bush-Cheney interregnum, any move that disempowers Dick Cheney can only benefit the Republic.
John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."
Here's a segment for next week's CNN show "Reliable Sources." Why is it that the mainstream media treats single-payer healthcare (Medicare for all) as a fringe idea --when, in fact, it has broad support?
In a Sunday-morning segment--devoted to dissecting media treatment of Michael Moore and his new film Sicko, Howard Kurtz asserted that Moore is "pushing government-run healthcare which no Presidential candidate supports."
Last I checked, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and a candidate for the Presidency, not only supports a single-payer, Medicare for all, not-for-profit healthcare system but he co-sponsored HR 676, The US National Health Insurance Act, along with Congressman John Conyers and more than 74 other House members. It's a detailed bill, which was reintroduced in the latest session on Congress.
As Kucinich said in a recent Presidential forum, " It's time we ended this thought that healthcare is a privilege. It's a basic right, and it's time to end this control that insurance companies have not only over healthcare but over our political system." If "Reliable Sources" wants to remain reliable, shouldn't it issue a correction? Maybe devote a segment to media coverage of single-payer healthcare?
After all, if CNN can devote an hour this Wednesday evening to Larry King's interview with Paris Hilton, shouldn't it be able to give over a few minutes to coverage of single-payer healthcare? After all, according to a March New York Times poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe government should guarantee healthcare to every American, especially children, and a majority are willing to pay higher taxes to get this done.
Thanks to rigorous work by the Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, it is clear that the US. Attorney scandal – as outrageous as it is on its own – is part of a much broader effort by the Bush Administration to use government institutions for partisan gain.
In their report – Using Justice to Suppress the Vote – the two pro-democracy, pro-civil rights organizations demonstrate that the Administration used federal agencies charged with protecting voters' rights to promote voter suppression, influence voting rules, and gain advantage in battleground states. This was achieved through a four-pronged strategy: dismantling the infrastructure at the Department of Justice; fomenting a fear of rampant voter fraud (which has subsequently been disproved – it actually occurs "statistically…about as often as death by lightning strike"); politically motivated prosecutions; and restricting registration and voting.
The actions of two Bush appointees who recently testified on the Hill – Hans von Spakovsky and Bradley Schlozman– are illustrative of the effort to restrict voter turnout in a manner that favors Republican candidates. In January 2006, von Spakovsky was given a recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission (the agency charged with enforcing the Federal Election Campaign Act – he's now having one helluva time in his confirmation hearing). Prior to that, he worked for three years as the appointed Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division at Justice.
In a letter to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, six former career attorneys – who worked under both Republican and Democratic Administrations spanning 36 years – wrote that von Spakovsky "played a major role in… inject[ing] partisan political factors into decision-making on enforcement matters and into the hiring process…. Moreover, he was the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights." The career attorneys say that von Spakovsky "assumed primary responsibility for the day to day operation of the Voting Section" and was handed "the authority to usurp many of the responsibilities of the career section chief…."
Von Spakovsky played a key role in fomenting a fear of voter fraud – even writing under the pseudonym "Publius" in June 2005 to "warn of its dangers" and support restrictive photo ID requirements. He asserted that there was "no evidence" that such laws disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters but there was indeed a widespread problem of ineligible voters influencing election outcomes.
At the same time – despite his article and having served on the Fulton County Board of Election – von Spakovsky saw no conflict of interest in taking the lead on reviewing Georgia's proposed photo ID requirement as the DOJ is required to do. He proceeded to approve the law, overruling the career staff's near unanimous decision that it violated the Voting Rights Act by weakening minority voting strength. Both the state and federal courts later ruled the law unconstitutional.
According to the letter from the six career attorneys the aftermath of the Georgia decision was "at least as disturbing as the decision-making process." The Deputy Chief who led the career team's review – a 28-year Civil Rights Division attorney with 20 years in the Voting Section – was involuntarily transferred without explanation. Three others left the Voting Section "after enduring criticism and retaliation." The single attorney who did not recommend against the Georgia ID law – a new attorney – "received a cash award." In all, over 55 percent of the attorneys have left the Voting Section since 2005.
Other stellar moments in the von Spakovsky tenure: overruling a unanimous recommendation from career attorneys against Tom DeLay's redistricting plan (the Supreme Court later ruled, "In essence the State took away the Latinos' opportunity because Latinos were about to exercise it."); overruling career staff who had sought more information regarding the impact of a new Arizona voter ID law on minorities (in the end, it blocked tens of thousands of voters from casting a ballot); pressuring a Republican commissioner, Paul DeGregorio, at the Election Assistance Commission to rescind a letter stating that Arizona had to accept federal voter registration forms that did not include proof of citizenship (DeGregorio e-mailed von Spakovsky asking if this was "an attempt by you to put pressure on me – and the EAC? If so, I do not appreciate it"; also, a proposed "deal" by von Spakovsky to have the Civil Rights Department reconsider its position on provisional ballots in exchange for cooperation on the new Arizona law garnered this response from DeGregorio, "I do not agree to ‘deals,' especially when it comes to interpretation of the law."); advocating for keeping eligible citizens off of the voter rolls if registration information can't be verified by a "computer match" (as inevitably will occur due to typos and other mistakes by election officials; when Washington State followed von Spakovsky's counsel the courts struck the law down); pushing voter purges in battleground states (the kind that contributed to the Florida 2000 debacle) before the 2006 election instead of enforcing federal requirements that states make voter registration more accessible; causing the DOJ to take the position that voters cannot go to court to enforce their rights under the Help America Vote Act (the first time the Voting Section took a position against voters' right to go to court) – this position was rejected by every federal court which considered it.
"Mr. von Spakovsky was central to the administration's pursuit of strategies that had the effect of suppressing the minority vote," said Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department Chief of the Voting Section.
Another key player in the politicization of the DOJ for partisan gain is Bradley Schlozman. His efforts to dismantle the political infrastructure at Justice were reported on the front page of the Washington Post this week. Schlozman was named Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 2003 and, in 2005, was appointed Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
Schlozman oversaw the historic shift of the Civil Rights Division away from enforcing federal civil rights protections to ensuring a staff and an agenda that would further partisan goals. Career hiring and personnel decisions were removed from career managers and given to political appointees – negating a policy which had been implemented during the Eisenhower Administration in order to insulate civil servants from political gamesmanship. The mass exodus from the Voting Section occurred under Schlozman's watch, and seven career managers were removed from the Civil Rights Division. Career supervisors were ordered to alter performance evaluations – improving those for individuals who were supportive of Bush Administration positions, and weakening evaluations for others who failed to toe the line. Experienced civil rights attorneys were removed, transferred, or denied cases in favor of new hires who lacked experience but had the right conservative credentials.
In fact, one current lawyer speaking to the Post under condition of anonymity said of Schlozman's recent testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, "When he said he didn't engage in political hiring, most of us thought that was just laughable. Everything Schlozman did was political. And he said so."
Schlozman was involved in both the Texas redistricting and Georgia ID decisions to overrule career staff, and the personnel fallout that followed. But most disturbing was the use of a provision buried in the Patriot Act that allowed Schlozman to serve as an interim US Attorney in the Western District of Missouri without a Senate confirmation hearing. Schlozman replaced Todd Graves who had resisted a purge of voters from the rolls as Schlozman had urged. Once he was installed, Schlozman also brought four high-profile indictments against individuals working in low-income and minority communities for voter registration fraud just one week prior to the tight Senate contest between Republican incumbent Jim Talent and then-Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill. The result was bad press for McCaskill and other Democrats. Schlozman's decision was contrary to a longstanding, written Department of Justice Guidance stating: "Federal prosecutors and investigators should be extremely careful to not conduct overt investigations during the pre-election period or while the election is underway." (Schlozman recently had to change his initial testimony in which he claimed "that he ‘acted at the direction of the director of the Election Crimes Branch in the Public Integrity Section' in filing the indictments. This initial testimony "infuriated public integrity attorneys who… pride themselves on staying out of political disputes.")
In a recent op-ed, Rich wrote, "For decades prior to this administration, the Justice Department had successfully kept politics out of its law enforcement decisions. Hopefully, the spotlight on this misconduct will begin the process of restoring dignity and nonpartisanship to federal law enforcement."
So how can dignity and nonpartisanship be restored and even strengthened?
The Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law suggest that von Spakovsky be rejected for an FEC position that – as Senator Barack Obama wrote– calls for a "record of nonpartisanship, fairness and judgment necessary to enforce election laws." Congress should also exhaustively investigate any government efforts to propagate fear of voter fraud, restrict voting rights, and suppress the vote. Finally, Congress should advance a truly nonpartisan fair elections agenda, including: the banning of inaccurate and partisan pre-election purges of the voter rolls; blocking discriminatory voter ID laws that could disenfranchise millions of voters; and enacting legislation that protects voters and electoral integrity such as the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Act, Count Every Vote Act, andVoter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act .
Kudos to these two important civil rights organizations for recognizing the magnitude of this scandal and offering a plan to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
Confidence in Congress has hit an all-time low. A mere 14 percent of Americans tell Gallup pollsters that they have a great deal or quite a lot of faith in the US House and Senate.
Since Gallup began using the current measure of confidence in Congress in 1973, the worst rating had been the 18 percent figure accorded it in the early years of the 1990s, when the House was being rocked by scandals that would eventually see a number of top Democratic lawmakers rejected in their own party primaries and the "Republican revolution" vote of 1994.
To give a sense of just how bad things are for Congress, consider this notion: Americans express more confidence in corporate HMOs--the most despised manifestation of a health-care industry that lends itself to all of the scorn heaped upon it by Michael Moore's new film Sicko -- than in their elected representatives at the federal level.
It is true that confidence in Congress had been sinking in recent years, in large part because of frustration by the American people with the acquiescence by the formerly Republican-controlled House and Senate to the neo-conservative foreign policies of the Bush administration and to the Wall Street-driven domestic policies.
But the shift in control of both chambers after last November elections was supposed to change that.
No one expected Democrats to fix everything that was wrong with the United States, let alone the world.
But there was an expectation of progress--especially on the central issue of the moment: ending the war in Iraq.
That expectation, a basic and legitimate one in a functioning democracy, has not been met. And it has created a sense of frustration, and in many cases anger, on the part of Americans who really did want the Democrats to succeed--not in gaining partisan advantage but in the far more essential work of checking and balancing the Bush administration. Some leading voices of opposition, including anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, have simply given up on the Democratic Party. And no one should underestimate that, even if Sheehan says she no longer wants to be the face of the anti-war movement, Sheehan's denunciation of the Democrats for failing to seriously challenge Bush's management of the war is an honest and clear expression of the sense of betrayal that a great many Americans who voted Democratic in 2006 are now feeling.
That's the bad news for Democrats.
The good news is that they still have time to change course.
Doing so is easier than political pundits and cautious politicians would have Americans believe.
If Congressional Democrats want to reconnect with the great mass of Americans who want this war to end, they need only turn to Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold for advice and counsel. Feingold, who voted against authorizing Bush to attack Iraq and has been the steadiest voice of Senate opposition to the war since then, has been calling for the better part of two years for Congress to establish a timeline for withdrawal.
For a long time, Feingold stood alone. But, slowly, he has built a base within the Senate Democratic Caucus for the premise that Congress must lead.
Earlier this year, Feingold got Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on board with his proposal to begin redeploying US troops from Iraq in 120 days. Under the Feingold-Reid plan, the process of withdrawal would be completed by April 2008.
When the Senate considered the Feingold-Reid proposal in May, as an amendment to a broader war funding measure, it received 29 votes--far short of a majority. The problem then was that leading Democrats in the Senate, particularly Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin and a key Democratic senator on military matters, Rhode Island's Jack Reed, actively criticized the plan Feingold had offered. Levin went to far as to echo White House talking points that suggested setting a timeline for withdrawal might undermine both the security of the troops on the ground in Iraq and the prospects for a smooth transition of that country from US to Iraqi control.
But Levin and Reed now seem to be changing their tune. Levin indicated this week that he and Jack Reed would introduce an amendment to the upcoming Defense Authorization bill that is likely to mirror the Feingold-Reid proposal's call for redeployment in 120 days and the completion of a fuller withdrawal by April 2008. Levin is now trying to suggest that his proposal is an improvement on Feingold's plan. It's not. And Levin's inability to gracefully acknowledge that his colleague from Wisconsin has been right all along is both embarrassing and counterproductive.
But the acceptance by the Senate Armed Services Committee chair of the wisdom on a time a timetable for redeployment with a hard deadline represents genuine progress. For Congressional Democrats it is, as well, essential progress. If they want to win the confidence of the American people, they must do something. And the "something" most Americans want most at this point in an end to a war that should never have been launched in the first place.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"