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The Crowded Progressive Caucus

What will be the largest of the ideological caucuses in the new House Democratic majority?

Why, of course, it must be the "centrists" affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council's "New Democrat Coalition." Yes, that's got to be the case because all the commentators at the Wall Street Journal keep saying that centrists were the big winners on Tuesday.

Er, no.

Well, then, it must be the more conservative Democrats who identify themselves as "Blue Dogs." Surely, that's the answer because all the folks on Fox News keeping talking about them.

Nope.

The largest ideological caucus in the new House Democratic majority will be the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with a membership that includes New York's Charles Rangel, Michigan's John Conyers, Massachusetts' Barney Frank and at least half the incoming chairs of House standing committees.

The caucus currently has 64 members -- up 14 since last year -- and its co-chairs, California Democrats Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, say they expect that as many as eight incoming House Democrats will join the CPC. The number could actually go higher, as several candidates in undecided House races ran with strong progressive support. (The CPC worked with labor and progressive groups to assist a number of candidates in targeted races around the country this year, reflecting the more aggressive approach it has taken since the caucus was reorganized under the leadership of Lee and Woolsey and hired veteran labor and political organizer Bill Goold as a full-time staffer.)

The caucus will need an infusion of new members -- not because those associated with it lost elections Tuesday but because they won. CPC members Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio will be leaving the House to become U.S. Senators. Interestingly, the two members of the "Blue Dog" caucus who ran for the Senate, Hawaii's Ed Case and Tennessee's Harold Ford, both lost.

Says Lee: "Some inside-the-Beltway commentators, columnists, and conservatives want the American people to believe that last Tuesday's election results have especially empowered moderate-to-conservative elements within the House Democratic Caucus in the 110th Congress, but that is an incomplete picture of the new political landscape on Capitol Hill."

She's right. The convention wisdom may say that the new crop of House Democrats is conservative or centrist: Political Correspondent Gloria Borger: "the people coming in are going to be these moderate conservatives"; New York Times columnist David Brooks: "For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats."

But, as is so often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

House winners like Jerry McNerney from California, Ed Perlmutter from Colorado, Bruce Braley from Iowa, John Sarbanes from Maryland, Keith Ellison from Minnesota, Carol Shear-Porter and Paul Hodes from New Hampshire, John Hall from New York, stood for election on platforms that echoed the commitment of the CPC to bring the troops home from Iraq, promote economic fairness, make elections more honest and government more ethical, and promote energy independence. Many of the new members of the House, including New York's Yvette Clarke, won hotly-contested Democratic primaries by associating themselves with Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha's advocacy of rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

Do the math. While the Blue Dogs are predicting that the membership of their caucus may grow from 37 to 44 members, and the New Democrats hope their membership will edge up from the mid-forties to over the 50 mark, the Progressives are looking at the prospect that their caucus -- the most racially and regionally diverse ideological grouping in the Congress -- could number more than 70 members once the new House is seated.

Forget the spin. Listen to Barbara Lee, whose habit of deviating from the conventional wisdom in order get things right is now well established, when she says of Tuesday's election results, "It is important to recognize that this was not just a vote against George Bush and the Republican Congress, it was a vote for a Democratic agenda that is rooted in progressive values."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Sweet Victories on a Sweet Night

Of the many important wins Tuesday night that made up one, huge VICTORY for all, here are a few by candidates I had highlighted in a recent post:

Jerry McNerney (D-CA) for CongressJerry McNerney defeated seven-term incumbent conservative, Richard Pombo, who chaired the House Resources Committee and was deemed an "eco-thug" by the Sierra Club. McNerney supports Rep. John Murtha's plan for speedy withdrawal and made renewable energy a focus of his platform – even using the slogan New Energy for Congress.

Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) for CongressEd Perlmutter said that one of his first acts in Congress will be to add his name to Rep. Murtha's list of co-sponsors for legislation calling for a speedy withdrawal. He advocates for a "Manhattan Project" to achieve energy independence.

Paul Hodes (D-NH) for CongressPaul Hodes defeated six-term incumbent Charles Bass in a district held by Republicans since 1990 – and he did it with a platform calling for nuclear disarmament and immediate troop withdrawal.

Bob Menendez (D-NJ) for SenateSen. Menendez took a strong antiwar stance in calling for troop withdrawals this year. He also successfully defeated the constant, unsubstantiated allegations of corruption by his Republican challenger.

John Hall (D-NY) for CongressTruly a favorite here at The Nation (and not just because of his music career), John Hall stunned six-term incumbent Sue Kelly while thwarting a flurry of Rove-like tricks down the stretch. In addition to calling for immediate troop withdrawal, Hall told Congressional Quarterly that he hopes to have a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee where he will pursue an "Apollo Project" for renewable energy. Hall says energy independence "would give the American psyche such a jolt, such a shot in the arm. We would once again feel like a country in control of its own destiny."

Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for SenateWe can't emphasize enough the importance of Sherrod Brown's victory. Read my post about Brown from last night, and John Nichols' recent Nation cover story.

Joseph Sestak, Jr. (D-PA) for CongressMedia consultants advised Joe Sestak not to discuss troop withdrawal and he ignored them. Instead, he made war the main issue of the campaign and called for a withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2007. Sestak defeated a 20-year incumbent.

Bernard Sanders (I-VT) for SenateBernie Sanders defeated his Big Bucks opponent and is one of the most progressive members of the Senate.

These were some of the victories. There were also many candidates who were right on the issues but came up short at the ballot box. Nevertheless, each played a key role in collectively focusing the national conversation on the war, the economy and the GOP's unrelenting assault on our constitution. Their contributions will be felt long past Election Day.

Hooray for Robert Gates?

Hooray for Robert Gates. Well, almost.

At first glance, the appropriate reaction to George W. Bush's decision to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with Gates might be, here's more of the same: another retread from the Bush I clan with a problematic past. Gates served as CIA director for the first President Bush in the early 1990s--and did so after contentious nomination hearings aired accusations that Gates had skewed intelligence analysis when he was a senior CIA manager. The allegations were quite serious. Several CIA analysts testified he had "politicized" intelligence reporting by making certain that estimates conformed to the conservative political viewpoints favored by the Reagan White House--most notably, that the Soviet Union was a more threatening adversary.

Gates' accusers, including former CIA division chief Mel Goodman, presented a strong case against him, detailing several instances when Gates pushed Soviet-related intelligence in an ideological direction. Larry Johnson, a onetime CIA analyst, recently recalled,

I remember talking to the South African analyst back in 1988, who told me about the time Bob Gates tried to change the lede on an intelligence piece, which argued that Nelson Mandela was NOT a communist. Gates wanted the lede to say that Mandela was a communist. The analyst kicked back hard and ultimately prevailed, but this behavior was consistent with his reputation as a political animal willing to curry favor with the political masters downtown and sacrifice sound analysis.

After the confirmation hearings, Senator Ernest Hollings, a Democrat, concluded that the "cancer of politicization" had spread in the CIA during the period when Gates was a top deputy to CIA chief William Casey.

Gates' nomination to be CIA head was imperiled by other controversies. He had directly engaged in secret intelligence sharing with Iraq in 1986 that critics claimed was illegal. Gates, who apparently possesses a photographic memory, testified that he could not recall key aspects of the Iran-contra affair. Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat, accused Gates, a career Soviet analyst, of having ignored the changes under way in that country in the late 1980s. "Mr. Gates got it dead wrong," Bradley complained in 1991. Bradley also charged that when Gates was the deputy CIA chief he had neglected the important task of collecting intelligence on Iraq. Despite all this, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved the Gates nomination, and he served as CIA director for fourteen months. (In 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Gates to be CIA chief, and then the White House pulled his nomination in the midst of the Iran-contra scandal.)

Considering that he launched a war justified by fraudulent intelligence misrepresented by the White House, the current President Bush might have thought twice before installing at the Pentagon a former intelligence official once accused of cooking intelligence for political reasons. Critics of the administration quickly denounced the Gates-for-Rumsfeld swap, resurrecting the old charges (which I covered extensively at the time). But allow me to offer a limited cheer for Gates.

First off, he's not Donald Rumsfeld. That's a good start. Rummy, the fellow once hailed as a matinee idol for older women who watch C-SPAN, bungled every major decision in the war: how many troops to send (not enough); whether or not to dissolve the Iraqi army (he did); whether or not to mount an extensive de-Baathification campaign (he did); how to respond to the looting and the incipient insurgency in the weeks and months after the invasion (not expeditiously). Of course, Rumsfeld was wrong on the WMD question, and he was wrong to declare before the invasion that the war would last less than six months. His Pentagon was a home to neoconservative war advocates who cherry-picked intelligence data and factoids to craft the false case that Saddam Hussein was in league with al Qaeda. In the years after the invasion, Rumsfeld routinely and falsely claimed the Pentagon was making significant progress in training Iraqi security forces. Looking at his management of the war, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a local weatherman using a Magic Eight Ball could have done better.

Second, Gates is a conservative but a realist; he's no neocon. For instance, he's advocated trying to reach an accommodation with Iran. That impresses Gary Sick, who during the Jimmy Carter years worked on the National Security Council with Gates. Sick points to the fact that in 2004 Gates co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations task force that urged "a revised strategic approach to Iran" incorporating selective engagement with Tehran. This was a polite slam against the Axis-of-Evil approach of the Bush-Cheney administration. Sick, a critic of the administration and the Iraq war, views the Gates' nomination as a possible indicator that the Bush administration is turning from "neocon ideology to political realism."

Gates, currently the president of Texas A&M University, hasn't said much about the war in Iraq. In May 2005, he did remark, "For better or for worse, we have cast our lot and we need to stay there as long as necessary to get the job done." But he has also proposed a more narrow definition of success than Bush, noting that the United States could leave once there is "a government that can survive and that will be very different from what preceded it."

More important--and this is what's intriguing about the Gates nomination--Gates is a member of the Iraq Study Group, a panel chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Representative Lee Hamilton, a Democrat. The bipartisan commission's mission is to assess the situation in Iraq and propose policy options. Baker has already said that he believes a strategic shift is needed in Iraq and that his commission will produce specific recommendations in this regard. (The commission is reportedly considering different versions of disengagement, among other ideas.) Baker picked Gates to be on the commission, presumably with knowledge of Gates' thinking on the subject. Thus, it's no stretch to see Gates as an envoy (or a sleeper agent?) of the commission assigned to (or planted within) the Bush administration. Given other possible choices for the Pentagon job (Joe Lieberman?), it's somewhat heartening that Bush has invited into his Cabinet a non-neocon who has been working with Baker to find a way out of Iraq.

Am I yielding to the bigotry of low expectations? You bet. With the mess in Iraq worsening, I am rooting for Baker--and any mole he manages to place within the administration. There's no telling whether Baker will come up with worthwhile and workable alternatives or whether Bush will actually consider a significant course correction (even one concocted by a stand-in for his father). Bush remains the decider-in-chief--and he has been a stubborn one until now.

Though Gates' past government career was marked by troubling episodes, he is now part of a group--essentially, the adults of the Bush I clan--trying to inject some reality into the stay-the-course mentality of the Bush-Cheney White House. That's something Rumsfeld never did. By Bush standards, this is monumental progress.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

The Wimp Party

Has the war party turned into the wimp party?

I hate to sound like Maureen Dowd, but Republicans have never looked so weak. With barely a whimper of protest Senators George Allen and Conrad Burns conceded defeat in Virginia and Montana this afternoon. Just like that, Democrats took back both houses of Congress.

That's good news for Democrats--to a point. Winning the Senate takes some pressure off of Nancy Pelosi and allows the party the ability to push a coherent legislative agenda.

But with great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. And blame. Republicans are going to start scapegoating the Democrats on everything. If the economy turns sour (or stays sour, depending on your perspective), it's the Democrats fault. Bush is still President, but Iraq now also becomes the opposition party's mess.

Maybe that's why Bush looked a little relieved at his press conference yesterday. He may not be the best campaigner anymore, but he's a hell of a lot worse at governing.

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

I've received some sad news. The writer Ellen Willis, one of my heroes, died this morning of lung cancer, much too young (64). I will miss her lucid thinking about culture and politics, bracing scorn for sentimental obfuscation (whether from the right or the left), radical vision of a better society and gift for the art of writing.

Though Willis wholeheartedly participated in sixties counterculture, she wrote incisively about its foolishness. A policeman's daughter, she described demonstrators' cop-hating as "another pretense that white bohemians and radicals are as oppressed as ghetto blacks," and "fierce bohemian contempt for all those slobs who haven't seen the light."

A founding member of Redstockings, Willis was an articulate champion of seventies radical feminism, but wrote equally well about the pleasure-hating eighties, with its drug wars, censorship and the rise of the "right to life" movement. She was deeply committed to a vision of love between free people, and through that lens, the social control decade took on a fresh desolation. She was eloquent about the extent to which fear of the libido not only energized the evangelical far right but had permeated feminism. Writing about feminist anti-porn crusades, she urged women not to "accept a spurious moral superiority as a substitute for sexual pleasure, and curbs on men's sexual freedom as a substitute for real power." Yet she admitted that the sexual radicals like herself didn't have all the answers, and had "failed to put forth a convincing analysis of sexual violence, exploitation and alienation."

Writing during this period, she created an alter ego for herself -- and anyone else trying to live a passionate life in hostile times -- an alienated character called Ruby Tuesday, periodically adrift from a cohesive community or social movement, asserting deviant desires in a culture that pretends we all want the same things.

But despite Willis's sense of isolation and libertarian commitment to the individual -- both of which pervade her writing in every era -- she never lost sight of the importance of social movements: "The struggle for freedom, pleasure, transcendence is not just an individual matter. The social system that...as far as possible channels our desires, is antagonistic to that struggle; to change this requires collective effort."

Like her character Ruby Tuesday, who ends up seducing reporters who come to interview her, Willis was boldly optimistic about the transformative powers of desire, and the threateningly political implications of happiness. "The power of the ecstatic moment," she writes, "This is what freedom is like, this is what love could be, this is what happens when the boundaries are gone -- is precisely the power to reimagine the world, to reclaim a human identity that's neither victim nor oppressor."

Like many feminists of my generation, I revered Ellen Willis and have been deeply influenced by her writing. I didn't know her well as a person, however. Once at a party, I decided I had to talk to her, and tell her how much I admired her work. She seemed mortified, though not altogether displeased. After that, whenever we'd run into each other, she was pleasant enough, but always shy and awkward. I would often see her circling a party alone, apparently not finding anyone she was inclined to chat with, or any cluster she wanted to join. Still, I'm glad I got to tell her that I was a huge fan. I hope she enjoyed hearing that, at least a little bit.

(I should admit, I'm plagiarizing myself somewhat. I've written about Ellen Willis's work before, in a "What Are They Reading?" on the Nation's website, and in a review of her 1993 book No More Nice Girls, the first piece I ever wrote for the Nation, which ran in the magazine October 4 of that year.)

Hundreds of Communities Vote for Rapid Withdrawal

Political and media insiders were willing to admit, albeit cautiously, that Tuesday's election results -- in which Democrats took control of Congress, with explicitly anti-war candidates posting frequently unexpected wins in districts across the country -- represented a repudiation of the Bush administration's invasion and continued occupation of Iraq.

President Bush comfirmed the assessment when he welcomed the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Unfortunately, while the analysts finally acknowledged the deep and broad opposition to the war, they continued to question whether Americans really want to bring the troops home now. They were not willing to speak the truth that Siobhan Kolar, who helped organize an anti-war referendum campaign in Illinois, did when she declared: "The antiwar majority has spoken!"

The prospect of rapid withdrawal still scares the vast majority of what can loosely be referred to as "the political class" -- not because those who understand the seriousness of the troubles in Iraq think that withdrawal is a particularly bad option, but because they fear the American electorate might object to the abandonment of a mission that they have been told for more than three years is essential.

As they have since before the war began, most pundits and pols are underestimating the awareness and the maturity of the American people with regard to exit strategies. If only they would travel this country and actually talk to voters, they would run into people like Regina Miller, the mother of an Army captain serving his second tour in Iraq, who spoke to a reporter while waiting in line to vote in Baltimore. "I really don't think we're making a difference there, so we need a change. We need to pull out. That's their war," Miller said of the Iraqis. "That's a civil war."

That is not a naive or misinformed sentiment. That's realism, a realism that accepts that Iraq is a mess and that it will probably remain a mess for quite some time. It asks only the most basic question: Why should American troops remain bogged down in the middle of the mess?

Let's be clear: There will come a point at which the United States exits Iraq. That point will be preceded by chaos and followed by chaos. Keeping U.S. troops on the ground there only guarantees one thing: more funerals services for young U.S. soldiers in inner cities and small towns across America.

The great mass of voters are not fearful about exiting Iraq. They fear the funerals, and the wheelchairs, and the emotional trauma, and of the unmet needs at home and the continued war profiteering that go with a "stay-the-course" strategy. And they are ready to get out. National exit polling on Tuesday found a 55-37 landslide majority of Americans in favor of withdrawal.

When voters were given the opportunity to address the question directly, as was the case in more than 15O communities in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts that voted on "Bring the Troops Home" referendums, there left no doubt that they are ready to end this war. Big cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee joined smaller communities such as Geneva Township, Illinois, and Boscobel, Wisconsin, all voted for withdrawal. All ten referendums that were on the ballot in Wisconsin won -- and those results follow upon last spring's voting in the state, when another 24 communities voted for immediate withdrawal. All 11 referendums that were on the ballot in Illinois won. And the overwhelming majority of the 139 that were on the ballot in Massachusetts won. Rarely was the divide even close.

"I don't think the voters could make themselves any clearer," explained Steve Burns, the program coordinator with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, which promoted the referendums in that state. "The voters get it -- they know that the best thing for the American people and the Iraqi people is for us to bring our troops home from their country. Now it's time for our government to listen."

Now, indeed.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

We Voted for Peace

End-the-war energy fueled the success of "Bring Our Troops Home" ballot initiatives in communities throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts on Tuesday.

In Wisconsin, voters supported the initiatives by a margin of more than two-to-one. In Illinois, even counties that were won by George Bush in 2004 voted to bring the troops home. And in Massachusetts, 36 legislative districts – representing 139 communities – voted on a resolution to "end the war in Iraq immediately and bring all United States military forces home." All 36 districts voted in the affirmative.

Not only did voters support explicit peace initiatives such as these, but they also came out in droves to vote for candidates who promised to bring our troops home.

"I don't think the voters could make themselves any clearer," said Steve Burns, Program Coordinator for the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. "The voters get it – they know that the best thing for the American people and the Iraqi people is for us to bring our troops home from their country. Now it's time for our government to listen."

But getting our governent to listen will be no mean feat.

Tom Hayden suggests in a post today, "The Administration will continue the conflict into the 2008 election year…. The peace movement therefore needs to gear up for the 2008 elections, by establishing anti-war coalitions that no candidate can avoid in the primary states. The first four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – have large peace-and-justice constituencies."

Despite the clear verdict on Tuesday – that democrats, independents and many republicans want this disastrous war to end --and end now – many would-be leaders in both parties will shrink from the challenge of ending the bloodletting.

When these would-be leaders stand down, we must continue to stand up for peace.

Tuesday's Stunners

Few people thought there would be a competitive race in Iowa's 2nd Congressional district, including myself--and I grew up there!

The local Congressman, Jim Leach, was an old-school liberal Republican who'd been in Congress since 1976 and opposed the war in Iraq. If anyone could withstand a Democratic wave, it would be Leach. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) took a poll a week before the election and found Leach comfortably ahead.

But his challenger, Dave Loebsack, an antiwar international relations professor at Cornell College in Cedar Rapids, blanketed Eastern Iowa with signs reading "Had Enough?" When the results came in, Loebsack won by 6,000 votes. Hawkeye Democrats also picked up an additional Congressional seats in the 1st District, both state Houses and the Governor's mansion.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, former Republican pharmaceutical exec Nancy Boyda knocked off GOP Rep. Jim Ryun in another shocker in Kansas. Nobody believed Ryun was in trouble until the DCCC launched an ad against him a week before the election. The surprise attack worked, with Boyda winning by 4 percent.

Other upsets came in states like New Hampshire, where two antiwar Democrats knocked off Republican incumbents, in Kentucky, where liberal newspaper publisher John Yarmurth bested Anne Northup and in Pennsylvania, where rising Republican star Melissa Hart lost by ten thousand votes to 38-year-old healthcare exec Jason Altmire in Pittsburgh.

President Bush got one thing right about the elections. The "prognosticators" aren't always right.

The Big Story

Maryland State Senator-elect Jamie Raskin won 99 percent of the vote today -- this after a brutal primary in which pundits declared his chances of winning were "impossible." His victory is cause for genuine celebration, hope, and expectations of great things to come. Raskin – a professor of Constitutional Law at American University as well as a valued Nation contributor – offered these reflections on a night of political change across the nation as seen through his own experience running for State Senate.


"When I first announced against a 32-year incumbent who was President Pro Tem of the Maryland State Senate and Chair of the Montgomery County delegation in the Senate, all of the pundits and politicos said victory was impossible. Now they're saying it was inevitable. But of course it was neither--it was just possible, but it became increasingly likely with the infusion of incredible progressive energy and imagination from dozens and dozens of really fired-up Democrats disenchanted with lethargic machine politics and our constant right-ward drift. When I announced my candidacy, I had the support of no elected official and the incumbent already had more than $200,00 in the bank. We won based on relentless door-knocking and a grassroots uprising focused on political substance and hunger for change.

The big story in my mind is how the huge blue tide bringing in Democratic victories all over the country has been powered by less-visible grassroots insurgencies and progressive challenges within the Democratic Party animated by horror at the War in Iraq and the catastrophe of Katrina and everything it represents. Maryland's most populous jurisdiction is my county, Montgomery, which is home to more Democratic voters than any other county. Before the great victories of Ben Cardin for U.S. Senate and Martin O'Malley for Governor came tonight, there was a big progressive upsurge in our county politics over the last year against machine Democrats who are heavily influenced by development interests. In the September primary, two fine progressive candidates, Duchy Tractenberg and Marc Elrich, defied all the odds and took two at-large County Council seats away from candidates bankrolled by the developers. The newly elected County Executive in Montgomery, Ike Leggett, is the first African-American ever elected to that office; he challenged the power of the developers and organized the neighborhoods. Similarly, in my race, all of the huge landlords and apartment owners took note of my pro bono work for tenants in Silver Spring and contributed furiously to my opponent. They placed her Orwellian-sized campaign signs, complete with a yearbook-like photo, in front of their buildings while the tenants put my campaign signs in their windows! That juxtaposition captured a lot about the dynamics of my election. My part of the County also propelled Valerie Ervin, a brilliant union organizer and school board member, to the Council--Valerie becomes the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Montgomery Council.

The point is that the stunning upsets scored by so many progressive candidates in Maryland--and some near-misses, like Donna Edwards' astonishing 48% showing in the primary against Congressman Albert Wynn in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties--unleashed the energy, hope and new political activism that we needed to beat the Republican money machine statewide. Had our insurgent candidacies never happened, it would have been much harder for O'Malley and Cardin to pick up the momentum they needed. We brought in hundreds of new activists and thousands of new voters. Many of these people are disenchanted by machine politics and traditional partisan appeals, and they are unhappy with Democratic surrender to the Bush agenda on issues from war to energy policy to bankruptcy reform etc. They are hungry for a radical break from status quo politics. The Democratic leadership is waking up to this fact. A great leader for the future is John Sarbanes, the new Congressman from the 3rd district, who ran on a tough anti-war and progressive change platform.

Negative politics lost almost everywhere. Time and again the more conservative candidates--either Republicans in the general or machine Democrats--resorted to nasty personal attacks to cover up for their lack of a positive program. Voters weren't buying it. In my race, the incumbent's demonstrably absurd negative mailings (which twisted my First Amendment work to falsely depict me as pro-life despite my 100% NARAL Pro-Choice rating and endorsement by the National Organization for Women!) backfired and infuriated progressives who were not about to indulge the smear of a constitutional lawyer for standing up for the Bill of Rights. It was very important that we pointed out to people that negative personal politics and false advertising are the very opposite of progressive politics. We seek to build people up and spread solidarity while negative politics works to tear people down and undermine social trust.

People are finally seeing the ways in which Republican hypocrisy and cruelty support one another. Their whole ideological system--promotion of international and domestic state violence, homophobic moralism and religious zealotry, corruption and piety, prostitution of government to big business--is on the verge of collapse. Politicians and lobbyists on their way to jail, right-wing preachers paying for the kind of sex they denounce, rampant profiteering, a disgraceful and chaotic war--they all add up to an obsolescent governing model.

What will we replace it with? If you use the micro-example of my insurgent State Senate campaign, we must use a central focus on defense of the rights of the people; seriousness about climate change as the framing catastrophe-in-waiting that forces us to invent new models of transportation, growth and housing; comprehensive environmental protection and energy alternatives; strategic emphasis on grassroots political education and mobilization of young people and children to get involved in public life at every level; a refusal to condescend and patronize people or to dumb down our politics in Bush's dumbed-down culture; a sweeping challenge to corporate financial dominance of our politics combined with strong support for small business and a passionate commitment to universal health care; and a determination to make politics fun, multicultural and engaging for people at every turn.

I will continue to be a professor of constitutional law at AU and will teach a course on Legislation in the spring. I hope to bring my students to Annapolis to work on bills.

Thanks to you and the Nation community for your solidarity and encouragement from day one.

Yours, Jamie Raskin

PS: There is very little time to read on the campaign trail but I always kept up with the Nation, which is a fountain of creative political ideas and practical hope. Having drunk from the fountain a lot during my campaign, I hope to put something back in over the next four years!