It's 93 degrees outside my apartment window -- positively Nordic (it was 100 yesterday). This week, after years of resisting -- because of the expense, and the environmental impact -- my husband and I finally bought a living room air conditioner. It sure feels nice. But it's disturbing that because of global warming, we had to buy something that may contribute to... global warming.
Summer in New York City is always unbearable for at least a couple weeks, but this year is hell. Like all bad weather, this heat has hit some people much harder than others: a blackout left folks in Queens without power for almost two weeks, while the air conditioner from the H&M store near Penn Station wastefully cools the sidewalk, a seductive ploy to invite customers inside. Heat waves have always been a possible hazard of spending the summer in this city, so we don't know for sure what's causing this one, but no serious scientists dispute that global warming is taking place, and that we should make serious changes in our greenhouse gas emissions in order to ease up on this poor old planet and at least minimize the damage.
Last year, a friend (a longtime, deeply committed social justice activist) confessed that since he'd be dead before any serious fallout from global warming -- meaning, I suppose, before Manhattanites are up to our ankles in water -- he wasn't motivated to take any action on the issue. That's quite understandable, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.
Even some environmentalists aren't much help. I read in today's New York Times that people are objecting to a plan to use the water power of Manhattan's East River as a source of alternative energy because it might hurt the fish. I'm sorry, if I'm a fish in the East River, my life already sucks -- it's really, really polluted in there. Energy innovation is badly needed, and environmentalists, of all people, should be playing a more constructive role. It's like Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, and all those Cape Cod liberals mobilizing against the wind turbines -- fearing they would mar the view of the Bay. Honestly, being a populist right-wing talk show host and making fun of the liberal elite must be such easy money.
But over the past year, after Hurricane Katrina, and this apocalyptically hot summer, more people are feeling personally affected by climate change -- and wondering what they can do.
I was wondering myself, so I signed a petitionthe other day from the League of Conservation Voters. I'm sorry to report that I then got a follow-up email from them, a communication so foolish I'm embarrassed even to have it in my inbox. It exhorts me to send an email to Bush telling him to see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." "Maybe he'd finally see the light!" the League gushes. Are they kidding?
Call me cynical, but sending an email to Bush telling him to see a movie made by his arch-rival in a bitterly contested election didn't seem very promising. Luckily, I do know some people who have better ideas. I'd recommend the great brains at EcoEquity, an amazing website, full of essays lucidly explaining the science of the problem, its social justice dimensions, and exploring real policy solutions (like emissions trading) in a serious, nuanced way. (Great view of debates within the climate justice movement, too.) Another acquaintance, Liz Galst, has a blogoffering practical solutions to global warming. I like the way she combines political action -- like telling Congress to support the Safe Climate Act-- with intriguing ways you can take more personal responsibility in daily life (her tips go far beyond the usual feel-goodery-- she even recommends, for drivers, an ecologically-conscious alternative to evil Triple-A). Finally, my friend Meg Daly, a writer and editor in San Francisco (where temperatures also reached the 90s this week -- and when does that ever happen?), has also started a blog on this subject, written in an accessibly intimate, personal tone, offering reflections, resources, and small actions. (Meg is going to be posting much more over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.) Given the scary subject, there's an admirable dearth of despair on these sites. I haven't, sadly, seen much visible, in-person collective action on climate change. But it's hard to imagine marching on Washington right now -- it's much too hot!
Ned Lamont keeps climbing. And Joe Lieberman keeps sinking. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Lamont leading Lieberman by 13 points, 54 to 41 percent among likely Democratic voters, less than a week before the August 8 primary. To put the recent poll in perspective, Lamont's swung from a 46 point deficit to an 13 point lead in three months.
When asked why they're voting for Lamont, 94 percent of respondents cited Lieberman's steadfast support for the war in Iraq as one of the reasons (50 percent) or the main reason (44 percent).
Lamont is not a single-issue candidate, as Lieberman has repeatedly tried to suggest. But even if the primary was only about Iraq, so what? Too many politicians in both parties have failed to respond to the deep anger about the war that so many Democrats, and Americans, feel.
Iraq is the primary reason why America is less respected and less safe in the world. And it's a major reason why our government isn't even trying to invest in America anymore. On the stump Lamont frequently cites the $250 million a day price tag from the war and the money we could be spending on health care, education and job creation.
In a recent article, John Nichols compared Lamont to Bobby Kennedy in 1968, "who opposed the war but offered a far broader promise of reform and renewal--for the Democratic Party and America. Kennedy's 1968 campaign, with its emphasis on fighting poverty and making real the promise of the American dream for all Americans, argued that the expensive war in Southeast Asia was robbing this country of the resources and energy required to achieve progress at home. Lamont offers an updated version of the Kennedy message."
Lamont is no RFK. But Iraq is the central issue for our country today. Politicians who don't recognize that reality may finally pay the price at the ballot box.
Who is the most outspoken and through-provoking Senate critic of the Bush administration's misguided foreign policies?
Hint: The boldest opposition voice is not that of a Democrat.
Over the course of the past week, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a maverick conservative Republican from Nebraska, has scored the administration for its misguided approaches in language far wiser and bolder than the empty stream of rhetoric that continues to pass the lips of his Democratic colleagues.
Here's Hagel on Iraq: "[The occupation's] an absolute replay of Vietnam." The Vietnam veteran deplored the fact that U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq had become "easy targets" in a country that he told the Omaha World Herald had descended into "absolute anarchy." Hagel condemned the decision of the Bush administration and its rubberstamping Pentagon to suspend military rotations and add new troops in Iraq -- increasing the size of the occupation force from 130,000 to 135,000. "That isn't going to do any good. It's going to have a worse effect," argues Hagel. "They're destroying the United States Army."
More significantly, here's Hagel on the failure of the United States to use its influence with Israel to end the killing of innocent Lebanese men, women and children and the destruction of that country's civilian infrastructure: "How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend -- the country and people of Lebanon -- is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East? The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now," Hagel said on the Senate floor. Delivering the message that should be coming from the opposition party, the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declared: "President Bush must call for an immediate cease fire. This madness must stop."
Most significantly of all, here's Hagel making the connection between the occupation of Iraq and the broader Middle East crisis: "America is bogged down in Iraq, and this is limiting our diplomatic and military options." Because the Bush administration deals in unreasonable "absolutes" when it approaches disputes in the region, the senator said, the United States in no longer seen as the "wellspring of consensus" that might be able to develop multi-national support for peace initiatives.
Finally, here's Hagel on what the U.S. should be doing in the Middle East: "We know that without engaged and active American leadership, the world is more dangerous," explains the senator, who has been talked about as a possible 2008 presidential contender. So, he says, the U.S. must engage. Instead of Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's hands-off approach, Hagel argues, U.S. diplomats should be working with Arab governments, including governments that leaders in Washington may not like. Rejecting Bush's ranting about Syria and Iran, Hagel says the U.S. should be in direct negotiations with those countries. The senator characterized the administration's decision to pull the U.S. ambassador out of Damascus as "mindless." Paraphrasing the advice of a retired senior U.S. intelligence officer, Hagel said, "Even superpowers have to talk to bad guys. We ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence."
To those who would suggest that the U.S. must choose between supporting Israel and engaging with its Arab neighbors, even those neighbors that Washington may consider to be "bad guys," Hagel offered one of the sanest statements heard on the floor of the Senate in the whole debate over the Middle East crisis: "Our relationship with Israel is special and historic," the Nebraskan said. "But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice."
Hagel is far from a perfect player. He doesn't have all the answers. He's not even proposing bold responses to the current crisis, and not all that he suggests is wise or responsible. The senator's simply a throwback to the old bipartisan consensus that said diplomacy and common sense ought to guide U.S. foreign policy, as opposed to messianic ranting and kneejerk reaction. Bush and his neoconservative colleagues are so out of touch with global realities and traditional American values with regard to diplomacy that they don't even understand where Hagel is coming from. Unfortunately, the Democrats are so lacking in spine and vision that, while they may recognize that Hagel is right about the failures and false choices that are the byproducts of this president's policies, they lack the guts to borrow enough pages from Republican senator's playbook to make themselves an effective opposition party.
In her Nation weblog, Katrina vanden Heuvel recently sounded off on the shameless hypocrisy of the GOP for linking a minimum wage increase--which would be the first one in nine years!--with a gutting of the estate tax.
In essence, after having failed to get an estate tax repeal or reduction passed in the Senate this year, the GOP is holding hostage the long overdue minimum wage increase , which would benefit seven million workers, in order to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to a few thousand multi-millionaires and billionaires! (Minimum wage workers would see an annual wage increase of $4,400, while the average tax break to multi-million dollar estates would be $1,400,000.)
On the eve of adjourning on July 28, Congressional Republicans pushed through the controversial bill in the House. The Senate is expected to vote this Friday, August 4. A very close vote is expected as GOP leaders seek to convince several holdout Republicans and a handful of Democrats to support the legislation. Sixty yeas are needed to shut off debate and bring the measure to a vote in the Senate, where there are 55 Republicans, 45 Democrats and one independent.
Our friends at United for a Fair Economy are urgently imploring all Americans to take a stand against this legislation. With the outcome in doubt, this is an issue in which citizen involvement can make a real difference. So please contact your Senators today. UFE suggests the following talking points, which I found useful in the call I just made to Chuck Schumer's office.
"Please oppose any legislation that includes severe cuts in the estate tax. Demand separate votes on increasing the minimum wage increase and on extending other tax cuts. There is no way to justify providing yet another enormous tax break to the nation's wealthiest heirs in the face of huge budget deficits, growing income inequality and looming government obligations for Social Security and Medicare. Vote NO on HR 5970."
Here's contact info:
Call Your Senators Toll-Free, 800-459-1887. This connects you to the US Capitol Switchboard - call twice; first ask for one of your Senators, then the other. For each, leave a short message with the front desk, then ask to speak with the Legislative Assistant on Taxes and leave a message there. Or click here to find Senators' direct DC numbers and here for email addresses.
Send a letter to the editor of your local papers -- explain why you support the estate tax and why America should not be giving tax cuts to multi-millionaires now. You can see UFP's estate tax info and letter writing tips by clicking here and then check out The Nation's media database to find contact info for media in your area.
Reports are that Rupert Murdoch plans to offer Tony Blair a prominent position in his media empire when Bush's poodle steps down as prime minister or Gordon Brown finally stages a coup. Now that's a Fox and Friends episode I'd like to catch.
Just imagine the possibilities…Murdoch could give Tony his own show.
Given the PM's involvement in the quagmire in Iraq, Fox News should call it: Sticky Situations with Tony Blair. Its focus: public figures who need to wriggle out of a mess of their own making. There would be no shortage of guests.
Take for example Mitt Romney, who recently got himself into a sticky situation by using racially charged slang--"tar baby." Mel Gibson could provide the Hollywood star factor with tearful explanations about the link between alcoholism and anti-Semitism. And Katherine Harris is a guaranteed weekly guest. After she loses her Senate race, she'll have a lot to get off her chest.
Of course, all opinion shows needs their recurring segments. Tony Blair's could be: Peace in the Middle East, Turning the Corner in Iraq, and My Friend George.
Yes, the possibilities are endless. I hope Bill O'Reilly is ready for the competition.
It's always nice to be validated by the Washington Post.
A month ago I wrote a feature article for The Nation inquiring whether Democrats, particularly the DNC, had a sufficient plan for turning out the vote in the November elections.
DNC Chairman Tom McMahon responded by writing: "Contrary to the implication of the Berman article, the DNC has a sound political plan for 2006 that contemplates the investment of unprecedented resources."
But according to today's Post, some influential Democrats still aren't convinced. DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel, who's been publicly and privately sparring with DNC Chairman Howard Dean for months, is raising money to launch his own get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation for House Democratic candidates, to be run by veteran operative Michael Whouley. Emanuel has stopped speaking to Dean, the Post reports, "because of their strategic differences." He wants less money to flow to Dean's 50 state strategy and more directed at specific House races.
In an interview with ABC News, Dean recently dismissed the feud as "mostly inside the Beltway gossip." But obviously it's grown to be much more than that--raising serious questions about whether Democrats are mature and organized enough to take advantage of the unprecedented electoral opportunities Republican failures have bestowed upon them.
Both Emanuel and Dean have pluses and minuses. Rahm is a ferocious behind-the-scenes operator and skilled tactician, no matter what you think of his hawkish-corporatist politics. Dean is a visionary who's admirably trying to rebuild the party at the local level and a hero to grassroots Democrats.
But right now, their dysfunctional relationship is threatening to damn the party in November.
Since www.beyondmarriage.org launched last week, there's been surging interest in our statement and ideas. The New York Times' Anemona Hartocollis mentioned it in a long story, "For Some Gays a Right They Can Forsake," in Sunday's Style section. (The piece featured former UFPJ spokesman, rabble-rouser and deep throat for many a queer journalist -- I mean that in a totally platonic way -- Bill Dobbs, looking fruity as ever in his picture). Newsweek picked it up in a story they ran on the Washington Supreme Court decision, as did the Washington Blade's Elizabeth Perry. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a short story devoted entirely to the statement. And of course, it's been hitting the blogosphere, radio (Air America among others) and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce homepage. It even made an appearance, courtesy of Beyond Marriage collaborator Nancy Polikoff, at the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal. The conference's final declaration, while not directly influenced by our statement, included calls for "recognizing and granting equal rights to non-marital relationships" and "opening up legal marriage to same-sex couples and introducing similar partnership rights for all unmarried couples."
Beyond Same-Sex Marriage has, of course, generated its share of dissenters -- which is great since for so long the marriage talk in the gay community has been one side saying "I do" to itself. But, I can't resist the opportunity to point out some of the mistruths, misinterpretations and daffy analysis generated by its detractors. So, with the caveat that these are solely my views and not those of the Beyond Marriage working group or statement signers, here goes:
Over on his blog at the Washington Blade, editor Chris Crain overheats until his brain explodes. Calling Beyond Marriage "the revenge of the liberationists, ready to pounce on a series of defeats by equal rights advocates," Crain engages in typical left-baiting, only stretching to replace the dreaded "Communist" with "anti-conjugalist." He accuses us of crafting PC-neologisms, though as far as I can tell the silly expression is entirely his own. Crain's beef boils down to the argument that "by diverting attention from the inherent inequality of marriage for heterosexual couples but not gay couples, the anti-conjugalists rob the gay rights movement of the fairness claim that resonates with more Americans." As evidence, he points out that "95 percent" of all Americans "want someday to marry." (What does this statistic mean? Do 95 percent of married Americans want "someday to marry"? Again?! If so, kudos to them for thinking ahead.)
Even if such a statistic were true, so what? Whatever it is they aspire to (marriage, fabulous wealth, a perfect body, fame) most Americans don't live in marital households (or have wealth, health and Page Six gravitas). As we point out in our statement, meeting the needs of the majority of American households, whether gay or straight, calls for something more than the elusive, fragile bonds of matrimony. Arguing that benefits like healthcare and pensions shouldn't be tied to marriage is, in fact, "the fairness claim that resonates with more Americans." Tarring us as "anti-conjugalists" is merely Crain's way of sidestepping the deeply pragmatic nature of our vision. And where alternatives to marriage are already the law, Crain can't see beyond the hallucination of his own wedding veil. For example, he sweepingly dismisses progressive domestic partnership statutes like Washington, DC's (which allows any two unmarried adults to register and receive rights and benefits) as "the realization of the Right's worst fears and the last thing our movement needs to do at this critical juncture." So yes Chris, let's revoke that law because it might piss off Concerned Women of America. Screw single mothers. Heck, screw single people, the elderly, the poor -- as long as we get gay marriage, right?
If Crain's strategy is to cling to the marriage-only-until-death line and paint us as utopian liberationists, then the marriage equality folks have taken the opposite tact. One imagines our vision as impossible, the other as fait accompli. Reached for comment by gay journos (see here and here), as well as the SF Chronicle and the NYT, representatives from Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) all attempted to co-opt and/or de-fang the statement. For example, Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda, said "there's a lot in the statement that we totally agree with" and that "even organizations that do focus mostly on marriage say that marriage is not the only important thing." Brad Luna and Jay Smith Brown of HRC and Shannon Minter of NCLR agreed. Minter said "gay legal groups already agree with them and are doing the things they recommend for the most part." If that's true, then I invite these people and organizations to sign the statement themselves. Just go to www.beyondmarriage.org and add your name.
I suspect, however, that they won't because there are crucial ideological and strategic differences between Beyond Marriage and those gay marriage advocates. First, I find it utterly disingenuous for these folks to suggest that they vigorously advocate for alternatives to marriage. Last week national gay organizations spent $250,000 on full-page ads in major daily newspapers declaring that they won't retreat on the marriage front. I can't imagine them ever going to town like that for, say, domestic partnerships for all. It's abundantly clear that most marriage equality advocates see domestic partnerships and reciprocal beneficiary statuses as disagreeable pit-stops on the way to gay marriage -- not as valuable ends in and of themselves. Minter, for one, clearly says that marriage equality should happen first, and then we'll worry about the other stuff later. From my perspective, this is a tragic miscalculation; as Lisa Duggan and I have argued, the push for same-sex marriage has, in fact, eliminated these statuses in places like Vermont and Massachusetts. Nary a peep was heard from these folks when the Boston Globe rescinded domestic partnerships and required its gay employees to get married to access benefits, and when a few of them finally did chime in, it was only because they were pushed to by Zak Syzmanski of the Bay Area Reporter.
In this vein, it was particularly frustrating to see marriage guru Evan Wolfson claim that the push for same-sex marriage is responsible for the proliferation of alternatives to marriage. This is true of recent domestic partnership or civil union legislation in Connecticut, New Jersey and California -- which are only available to same-sex couples -- but it is patently false when it comes to the longer history of domestic partnerships, many of which were available to hetero and homosexuals alike. As Nancy Polikoff, professor of law at American University, points out in her forthcoming, must-read book Valuing All Families (Beacon, 2007):
"The push for domestic partnership recognition that began in the early 1980's was about recognizing an alternative to marriage. Heterosexual couples emerging from the counterculture of the 1970's and from a time when the feminist critique of marriage carried great salience often chose commitment without marriage. 1979 and 1981 saw the highest divorce rates in the history of the country. No-fault divorce laws were firmly embedded in every state and in popular consciousness. In such a climate, same-sex partners and unmarried opposite-sex partners shared a common interest in breaking down the sharp dividing line based on marital status between who was in and who was out of any given law or policy. Some questioned why "couples" should be preferred over other familial relationships."
Polikoff goes on to document how throughout the '80s, employers like Princeton, Oberlin, Ben & Jerry's, The Village Voice, NOW and many progressive cities began to offer benefits to unmarried couples, both gay and straight. As Polikoff convincingly demonstrates, domestic partnerships were forged by those who believed that "marriage, with its patriarchal history buttressed by the ideology that helped elect Reagan, was part of the problem, not part of the solution." "The need for recognition of those who could not and those who chose not to marry was two sides of the same coin," she argues.
It is this coalition between the unwed-by-choice and the unable-to-be-wed that the gay marriage movement has splintered by making the argument, in legal brief after legal brief, that marriage ought to be the primary conduit through which rights and benefits should flow. Supporters like Minter and Crain make clear that those who object to this marriage-first and/or marriage-only philosophy ought to step aside, be silent or bide their time. For Wolfson and others to pretend, now, that alternatives to marriage and marriage equality can amicably walk hand-in-hand utterly effaces their own role in creating this political schism, and as such, gravely misrepresent the consequences of their own work for the past 20 years.
Sorry for the long post. Next time I promise I'll write something short and spicy about, say, Mel Gibson or Lance Bass.
Anti-Wal-Mart activism is pushing some Democrats to speak out against the company's exploitative practices. While Leslie Dach and many other Democratic operatives are collecting fat paychecks defending the retailer -- and Al Gore has been visiting Bentonville to offer environmental wisdom -- an increasing number of Democratic politicians are reaping political capital by attacking Wal-Mart. This will become more and more apparent as Wake Up Wal-Mart 's "Change Wal-Mart, Change America" (19-state and 35-city) bus tour-- which launched today in still Wal-Mart-free New York City-- winds its way through the nation. Former vice presidential hopeful John Edwards will be participating, as will Howard Dean's brother Jim -- chair of Democracy for America -- and numerous other party folk. In a moment of drama that everyone in Connecticut should check out, Bush paramour Joe Lieberman and his primary challenger for the Senate, insurgent preppy war opponent Ned Lamont, will appear together tomorrow at noon at an anti-Wal-Mart rally in Bridgeport (the bus tour's second stop). Ah, Wal-Mart, the great uniter!
(I asked Wake Up Wal-Mart spokesman Paul Blank if his group had approached former Wal-Mart board member Senator Hillary about participating in the New York leg of the tour. He said she had a "schedule conflict.")
In other Wal-Mart news, Chicago last week passed a law requiring big-box stores to pay a living wage -- at least $10 an hour, with benefits of at least $3. Other cities are looking closely at Chicago's bill and thinking about following the Windy City's example; perhaps people fighting at the local level can make the retail sector a decent source of employment for working people.
Check out, too, the intriguing cover storyin Fortune magazine, which details some of the genuinely good things Wal-Mart is doing for the environment, none of which would be happening without the grass-roots Wal-Mart reform movement, which has forced Wal-Mart to get serious about its image, and even take a few real steps toward better corporate citizenship. It's, of course, great that Lee Scott is finding his inner Ben Cohen, but the company should not be allowed to greenwash its way out of criticism over its abuse of workers -- nor over the ecological unsustainability of its whole business model, which has so far, been based on selling cheap, disposable crap and building on cheap land far from town centers. Still, because of Wal-Mart's scale, even its small gestures can have a huge impact, and are worth watching closely. Just to get a flavor of the conversations the Fortune article has sparked, read David Roberts on the Grist blog for some ecstatic praise and conversion, and, on BuyBlue.org, an indignant response to Roberts.
Here's an ironic scenario: as Israel fights a proxy war against Hezbollah, the United States is propping up an Iraqi government that helped create the Lebanese militants.
David Clark, a former foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair, laid out the details in an op-ed yesterday in The Guardian:
Some of the earliest suicide bombings commonly attributed to Hizbullah, such as the 1983 attacks on the US embassy and marine barracks in Beirut, were believed by American intelligence sources at the time to have been orchestrated by the Iraqi Dawa party. Hizbullah barely existed in 1983 and Dawa cadres are said to have been instrumental in setting it up at Tehran's behest. Dawa's current leadership includes none other than the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, feted last week in London and Washington as the great hope for the future of the Middle East. As the old saying goes, today's terrorist is tomorrow's statesman--at least when it suits us.
Meanwhile, at a memorial service for a slain Iraqi cleric yesterday, leading members of the Iraqi government joined al-Maliki in denouncing Israel's assault on Lebanese civilians. "These horrible massacres carried out by the Israeli aggression, incites in us the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity," said Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, perhaps the country's key power broker, labeled the Israeli bombing of Qana an "outrageous crime."
Even staunchly pro-American President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, "offered similar condemnations of Israel," according to the New York Times. Will Howard Dean and the rest of the Democratic leadership now denounce the entire Iraqi government as anti-Semites?
With the country increasingly spiraling out of control and its leaders growing more vocally anti-Israel and anti-American, it's fair to ask another question: what exactly are American troops still fighting and dying for in Iraq?
From the Baby Steps Department where Democratic leaders plot policy comes a letter to President Bush signed by the opposition party's Congressional leadership, as well as a number of House and Senate Democrats who have been associated with national security and intelligence issues.
The letter from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their partisan compatriots identifies the crisis of the moment: "Iraq has exploded in violence. Some 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June, and sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim American and Iraqi lives at an alarming rate. In the face of this onslaught, one can only conclude that the Baghdad security plan you announced five weeks ago is in great jeopardy."
The letter identifies the broader crisis: "U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your Administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and over 18,000 others have been wounded. The Iraq war has also strained our military and constrained our ability to deal with other challenges. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as virtually no active Army non-deployed combat brigade is prepared to perform its wartime missions."
The letter identifies the source of the crisis: "Far from implementing a comprehensive ‘Strategy for Victory' as you promised months ago, your Administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat."
The only thing that is lacking is a proper response to the crisis.
While the letter declares the belief of its signers "that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006," it does not propose anything akin to an exit strategy.
In effect, the letter is an embrace by key House Democrats -- Pelosi; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; Ike Skelton, the ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee; Tom Lantos, the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee; Jane Harman, the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee; and John Murtha, the ranking minority member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee -- of the a proposal by Senators Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, that was voted down by the Republican-controlled Senate in June.
The vague Reed-Levin measure was a soft alternative to a proposal by Senators Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to establish a timeline for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Most Senate Democrats backed Reed-Levin -- although, notably, Senator John Lieberman, who faces a stiff primary challenge next Tuesday from anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont, did not. Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee was the sole Republican backer of the proposal.
Most Senate Democrats refused to back the Feingold-Kerry proposal, [The 13 Democrats who did take a clear anti-war stance were the sponsors and Senators Dan Araka and Dan Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Boxer of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.]
So where does this new letter leave the Democrats. Not far from where they were in June, before all hell broke loose in Baghdad. House Democratic leaders are a little more united than they were early in the summer -- with former cheerleaders for the war such as Harman and Lantos, both of whom faced California Democratic primary challenges to their Bush-friendly stances, moving in a more clearly skeptical direction regarding the administration's misguided foreign policies.
That's progress. But the Democratic Party has yet to embrace the position taken by the overwhelming majority of Americans. A July Gallup poll found that roughly 2 in 3 Americans want the U.S. to exit Iraq. [Significantly, 31 percent wanted the exodus to begin immediately.]
While the new letter to Bush was intended to suggest that Democrats are united, the fact is that the party leadership has not yet figured out how to talk about Iraq in a meaningful way. If they ever do, it will most likely be because of a push from the party's grassroots. That's why the Lieberman-Lamont contest in Connecticut is such a big deal. The rejection of Lieberman by Democratic primary voters would not merely signal grassroots anger with one war-backing senator, it would signal that Democrats want their party to start making a serious appeal to the great majority of voters who want out of Iraq.