John Nichols | The Nation

John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

Blocking the Public’s Right to Know About ALEC

(Courtesy of Flickr user Mikasi)

In the two years since the ALEC Exposed project revealed the role that the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council plays in shaping the laws of states across the nation, the group has had a much harder time hiding its meddling.

In fact, so much national attention has been paid to ALEC’s role in promoting restrictive voter ID laws and controversial Stand Your Ground initiatives that ALEC officials announced last year that they would shut down the task force that was responsible for promoting those measures.

But ALEC is still putting representatives of corporations together with state legislators to craft “model legislation”—especially with regard to economic and regulatory issues. And the group’s national treasurer has come up with a novel scheme for keeping the projects secret.

The Wisconsin Republican says she is exempt from open-records laws, and her state’s Republican attorney general says that’s cool with him.

Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, a key confidante of Governor Scott Walker who serves as ALEC’s national treasurer, has for months been stonewalling a legitimate open-records request from the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which worked with The Nation on the 2011 ALEC Exposed project that revealed how the corporate-funded council has been working with state legislators across the country to enact measures developed by special interest groups.

As Vukmir has emerged as one of the most prominent figures in ALEC, the Center for Media and Democracy has sought information regarding bills she has proposed in cooperation with the national group. Because of her refusal to cooperate with those requests, CMD is suing to force her to turn over the records.

Vukmir is not the first legislator to try to thwart the public’s right to know. Just last year, CMD had to sue a group of Wisconsin Republican legislators to get them to turn over ALEC-related documents under the open-records law.

But Vukmir has taken things to a new, and bizarre, level.

She’s claiming that a constitutional protection against targeting legislators with nuisance lawsuits exempts her from following the open-records laws that was established by the legislator—and that legislators, state officials and the courts have respected for decades.

She’s serious about this, as is her staff.

When a process server went to her office to deliver paperwork regarding the lawsuit, one of Vukmir’s top aides was—according to a document filed in regard to the case—verbally abusive, physically aggressive and threatening. When another process server went to the office, the abuse continued.

Vukmir—with support from Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen—is advancing an interpretation of the open-records law that claims members of the Legislature do not have to obey the rules when the state Assembly and Senate are in session. Since the Legislature is, for all intents and purposes, permanently in session, Van Hollen is effectively arguing that the open-records law should no longer apply in any meaningful way to the Legislature.

This is radical stance that raises a big question.

Brendan Fischer, a CMD lawyer, asks: Why are they willing to try to torpedo the open-records law to keep Vukmir from having to defend her position?

The answers that suggest themselves are these.

First, since Walker (an ALEC alumni) and his allies took charge in 2011, Wisconsin has seen a steady importation of proposals regarding unions, public education and a host of other issues. Instead of thinking for themselves, Walker and legislators like Vukmir seek to implement a national agenda shaped by corporate campaign donors and groups like ALEC. This is no secret. It’s been widely reported that Vukmir and other top legislative allies of the governor regularly fly off to ALEC conferences with corporate titans.

But specfic revelations regarding Vukmir’s involvement, particularly with regard to the crafting of legislation, could provide citizens with a clearer picture of who is pulling the strings. And that is a detail that the senator and the attorney general appear to be determined to keep hidden.

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, under Walker and a number of the hyperpartisan Republican governors elected in 2012, traditional models of responding to the great mass of citizens have been abandoned. The operating premise coming from these governors is one of: You’re either with us or you’re against us. Van Hollen, as a Wisconsin constitutional officer, should be with the people. Unfortunately, in this case he has chosen partisanship— like Vukmir, he’s an active Republican— over the rule of law. And the public interest.

Why? What is so vital about keeping ALEC details secret?

When state Senate Jon Erpenbach, a prominent Wisconsin Democrat, was sued two years ago by a conservative group seeking records of his email communications with constituents, the senator says, “I sought the advice of Attorney General Van Hollen, who is a constitutional officer sworn to represent the Legislature without prejudice. He refused to provide any counsel other than to tell me to acquiesce to the conservative organization’s request.”

Yet, in Vukmir’s case, Van Hollen’s lawyers are attacking the very same open-records law.

Erpenbach concludes: “If you are protecting ALEC, the attorney general will jump to represent you. But if you are protecting citizens, he apparently cannot be bothered.”

It is tough to argue with Erpenbach’s determination that Van Hollen and the Department of Justice are engaging in “blatant partisan and political actions.”

It is always unsettling when law enforcement officials enforce one set of rules for their allies, and another for their opponents.

It is even more unsettling when this is done to prevent citizens from knowing what a state is doing in their name, and with their tax dollars, but without their informed consent.

If legislators in Wisconsin, or any other state, do not have to abide by the open-records laws they enact, then “the public’s right to know” is a slogan—not a reality.

The Populist Rebellion That Tripped Up Larry Summers

Larry Summers
Larry Summers (Reuters/Jason Reed)

When it became clear that members of President Obama’s own party would not support a nomination of Larry Summers to serve as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, something—or someone—had to give.

On Sunday, Summers gave up.

The former Treasury secretary, whose Clinton-era assaults on Glass-Steagall protections and opposition to the regulation of derivatives were blamed by critics for weakening safeguards against financial turbulence, withdrew his name from consideration for Fed’s top job.

Remarkably, the decision came exactly five years after the financial meltdown of September 2008.

Progressive critics of Summers had argued for months that he was not the right candidate to tame the big banks—or to address the fundamental challenges facing the US economy.

But Obama continued to consider the man who served as his director of the National Economic Council.

Now the president must find another nominee.

Obama is said to be considering several candidates. With Summers out, speculation will focus on the possibility that Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, who has drawn significant support from key Democratic senators, may be chosen to replace outgoing Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke. But former Fed vice chairman Don Kohn is also thought to be in the running. And the president could consider others.

Obama does not have a lot of time, however. The selection must come before Bernanke is set to exit early next year.

The Summers withdrawal was a shocker. But it came for a reason.

Though he had friends in the White House, Summers faced mounting opposition from Democrats in the Senate and from grassroots progressive groups. The prospective nominee was criticized by women’s organizations for controversial statements made during his tenure as president of Harvard. He was criticized for revolving-door Wall Street ties. And in the most dramatic show of anti-Summers sentiment, key Democratic senators began to signal in recent days that they could not confirm a man who has so frequently opposed needed regulation of the financial sector of the US economy.

“The truth is that it was unlikely he would have been confirmed by the Senate,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “What the American people want now is a Fed chairman prepared to stand up to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, not a Wall Street insider whose deregulation efforts helped pave the way for a horrendous financial crisis and the worst economic downturn in the country since the Great Depression.”

Sanders has long argued that the Senate should get more serious about checking and balancing the Federal Reserve.

The Fed is a staggeringly powerful institution, with the resources and influence to define the direction of the US economy, the character of the nation’s “too-big-to-fail” banks and the extent to which unemployment issues are addressed.

Unfortunately, the Fed has a long history of serving Wall Street while neglecting the rest of the country. Be they Democrats or Republicans, be they theorists or doers, past Fed chairs have tended to embrace the thinking of the free-market fundamentalists and free-trade absolutists who have created an economy characterized by declining wages and expanding income inequality.

The trouble is that, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt explained almost eighty years ago, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”

At an uncertain moment for the economy of the United States, and more importantly for the great mass of citizens whose depend on that economy, the choice of a new Fed chair took on a higher degree of significance in the eyes of senators from both parties. So critical, for so many Americans, that at least some Democrats began placing principle before party loyalty.

That’s why, as the speculation rose about the prospect that President Obama would select Summers, Democratic senators started announcing that they would vote with Republican critics of the administration to block confirmation of Summers.

As with Supreme Court nominations, nominations to chair the Fed must be confirmed by the Senate. That might not be a problem for many prospective nominees, even in a filibuster-frenzied Capitol. But when a significant number of populist Democrats indicated they would oppose Summers, prospects for getting from nomination to confirmation started to look tougher.

The objections expressed by key Democrats had historical and contemporary roots:

  • During Bill Clinton’s second term, Summers worked with then–Fed chair Alan Greenspan and then–Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to block moves by Brooksley Born, who headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to regulate the derivatives market. When that market began to deal in to include the toxic instruments that led to the 2008 financial market crisis.

  • A year later, Summers led the fight to gut Glass-Steagall rules, which had provided an additional measure of protection against bank meltdowns.

  • Early in Obama’s presidency, Summers resisted sufficient stimulus spending to jump-start the economy.

  • Summers has always been a militant free-trade advocate, and he showed little interest in efforts to renew American manufacturing.

  • Summers’s tenure at Harvard has remained a subject of clear controversy, with serious objections being raised with regard to his statements about women. The National Organization for Women complained about “Summers’ own history of misogyny—as president of Harvard he opined that women might lack an ‘intrinsic aptitude’ for science and engineering.”

“In short, Summers is simply the wrong person, male or female, to lead the Fed,” argued NOW.

Like many progressive organizations, NOW expressed discomfort with the approach Summers has taken to core economic questions. “Summers’ deregulatory zeal contributed directly to the Bush-era economic crash. Summers cannot be trusted to lead an institution that can do great good—but also great harm—to the economy overall and to women’s economic security in particular,” read a NOW action alert urging support for Yellen.

Progressive and populist Democrats who were in positions to do something about a possible Summers nomination shared the popular concern that the former Treasury secretary simply had not shown an inclination to steer the fed toward policies that are beneficial to the great mass of working Americans.

A key objection was that Summers defaults toward approaches that simply have not worked.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

“I start from a position of being extraordinarily skeptical that his background is appropriate for the role of the head of the Fed,” said Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat on the Banking Committee. “If you nominate someone who is a life-committed deregulator to be in a regulatory position and if you believe regulation is necessary to prevent fraud, abuse, manipulation and so forth, then there’s a lot of questions to be asked: Why is this person appropriate?”

If a Summers nomination were to come to the Banking Committee, it was expected that Merkley would vote “no.”

Montana Senator Jon Tester, a Democratic committee member, emerged last week as a definite “no.” His office announced that “Senator Tester believes we need a consensus builder to lead the Federal Reserve. He’s concerned about Mr. Summers’ history of helping to deregulate financial markets.”

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Banking Committee Democrat who circulated a letter praising Yellen and urging the White House to consider nominating her, was also expected to vote “no.” Brown said that his letter—which attracted signatures from top Senate Democrats such as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—was pro-Yellen, rather than anti-Summers. “But,” he added, “there is obviously a lot of opposition here to Summers.”

That counted up to three probable “no” votes on a committee where the Democrats have only a two-seat advantage over the Republicans. Some Republicans were likely Summers backers, however. That prospect turned attention toward Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, a committee member who reportedly told the administration that she had “serious concerns” about the prospect of a Summers nomination.

In August, Warren and Sanders circulated a letter that raised questions for whoever is nominated to chair the Fed.

Sanders and Warren argued that “the next Fed chair will have an opportunity to get our economy back on track and to help rebuild America’s middle class. But that will require the right temperament and a willingness to take on Wall Street CEOs when necessary. It is critical that the next Fed chair make a genuine, long-term commitment to supporting those who don’t have armies of lobbyists and lawyers to advance their interests in Washington—working and middle-class families.”

To test that commitment, the senators asked:

1. Do you believe that the Fed’s top priority should be to fulfill its full employment mandate?

2. If you were to be confirmed as chair of the Fed, would you work to break up “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions so that they could no longer pose a catastrophic risk to the economy?

3. Do you believe that the deregulation of Wall Street, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and exempting derivatives from regulation, significantly contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

4. What would you do to divert the $2 trillion in excess reserves that financial institutions have parked at the Fed into more productive purposes, such as helping small- and medium-sized businesses create jobs?

These were (and remain) questions, especially for Summers—who presumably did not to wantr to wrestle with the “repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act” issue raised in Question 3.

He will not have to do so. But it should now be clear that whoever is nominated to replace Bernanke will have to take seriously not just those particular questions but the greater concern about whether the Fed will serve Wall Street or Main Street.

Take Action: Tell President Obama to Break Up the Old Boys’ Club and Appoint Janet Yellen

John Nichols lends advice to the next head of the Fed.

How a Koch Brothers 'Business League' Spent $236 Million to Frame the Debate

Charles Koch
Charles Koch (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Mike Burley)

“There is looming up a new and dark power.… The accumulation of individual wealth seems to be greater than it ever has been since the downfall of the Roman Empire. And the enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only but for political power.”

So said Edward Ryan, the populist jurist of the mid-nineteenth century whose rage at the corruption of democracy by the wealthy and their corporations inspired generations of progressives and populists to try to constrain “the money power.”

Ryan’s warning, delivered in 1873, described the politics of the twenty-first century more accurately than most of the reporting by today’s pliant contemporary media.

“For the first time really in our politics, money is taking the field as an organized power,” he explained. “It is unscrupulous, arrogant and overbearing.”

But it is not proud.

No matter what the billionaire Koch brothers and their operatives say.

This week, it has been revealed that Charles and David Koch and their wealthy partners funded an, until now, “secret bank” that made “grants” of $236 million during the 2012 election cycle to maintain the right-wing political infrastructure that advances their economic interests. And by all accounts, they’re just getting started.

When the official paperwork is filed with the Internal Revenue Service in short order, it will, according to documents shared by the new “Freedom Partners” group with Politico, reveal massive “grants” to undermine implementation of the Affordable Care Act ($115 million to the anti-Obamacare Center to Protect Patient Rights), maintain the Tea Party movement and related political projects ($32.3 million to Americans for Prosperity and smaller checks for the Tea Party Express and the Tea Party Patriots), promote Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda on Social Security and Medicare ($15.7 to the conservative 60-Plus Association), promote the right-wing social agenda in the states ($8.2 million to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee), shore up the gun lobby ($3.5 million to the National Rifle Association) and develop the ability of conservative groups to use data mining to advance their projects ($5 million to the Themis Trust voter database initiative).

This is not about contributions to candidates or campaigns.

This is not about contributions to parties or traditional political organizations.

This is about “framing the debate.”

Winning elections matters. But shaping the discourse—so that no whichever party wins, so that whichever candidate prevails, the discussion defaults to a narrow set of “options”—matters more.

The management of the debate by powerful interests explains why a Congress that cannot seem to do anything useful will this week vote for the forty-first time to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Why “entitlement reforms” that the American people do not want remain “on the table.” Why Washington insiders keep proposing the same tax breaks for the rich, free trade deals and austerity schemes. Why state legislators talk about restricting the right to choose rather than expanding public education.

Freedom Partners is the latest of the many Koch creations that shape the discourse and the politics of the United States—not always with success, but with a consistency that assures long-term influence. Koch Industries is quick to point out that “Freedom Partners is a non-profit, non-partisan business league” that “operates independently of Koch Industries.” Yes, but three of the group’s five directors list Koch connections in their biographies and a fourth is one of Charles Koch’s close friends. In addition to the Kochs, the major donors to Freedom Partners, which raised $256 million during the 2012 election cycle, are reportedly the wealthy attendees at the secretive policy summits that have become command-performance events for prominent Republicans such as House Budget Committee chairman Ryan and House majority leader Eric Cantor.

“Our members are proud to be part of [Freedom Partners],” the group’s president, Marc Short, told Politico.

No, they’re not.

In the same conversation where he spoke about the “proud” Freedom Partners “members,” Short refused to reveal their identities. And he refused to say how much money the various billionaires and millionaires are chipping in to buy a piece of the American dream—except to note that the top donor gave around $25 million, so it’s not all Koch money. Which begs a question: Who else is buying?

And another question: How do groups like this get away with so much secrecy?

Organized under section 501(c)6 of the Tax Code, Freedom Partners operates as a trade association or “business league”—as in the National Football League.

Trade associations that utilize this section of the Tax Code must reveal the recipients of their “grants.” But they do not generally have to reveal the sources of those grants because the lists of donors they file with the IRS are not considered public documents.

Which brings us back to Edward Ryan.

The populist judge closed his great rant of 1873 by saying: “The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine: Which shall rule, wealth or man? Which shall lead, money or intellect. Who shall fill public stations, educated and patriotic freemen or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?”

There’s not much question that wealth rules the day. While banks and Wall Street insiders get bailouts, great American cities are driven into bankruptcy.

There’s not much question that money trumps intellect. What else could explain the focus of official Washington on billionaire-backed schemes that would “fix the debt” by lowering tax rates for billionaires while at the same time imposing “chained-CPI” cuts on retirees with fixed incomes?

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

There are still a few educated and patriotic freemen, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who warns that the Koch brothers are shaping a “plutocracy” that is “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich”), and there are educated and patriotic freewomen, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan provide daily confirmation that the feudal serfs of corporate capital have occupied public stations. And that occupation is not merely a Republican project; in Washington and across the country there are Democrats who preach privatizations, austerity cuts and policies that will only result in a redistribution of the wealth upward.

So we have answered most of Edward Ryan’s questions.

But they only point to new questions:

Who is paying to create a “money power” politics where wealth rules, money trumps intellect and feudal serfs of corporate capital occupy public stations?

Why are they allowed to operate in secret?

And what are we the people going to do about it?

John Nichols and Bob McChesney are the authors of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). The first event of their fall tour is in New York City with Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. For details: visit FAIR’s website.

Bill de Blasio Leads New York Primary With Surge of Votes for ‘Bold Progressive Change’

New York Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio and his family celebrate a strong primary showing at his campaign headquarters Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

New York Democrats have voted in big numbers for the contender who just days ago was dismissed by outgoing Mayor Mike Bloomberg as “a very populist, very left-wing guy.”

Bloomberg thought that was a negative assessment.

But Bill de Blasio did, indeed, run as a very populist, at least reasonably left-wing guy who promised to deliver “the bold progressive change this city needs.”

That worked for Democratic primary voters. With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, de Blasio was winning a high enough percentage of the vote—just over 40 percent—to possibly avoid a runoff election with the next strongest Democratic finisher.

The margins were such that a runoff might still be required: de Blasio had 40.2 percent of the votes as of Wednesday morning with thousands of paper ballots yet to be counted. Even when the initial count is completed, a recount could still give a runoff slot to second-place finisher William Thompson, who trailed de Blasio by almost 100,000 votes.

The wide lead that de Blasio ran up in Tuesday’s voting was a remarkable development for a candidate who just a few weeks ago was running fourth in the polls.

The de Blasio surge signaled an embrace of a populist politics that the candidate, at his packed election night party in Brooklyn, described as an “unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg era.”

Like most of the other contenders in a crowded field of Democratic candidates, the city’s elected Public Advocate embraced a socially-liberal agenda on issues such as marriage equality. But de Blasio did not stop there. He ran on a platform that proposed to increase taxes on the rich in order to raise $500 billion to fund education and community initiatives.

Beyond the specifics of his tax plans, de Blasio promised not to “nibble around the edges of the inequities facing our city.”

That was a specific rejection of the approach advanced for more than a decade by Bloomberg, who New York Times columnist Frank Bruni acknowledged on Monday has “worshiped at the altar of Wall Street.”

The closing message from de Blasio said as much:

“For twelve long years, New York City has lived by Mayor Bloomberg’s false choices. We couldn’t ask the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes to help our children get a great education. We couldn’t keep our streets safe without infringing on the rights of millions of New Yorkers—mostly young men of color. And our neighborhoods couldn’t thrive if affordable housing was the priority,” the candidate declared.

The conclusion from de Blasio was blunt and unapologetic: “For twelve long years, we’ve had a Mayor who doesn’t understand this, and his false choices have created the Tale of Two Cities we’re living today.”

Bloomberg dismissed that kind of talk as “class warfare.”

He also suggested that de Blasio was running a “racist” race by campaigning with his African-American wife and their children.

Both charges from the outgoing mayor were absurd, and even Bloomberg allies dismissed his intervention in the contest as “unfortunate.”

Even as Bloomberg and his allies attacked, de Blasio’s poll numbers rose. The candidate who had trailed through much of the race became a frontrunner.

He remained so on election night, celebrating that 40.2 percent vote total—14 percent more than the next most popular Democratic contender, former New York Comptroller Thompson.

If the margin holds, de Blasio will not need to run the October 1 runoff race with Thompson, who split key unions endorsements with the Public Advocate.

The results may take several days, perhaps even weeks, to sort out.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Even if he is secures the Democratic nod, De Blasio will still have to compete on November 5 with Republican nominee Joe Lhota, an ally of former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman who was elected initially as a Republican and then became an independent, will almost certainly position himself at Lhota’s side. And the campaign could yet by an ugly one, as the city’s economic, political and media establishment seeks to derail de Blasio and his big ideas for addressing income inequality.

But Bloomberg and his crew have had a hard time blocking de Blasio.

The mayor made little secret of his enthusiasm for New York City Council President Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary. But on Tuesday, she collected just 15 percent of the vote—running 25 points behind de Blasio.

John Nichols explores Mike Bloomberg’s freak-out over Bill de Blasio’s tax populist campaign.

Obama Delays Demand for Force 'While We Pursue This Diplomatic Path'

President Obama discusses military response to Syrian chemical weapons use with Congressional leaders. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

President Obama said on Monday in a PBS NewsHour interview regarding Syria that “my intention throughout this process has been to ensure that the blatant use of chemical weapons that we saw doesn’t happen again. If in fact there’s a way to accomplish that diplomatically, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

Over the following 24 hours, circumstances intervened and made it possible for the president to pursue the diplomatic resolution that Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to as “the ideal way” to remove the chemical-weapons threat. With prodding from the Russians and a show of flexibility from the Syrians, the prospect of military intervention has been delayed.

In his speech to the nation Tuesday night, the president announced that he has asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force “while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

The president has been freed to focus on his concerns about chemical weapons—which are broadly shared by the American people—without making immediate demands for the military intervention that the American people do not want.

Yes, Obama will keep the “credible threat” of military action on the table. But it is no longer has to be the centerpiece.

The key passage in the president’s speech was his announcement that “I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”

As he said Tuesday night, diplomatic initiatives have “the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force.”

The president should embrace that potential.

And he should take the American people with him—even if the diplomatic route if difficult, even if it is frustrating.

This is a moment when the president can and should remind the country of the commitment he made when he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach—condemnation without discussion—can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door,” said the president.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

“In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable—and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies,” he recalled. “Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There’s no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

Obama was right then.

He can and should be just as right now.

John Nichols urges Obama to puruse "open-door" diplomacy.

The President Should Speak Again About the Necessity of ‘Open-Door’ Diplomacy

President Obama

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama told the PBS NewsHour Monday that in his response to Syria “my intention throughout this process has been to ensure that the blatant use of chemical weapons that we saw doesn’t happen again. If in fact there’s a way to accomplish that diplomatically, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

At the time, he and his aides were still lobbying members of the House and Senate to provide him with an authorization to use military force against Syria. And it was presumed that the president would use tonight’s speech to the nation to make the argument for that unpopular proposal.

He will speak about the same topic tonight. But with prospects for a diplomatic solition strengthened by a series of dramatic developments Tuesday, he can come at it from a very different perspective.

Instead of talking about the necessity of military intervention, he can talk about the prospect of advancing human rights through diplomacy.

He can admit that this is not easy—acknowledging that he has struggled to get the calculus right. He can explain that there is nothing “soft” about the pursuit of what he has referred to as a “just peace.” He can help Americans to recognize why it is necessary to communicate with, to negotiate with, Syrian leaders whom he and his aides have condemned.

The president’s speech can be instructive. Even, perhaps, hopeful.

He has time for that now.

That’s because Obama has asked for a delay in congressional action on his request. The Washington-insider journal Politico reported Tuesday afternoon that Obama “wants Congress to delay its efforts to vote on authorizing the use of force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons until the round of diplomatic efforts that began this week has a chance to play out.”

After the president met with senators Tuesday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that, while Obama wants “the credible threat of our doing something about this (chemical weapons) attack…to remain,” he also wants time to have the United States work with France and the United Kingdom, in consultation with Russia and China toward what the White House refers to as “verifiable and enforceable destruction” of Syria’s chemical weapons.

A senior Democrat aide told a reporter shortly after the meeting with Obama, “His main message is we need to allow time for diplomatic situation to play itself out, but at the same time we need to keep the threat of military force credible because that’s how we got here in the first place.”

This is the case Obama can and should make tonight.

Circumstances have, at least for the moment, freed him to focus on his concerns about chemical weapons—which are broadly shared by the American people—without having to make a case for military action. Yes, the president is likely to keep the “credible threat” on the table. But he can also talk about the power and the potential of diplomacy.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

He might even quote from a speech he gave almost four years ago.

“The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach—condemnation without discussion—can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door,” the president said as he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

“In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable—and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies,” he recalled. “Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There’s no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

Obama made an important commitment then.

He can and should renew it tonight.

Read John Nichols on Congress’s role in the Syria debate.

Congress Should Provide Advice, Not Consent, on Syria

President Obama

President Barack Obama speaks at a G-20 Summit press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama says he would not launch military strikes against Syria if the government of that country were to turn over its chemical weapons to foreign minders—as Russia has proposed.

But the skeptical president—who suggests that he takes the Russian offer “with a grain of salt” —still wants the authority to launch those strikes.

So, even as the prospect for a non-military fix has been raised, Obama will keep lobbying a skeptical Congress for the approval of a military fix. Though the president refuses to rule out the prospect that he might launch strikes without congressional approval, he says, “I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously.”

Obama should take the congressional votes seriously.

He should not consider launching the strikes without affirmative signals from both the House and the Senate.

But he should also consider the debate that will anticipate those congressional votes—and the alternatives that will be proposed.

This president needs alternatives.

And Congress should provide them.

The president’s proposal to launch strikes against Syrian government targets, in response to reports of chemical weapons attacks, faces overwhelming opposition from the American people—59 percent in the latest CNN survey—and deep skepticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Beginning with a series of television interviews Monday evening, the president will be using the bully pulpit to make his case. And he’ll get a good measure of media buy-in in coming days. There will even be suggestions that the threat of military action is working—and that it must be codified.

But the prospect that the president will achieve a full momentum shift on this issue, and get the Congressional authorization for the use of force that he seeks, remains uncertain. Even Obama admits: “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” about the congressional votes.

But, even if he loses, the president could gain options in the process.

The concept of a system of checks and balances, as outlined by the founders of the American experiment, relies on the notion that president’s must seek the “advice and consent” of Congress on vital issues. In the contentious politics of our moment, too little attention is paid to the “advice” part of that equation. But Congress can and should offer the president and his aides an alternative to a military intervention that has stirred deep skepticism.

That’s the thinking of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who argues: “We must recognize that we do have alternatives to the use of force and we should be vigorously pursuing them.”

Lee is the California Democrat who, in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, cast the sole vote against the broad authorization of the use of force sought by then-President George W. Bush. Lee argued a dozen years ago that Congress needed to have more of a hand in defining the direction of what would become a global “war on terror,” and in promoting diplomatic responses to challenges facing the United States.

Today, Lee continues to work to renew the role of Congress in foreign policy. Several weeks ago, she authored a key letter urging President Obama to ask Congress for authorization to use force against Syria. That letter drew the signatures of sixty Democratic members of the House—many of them, like Lee, long-term backers of the president. There is little question that the Lee letter played a role in influencing the president to go to Congress on the issue.

Now, Lee is taking the next step. She is asking House members to sign on for a diplomatic alternative to missile strikes. The letter reads:

Dear Colleague:

I write to urge your support for my proposal which lays out non-military options the United States can pursue, in partnership with the international community, that is consistent with law and would hold perpetrators accountable for heinous crimes against humanity.

While I believe the Assad regime must be held accountable, I reject that it has to mean a military response to be effective. There is no military solution to this complex civil war, and while a negotiated settlement is necessary, I do not believe military action will further that goal.

Instead of pursuing military force, United States policy should focus on working with the United Nations and the international community on an enhanced diplomatic strategy to facilitate a negotiated political settlement and hold the Assad regime, and all responsible parties, accountable for human rights violations. My Resolution lays out options such as:

1. requiring the Government of Syria to allow unfettered access to humanitarian organizations;

2. pressuring all internal and external parties to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process and other negotiations and regional arrangements with the League of Arab States and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation;

3. seeking to strengthen and coordinate multilateral sanctions targeted against the assets of Assad;

4. investigating and prosecuting crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law, including appropriately-timed International Criminal Court referral;

5. working with member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention;

6. working with the international community to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal; and

7. enabling United States courts to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law committed in Syria.

We must recognize that we do have alternatives to the use of force and we should be vigorously pursuing them. I urge you in joining me to support non-military means to hold the perpetrators accountable and bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict.




Lee is hardly alone in offering advice on the wisdom of a diplomatic response, as opposed to military strikes. A new ad campaign from Progressive Democrats of America says: "Forceful diplomacy is the alternative to force without a diplomatic solution." And members of the House and Senate are making the same point.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, said after being briefed by White House aides: “I am still not convinced that there is a compelling national security interest that necessitates a military response, solely or largely borne by the United States. We need to engage the international community to find the appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons, and to do so will require a much broader discussion with all proper options given full consideration. The use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable, but this is an issue that is best addressed by the international community.”

Pocan represents the Wisconsin district previously served by Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who last year was elected to the US Senate. Baldwin has yet to say whether she will vote for or against the resolution itself says she thinks that Senate amendments might play a significant role in the process. While two senators—West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp—are proposing an amendment that might delay US action, Baldwin is particularly interested in assuring that the international community is brought into the mix. “The use of chemical weapons is a global atrocity and demands a global response,” she says. “The various treaties and conventions addressing these issues have been ratified by most of the world’s nations. Devising a precedent-setting response to their violation demands that the world’s nations engage in this discussion.”

New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to say that he is “very disappointed that the administration has given up” on working with the United Nations. The United States should be “rallying the world” to respond to developments in Syria, says Udall, whose father (former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall) served in the administration of Lyndon Johnson when an ever-expanding military involvement in Vietnam undermined the president’s ambitious domestic agenda.

Bitter experiment has informed the American people, argues Udall, who suggests that President Obama “is moving much too rapidly down the war path and not trying to find a political solution.”

Americans, the senator says, “don’t want to be embroiled in a Middle Eastern civil war; this is an act of war that we’re going to take. We haven’t exhausted all of our political, economic, and diplomatic alternatives.”

Udall, a savvy former prosecutor with broad experience in Washington, says President Obama “is moving much too rapidly down the war path and not trying to find a political solution.”

Congressman James McGovern, D-Massachusetts, recognizes the dynamic. “Look, I’m a big supporter of Barack Obama,” says McGovern. “But sometimes friends can disagree.”

McGovern is concerned that White House insiders suffer from an “inability to think outside the box.”

Congress should help them with that.

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention in Syria

Read John Nichols on Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for Syrian strike.

Mike Bloomberg and the 'Fortunate Ones' Versus Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio responds to questions after the Democratic New York City mayoral debate Tuesday, August 13, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio might just be elected the new mayor of America’s largest city.

And that has the current mayor of New York freaking out.

It’s not that Mike Bloomberg has much reason to fear that de Blasio would do harm to the city. When Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001, de Blasio was elected to the city council, and though their positions differ on a good many issues, they have both worked within the broad mainstream of New York City politics and governance ever since.

But Bloomberg does fear de Blasio’s support for a slightly more equitable tax system—of the sort that might make New Yorkers like the billionaire mayor pay a few more bills.

So on the eve of the New York mayoral primary in which de Blasio is likely to beat the mayor’s unofficial favorite (City Council President Christine Quinn), Bloomberg was ripping the public advocate. Most of the headlines from Bloomberg over the weekend related to a bizarre comment he made about de Blasio’s highlighting of members of his family—including his African-American wife and their teenage son Dante—in public appearances and in television ads that focus on, among other things, the candidate’s long-standing opposition to the city’s “stop-and-frisk” law.

It is hard to imagine a more traditional political tactic than a candidate and his or her family campaigning together. But Bloomberg told New York magazine that de Blasio is running a “class warfare and racist” campaign because: “he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing.”

That was a “Seriously?” moment, to which response has been universally negative. The mayor’s office went into damage-control mode immediately, complaining about the transcription of the taped interview; it was noted that Bloomberg said in the same interview of de Blasio: “I do not think he himself is racist.” But even Quinn labeled Bloomberg’s remark “unfortunate.

The controversy distracted from another jab at de Blasio by the mayor—a hit that is likely to be central to the mayor’s effort to attack the public advocate in a potential mayoral primary runoff race (which is required if no Democratic contender gets more than 40 percent of the vote) and the November general election.

Bloomberg’s biggest gripe was with what he terms “class warfare.”

From the beginning of his campaign, de Blasio has highlighted issues of income inequality, arguing that New York’s story is becoming “a tale of two cities.” One of the candidate’s most popular platform planks is a proposal for “increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund early childhood and after-school programs.” It’s hardly a radical plan, and it comes not as part of a divisive appeal but as part of a platform that calls for “One New York, Rising Together.”

But the mayor does not like that the front-runner in the race to replace him points out a fact of life in the city Bloomberg has led for twelve years: “In so many ways, New York has become a Tale of Two Cities,” says de Blasio “Nearly 400,000 millionaires call New York home, while nearly half of our neighbors live at or near the poverty line. Our middle class isn’t just shrinking; it’s in danger of vanishing altogether.”

Bloomberg complains that “de Blasio’s whole campaign is that there are two different cities here. And I’ve never liked that kind of division. The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills.”

Grumbling about the whole de Blasio campaign, Bloomberg says: “It’s a destructive strategy for those you want to help the most. He’s a very populist, very left-wing guy, but this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for services for the other.”

The mayor is off-base on plenty of levels. The majority of New York’s revenues come from working people, not millionaires and billionaires.

And de Blasio’s “ask” of the wealthiest 1 percent is relatively modest: an increase in New York City’s top income tax rate from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent. Only New Yorkers with incomes above $500,000 would pay any more.

Yet, the tax increase would yield $532 million to help pay for universal all-day pre-kindergarten and after-hours middle-school programs that would, overwhelmingly, benefit low- and moderate-income families.

That those families could use help is hard to debate. In 1980, according to New York’s Fiscal Policy Institute, New York’s wealthiest 1 percent collected 12 percent of all earnings. By 2012, the wealthiest 1 percent was pocketing 39 percent of all earnings.

“Here [in New York City], one of the country’s poorest congressional districts, primarily in the South Bronx, sits less than a mile from one of its wealthiest, which includes Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And here, a billionaire mayor presides over a homelessness crisis so massive that 50,000 men, women and children sleep in shelters each night. More New Yorkers are homeless these days than at any time since the Great Depression,” notes the Fiscal Policy Institute. “The numbers tell the story. Between 2000 and 2010, the median income of the city’s eight wealthiest neighborhoods jumped 55 percent…. Meanwhile, as the cushy precincts got even cushier, median income dipped 3 percent in middle-income areas and 0.2 percent in the poorest neighborhoods.”

Bill de Blasio’s response to that data is to say: “We need a game-changer, and at a time when so many families are struggling, it’s right and fair that we tax the wealthiest New Yorkers to achieve it. There is no investment that will prove more transformative for our kids.”

Mike Bloomberg accuses de Blasio of “class warfare.”

That’s tough talk. But instead of arguing with Bloomberg, perhaps de Blasio should borrow a page from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Noting that his 1936 reelection campaign was opposed by the forces of “business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering,” the thirty-second president said: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

Bernie Sanders: Billions for 'Another War,' but No Money for Needs at Home

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, speaks at the California Democrats State Convention in Sacramento, April 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In an age of deep partisan divisions, the broadest opposition to United States military intervention in Syria is not coming from Republicans. Or Democrats.

Independent voters are the most determined foes of President Obama’s proposal to launch missile strikes in response to reports that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons in that country’s brutal civil war. While Republicans and Democrats surveyed for the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll expressed strong opposition to the president’s proposal—by margins of 55-43 and 54-42, respectively—independents were against the plan 66-30.

So what does the independent senator from Vermont say?

Bernie Sanders shares the skepticism.

The Vermonter, who caucuses with the Democrats but has a history of breaking with presidents of both parties on matters of principle, is asking questions that are more likely to be heard on Main Street than in the cloistered conference rooms where administration aides are asking members of Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria.

“We’ve cut back on education, we’ve cut back on nutrition programs, we’ve thrown kids off Head Start,” says Sanders. “We have billions to spend on a war but no money to take care of the very pressing needs of the American people. That bothers me a lot.”

Like most senators, Sanders has not made a formal declaration on how he will vote when the chamber takes up the authorization measure that was approved Wednesday on a ten (seven Democrats, three Republicans) to seven (five Republicans, two Democrats) vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, voted “present.”)

Sanders says he will keep listening to the arguments made by the White House. “But,” he said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show Wednesday night, “I would be less than honest with you if didn’t say I had very, very deep concerns about this proposal. And, by the way, I can tell you that in my office the phones are bopping off the hook and almost unanimously people are opposed to what the president is talking about.”

The senator, who has a track record of engagement with international human rights issues, expresses deep concern about reports of the deployment of chemical weapons, and about the humanitarian issues raised by developments in Syria.

But the Vermonter worries, as well, about the prospect that “a third Middle East war in 12 years may make a very bad situation even worse.”

He fears the prospect of the United States “getting dragged into an interminable war.”

Those are common concerns in Washington these days.

But Sanders goes further.

What distinguishes the senator’s response is the extent to which he is speaking about priorities. Or, rather, about the impact a new global policeman project might have on the ability of an easily distracted Congress to recognize—even in a time of military conflict—that the fundamental economic challenges facing tens of millions of Americans must be addressed.

“(The) truth is that a largely dysfunctional Congress has difficulty today focusing on the very serious issues facing our country: the disappearing middle class, high unemployment, low wages, the high cost of college, the decline of our manufacturing sector and the planetary crisis of global warming,” argues Sanders. “I fear very much that U.S. involvement in another war in the Middle East, and the cost of that war, will make it even harder for Congress to protect working families.”

“Our Republican friends have made it very clear: they’re not going to ask the wealthy or large corporation to pay more in taxes,” says Sanders. “They already want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What may well be happening is the cost of this war may be paid for by more kids being thrown off of Head Start, senior citizens being thrown off ‘Meals on Wheels’ programs, educational programs being cut.”

Sanders is raising an important matter with regard to this Congress.

And with regard to the scope and character of the coming debate.

“Right now, it’s impossible to know if military intervention in Syria will cost the U.S. $100 million or hundreds of billions,” explains the National Priorities Project.

The budget transparency group notes, however, that “U.S. forces would use Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to attack Syria. On our brand-new Cost of National Security site, you can see the real-time cost of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile program. In 2013, the program is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $320 million—or $36,563 every hour. That cost would spike if the U.S. military ultimately fired hundreds of missiles at Syria, as it did in Libya in 2011.”

No doubt the United States can and would spend whatever might be necessary to defend itself from attack. But when the Congress is considering whether to approve missile strikes that the State Departments admits are about “holding the Assad regime accountable,” and when President Obama is saying those strikes are “not time sensitive,” it is reasonable to include in the broader debate a discussion of the economics of war and peace, of military preparation and of military intervention.

It is reasonable to recall that the Libyan mission in which the United States engaged in 2011 cost in excess of $1 billion.

It is reasonable to suggest, as has Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Washington, that Congress should be talking not just about if and when to bomb Syria but about how the costs of the mission will be covered. “We’ve got all kinds of problems and here we are spending more money on a war,” says McDermott, who in addition to being a senior member of the House is a US Navy veteran and former a US Foreign Service Medical Officer.

Those who know a bit about war, and the world, are inclined to consider the human costs of military interventions.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

When President Dwight Eisenhower was winding down the Korean War in 1953, he explained that

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron

The congressional debate about Syria should consider all the issues that have been raised with regard to international relations and humanitarian interventions. It should speak about America’s place in the world, and about America’s resposibilities to other countries. But Senator Sanders is right to remind us that this debate also must consider how the United States will fare under the cloud of threatening war.

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention in Syria

'Nobody Wants This Except the Military-Industrial Complex'

A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, Syria on August 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, backs President Obama’s request for authorization to intervene militarily in Syria, as does House Democratic Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is similarly “in,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in mum.

The president has done a pretty good job of selling his plan to congressional leaders.

He has not, however, sold it to the American people.

Thus, when members of Congress decide which side they’re on in the Syrian intervention votes that are expected to take place next week, they will have to consider whether they want to respond to pro-war pressure from inside-the-Beltway—as so many did when they authorized action against Iraq—or to the anti-war sentiments of their constituents.

Reflecting on the proposed intervention, Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, allowed as how “nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex.”

The level of opposition might not be quite so overwhelming.

But it is strikingly high.

And, even as the president makes his case, skepticism about intervention appears to be growing.

A Pew Research survey released Tuesday found support for air strikes had collapsed from 45 percent to 29 percent, while opposition had spiked. “The public has long been skeptical of U.S. involvement in Syria, but an April survey found more support than opposition to the idea of a US-led military response if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed,” Pew reported Tuesday. “The new survey finds both broad concern over the possible consequences of military action in Syria and little optimism it will be effective.”

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released after the president announced he would seek congressional authorization for an attack on Syria, and after several days of administration lobbying for that attack, found that voters are overwhelmingly opposed to intervention.

“The United States says it has determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war there,” the Post/ABC poll asked. “Given this, do you support or oppose the United States launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?”

* Sixty percent of registered voters (59 percent of all respondents) express opposition. Just 36 percent support intervention.

* Self-identified Democrats are opposed 54-42—a 12 point gap.

* Republicans are opposed 55-43—a similar 12 point gap.

* The fiercest opposition is among independents, who disapprove of intervention by a 66-30 margin. That figure suggests that members of Congress who represent swing districts might actually be more vulnerable if they vote to authorize the attack.

In addition to being broad-based, the opposition sentiment runs deep. Even if US allies such as Britain and France join in, a 51-46 majority is still opposed to missile strikes.

The idea of going further and trying to topple the Syrian regime appears to be a political non-starter. Seventy percent of those surveyed oppose supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, while just 30 percent support the proposal that has been floated by President Obama and Republican hawks such as Arizona Senator John McCain.

What is especially notable about the polling data is the intensity of opposition to any sort of intervention—including missile strikes targeted at suspected chemical weapons sites—among groups that lean Democratic at election time.

* Sixty-five percent of women surveyed for The Post/ABC poll oppose missile strikes, while just 30 percent favor them. (The Pew survey found an even lower level of support among women: just 19 percent)

* Among Americans under age 40 who were surveyed for the Post/ABC poll, 65 percent are opposed.

* Among Hispanics, 63 percent are opposed.

* Among African-Americans, 56 percent are opposed.

On the question of arming the rebels, opposition numbers skyrocket.

* Seventy-six percent of women surveyed for the Post/ABC poll are opposed.

* Seventy-four percent of those under age 40 are opposed.

* Seventy-three percent of African-Americans are opposed.

Regionally, the Democratic-leaning states of the Midwest and the Northeast are more opposed than the Republican-leaning states of the South.

It is true that foreign policy is not always made on the basis of polling data. It is true that patterns of war weariness and concern about how to address the use of chemical weapons makes the current circumstance volatile. And it is true that poll numbers can change. But it is worth noting that discomfort with launching air strikes—let alone any other intervention—is running strong among voters who have followed the story closely and among voters who have only recently begun to engage with it. Pew reports that “opposition to the idea is prevalent regardless of people’s level of interest—nearly half oppose airstrikes among the most and least attentive segments of the public.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Or, as the Washington Post analysis puts it: “there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey.”

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention

Syndicate content