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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Recognizing the Urgency of a Ceasefire

George Bush is vacationing in Texas, and members of Congress – with the notable exception of Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, Ohio Democratic Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur and a handful of others – have taken the president's exit from Washington as an excuse to put any concerns regarding the crisis in the Middle East on hold until the dog days of August have passed.

Not so in Britain, where members of Parliament take more seriously there responsibility to consider what is being done in their name but without their informed consent.

With British Prime Minister Tony Blair following President Bush's "look-the-other-way" lead regarding Israel's continued bombing of civilian targets in Lebanon – with the death toll now hovering around 1,000, and the dislocation of more than 900,000 men, women and children – in a conflict that has also seen dozens of Israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks, leading members of Blair's own Labour party have joined with opposition legislators to demand the recall of Parliament to consider steps Britain could take to stop the killing.

Instead of putting their consciences on hold until the end of August – presumably waiting for the agonizingly slow United Nation deliberations to come up with a plan that will not be implemented until a lot more Lebanese and Israelis die -- more than 150 members of Parliament from across the political spectrum in Britain have signed a call to convene the House of Commons in an effort to promote an immediate ceasefire.

Writing to Commons leader Jack Straw – who last month criticized Blair for failing to condemn Israel's "disproportionate" use of force against civilian targets in Lebanon – the parliamentarians asked that Parliament be brought into session, and into the debate.

"There is huge concern in the country about the current Middle East crisis, and fear that the [Blair government's] early failure to insist that Israel and Hezbollah observe an immediate ceasefire has cost many innocent lives and may continue to do so," they members of Parliament wrote. "In addition, the use by US supply aircraft to refuel at Prestwick airport when transporting bombs and military hardware to be used by the Israel Defence Force in air-raids on densely populated civilian areas has given the impression that the UK has assumed a tacitly active and less than impartial role in the conflict."

Noting polls showing that 70 percent of Brits favor an immediate ceasefire, the letter argued that, "Given the massive concern in the country about these matters, we believe that it is right to allow the Commons to meet in order that the government's strategy can be fully discussed. Parliament is seriously hamstrung at times of crisis by the fact that only the government can recall parliament. It should be noted that 202 cross-party members of parliament have signed a petition calling for an immediate ceasefire.

"In light of the seriousness of current events and the overwhelming parliamentary and public interest in them, I urge you to give the utmost consideration to this letter. It is absolutely vital to the quality of democracy in the United Kingdom that elected representatives voice the concerns of our constituents at such a crucial time."

Here's a thought: If it is vital to democracy in the United Kingdom that legislators address the Middle East crisis, might it not also be vital to democracy in the United States that our Congress do the same thing? Or would that interrupt all the official vacationing?

Lamont's Winning Message for Democrats

For whom does the bellwether toll? It tolls for thee, Joe Lieberman – and, more importantly, for the neoconservative vision that you embraced more passionately than other Democrats and most Republicans.

Lieberman, a three-term incumbent whose defenses of the Iraq War and enthusiasm for a fight with Iran made him the Bush administration's favorite Democrat, lost to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont by a solid margin in Tuesday's Connecticut Senate primary.

With most of the votes counted, Lamont was leading by a 52-48 margin, a result that just a few months ago would have been unimaginable.

The Connecticut voting offered a classic bellwether contest. On one side of the Democratic primary ballot was Lieberman, a three-term incumbent who had aligned himself with the Bush administration in support of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. On the other side was Lamont, the previously unknown challenger who surfed a wave of resentment against the neoconservative nightmare that has gotten the United States bogged down in Iraq, rendered it diplomatically dysfunctional in the Middle East and created more global resentment toward America than at any time in the nation's history.

As such, the Connecticut contest was always about more than one senator and one state. And in the end, with massive media scrutiny and the frenzied attention of political players from across the country, the primary became what former Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker described on primary night as "a referendum on the Iraq war – not just for Connecticut but for the whole country."

At the very least, the Connecticut primary became a referendum on how the Democratic Party ought to respond to a war that it has often questioned but never effectively opposed.

If Connecticut said "no" Lieberman and the war, Lamont supporters in the state and beyond its borders argued during the course of the primary campaign, party leaders might finally be forced to develop a coherent opposition message. And if Democrats developed a spine, the reasoning went, the warped politics of a nation that has been manipulated for the better part of a decade by the fearmongering of White House political czar Karl Rove might finally take a turn away from the madness of a latter-day King George.

"A lot of people around the country are looking to Connecticut to see what course they want for this country," Lamont said as his state began voting Tuesday in the most closely watched U.S. Senate primary the nation has witnessed in decades.

What the country saw was a win for an anti-war candidate over one of the most prominent war supporters in the Senate. It was not so conclusive a win as some Lamont backers had hoped for. The final result was close enough for Lieberman to find encouragement for his planned independent run, setting up a three-way November contest between Democrat Lamont, Republican Alan Schlesinger and the sole candidate of the senator's "Connecticut for Lieberman" party.

If the primary offers any indication, that November contest will be an intense one. And, while many analysts still try to portray Lieberman as the frontrunner, the reality is that Lamont's star is on the rise. And he is on the right side of the issue that polls identify as the biggest concern of Connecticut voters: the war in Iraq.

Make no mistake, Lamont's victory was a breakthrough win for the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party. With a candidate who had no name recognition in January, anti-war Democrats displaced an 18-year incumbent senator who in 2000 was the party's nominee for vice president and who in 2004 mounted a campaign for the party's presidential nomination.

How did Lamont succeed where others – including 2004 presidential contender and current Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean -- failed? Not by simply expressing opposition to the war, nor even by expressing frustration with Lieberman's refusal to question even the most misguided of Bush administration foreign policies.

Lamont won by doing something most national Democrats have failed to do over the past several election cycles. He put the war in perspective, telling voters that the $250 million a day that is shifted from the U.S. Treasury into a failed fight in Iraq and the deep pockets of defense contractors like Halliburton could be better used to pay for education and health care at home and smart foreign aid programs abroad.

The Lamont message was always a far more sophisticated one than most of the national media coverage of the campaign suggested. The challenger rarely spoke just about Iraq, but instead invited voters to join in a broader discussion of foreign policy, American interests and American values. And he never allowed the war debate to be isolated from the debate about how an America that was not bogged down in Iraq might better spend its resources.

Mocking the rhetoric of the Bush administration and Lieberman regarding Iraq, Lamont said on Tuesday night: "Stay the course -- that's not a winning strategy in Iraq and it's not a winning strategy for America." He meant what he was saying. Just as Lamont wants to "[fix] George Bush's failed foreign policy," he also wants to fix failed domestic policies that have produced what he correctly refers to as a "broken" health care system and an education system that leaves too many children behind. And he recognizes the linkages between failures abroad and failures at home.

Connecticut Democrats rewarded that recognition by handing the Senate nomination to Lamont in a historic primary vote.

National Democratic party leaders and strategists, who have had such a hard time figuring out their message going into this fall's House and Senate elections, would be wise to take a lesson from the campaign that Ned Lamont waged, and the result it produced.

Lieberman, Lamont and the Future of the Democrats

The last time that Democratic primary voters turned out a nationally-known U.S. Senator because they did not like where he stood on an issue of war and peace was in 1970, when Texas Democrats rejected anti-war incumbent Ralph Yarborough and replaced him with Lloyd Bentsen, a former congressman who favored taking a tougher line against the Vietcong in Vietnam and against student protesters on the campuses of the United States.

The Texas result was big news nationally, and it played a significant part in the decision of the Nixon White House to try and stir up a "silent majority" backlash to congressional liberals in that fall's Senate races.

Thirty-six years later, in a very different state, Democratic primary voters may avenge Yarborough's loss and set in motion a backlash of another character altogether.

If anti-Iraq War challenger Ned Lamont defeats pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman in today's contest for the Democratic Senate nod in Connecticut, and if Democrats in Washington finally figure our that no message energizes their base so much as the "Bring the Troops Home" signal that Lamont has sent, then the 2006 election could yet be the referendum on George W. Bush's misguided policies that Democrats denied voters in 2002 and 2004.

There were a lot of "ifs" and "coulds" in that previous paragraph. Here's why: Though Lamont took a poll lead several weeks ago, there were some indications in the final days of the race that Lieberman was making something of a comeback. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday had Lamont at 51 percent and Lieberman at 45 percent – suggesting a closer contest than the one seen in polls from last week, which had Lamont up by 10 to 13 points.

Could Lieberman still win this thing? It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Though his reelection campaign has been pathetic, and though he is dramatically out of touch with Democrats on the war issue, the incumbent retains strong name recognition, he has most of the major endorsements from interest groups and newspapers in the state, and he has spent a lot of money on a bitterly negative television advertising campaign against Lamont.

It is the prospect that Lieberman could have a little more going for him than has seemed to be the case through much of the primary fight that has the Lamont campaign working harder than ever today. The narrowing of the polls is likely to bump turnout, perhaps to an unprecedented 45 or 50 percent of the potential primary electorate. The best bet is that this will help Lamont, but the uncertainty about who all these new voters might be – in a state where it is relatively easy for Republicans and independents to reregister as Democrats and participate in the primary – will have everyone on edge until the results are in this evening.

Even if Lamont wins, there is still that bigger "if." Will Democrats in Washington get the message that the war is the issue that gets voters to the polls and that, ultimately, poses a threat to stay-the-course incumbents of both parties? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the size of the margin in Connecticut.

If Lamont wins narrowly – say, by under four points – Lieberman will claim that Democrats are just about evenly divided and plunge into a third-party challenge to the Democratic nominee as the candidate of his newly-created "Connecticut for Lieberman" party.

On the other hand, if Lamont secures a decisive victory with a margin of ten points of more, then the pressure on Lieberman to accept the result will intensify. It will become difficult for the incumbent to hold onto those endorsements from groups such as the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. And the senator might either forego a fall race or mount a titular campaign that will ultimately be a sad footnote to a lamentable career.

If Lieberman has to hang it up tonight or in the next few days, Democratic Party leaders in Washington are likely – because of the intensity of interest in this contest – to be forced by a suddenly engaged press corps to speak with a measure of clarity about where they stand on the war. Chances are that they will try to firm up a message that on the eve of the primary was still better defined as a "whine" than a muscular challenge to Bush and the neoconservatives.

The prospect that the Connecticut primary could be about more than one state's Senate nomination is what will make tonight a rare moment in American politics. It has been a long time since a Democratic Senate primary shifted the direction of national politics. If this one does, and if it pushes the party in the direction of the anti-war position embraced by most Americans at this point, then this will be a historic day – the day when, after far too long, our politics again became meaningful.

Desperate Measures

Joe Lieberman, down in the polls and desperate as Tuesday's Connecticut Senate primary approaches, tried on Sunday to remake himself as something he has not been for a very long time: A true-blue Democrat who respects dissent in his own party and the country as a whole.

Accusing his anti-war primary challenger, Ned Lamont, of waging "a distortion campaign against me," the Bush administration's favorite Democratic senator grumbled, "Now I understand that many Democrats in Connecticut disagree with me and are very angry about the war. I don't think there is anything I can say to change your mind about whether we should have gone to war or when we should bring the troops home, and at this point I'm not going to insult you by trying. What I will say is this: I not only respect your right to disagree or question the President, I value it. I was part of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s, so I don't need to be lectured by Ned Lamont about the place of dissent in our democracy."

With the primary just two days away, the senator professed to be shocked, shocked by suggestions that he might be something less than a diehard Democrat.

"The more I have talked to voters in these closing days, the more I am concerned they have been shortchanged in this campaign," said Lieberman. "Instead of hearing an honest debate about the issues that really matter to people, they have been overwhelmed with bogus charges about my Democratic credentials. Instead of having an honest discussion about your future, we're getting negative politics at its worst."

The new Democratic Joe Lieberman is a far cry from the Joe Lieberman who has spent the past four years as the pet Democrat of the conservative Fox News combine -- grinning, nodding and chirping his approval as conservative commentator Sean Hannity has trashed war critics and accused Democrats who challenge the Bush White House of something akin to treason.

Consider this sample from the transcipt of a February 10, 2006, appearance by Lieberman on Hannity's radio program:

HANNITY: I agree with you, and Senator, this is why I am very appreciative of the positions you've taken in the war on terror in the last number of years. And I know you've taken a lot of political heat from it from within your party. You've heard of Howard Dean's comments about you, for crying out loud.

LIEBERMAN: (Laughter)

HANNITY: I mean he could barely come out and support you. And, you know, Karl Rove said that Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview, and he said, it doesn't make them unpatriotic, but it makes them wrong.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah.

HANNITY: He believes, profoundly consistently wrong. And I think the latest example of this is, we can kill members of Al Qaeda, but we've got Democrats up in arms over the idea that if Al Qaeda calls into the United States from an outside country, that, boy, we'd better get a court order to listen to them. It's absurd to me.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah...

In the course of the same program last winter, Hannity offered to campaign for Lieberman, telling the neoconservative senator: "If you ever want me to do anything, for you and your re-election, I think we ought to have Conservatives for Lieberman, a big fundraiser in Connecticut, and if I could ever do that, I'd make it the biggest blowout celebration ever."

Lieberman responded by thanking Hannity and telling the Fox personality: "You're a great guy. It would just be fun to be with you."

Perhaps even more amusing than the sudden sympathy for Democrats and dissenters displayed by Lieberman in his pre-primary speech was his newfound anger over the stolen election of 2000.

"I am the only Democrat in America to run against George Bush in a national election twice," said Lieberman, referencing his 2000 Democratic campaign for the vice presidency and his miserable 2004 run for the party's presidential nod. "I even beat him and Dick Cheney once, if all the votes had been counted."

The senator's right, of course. Al Gore would have become the president, and Lieberman the vice president, if all the votes in Florida had been counted in December, 2000, with an eye toward producing a result that reflected the sentiments of the electorate. But what Lieberman failed to mention on Sunday was that he has, for years, been Joey-on-the-spot when George W. Bush has needed an election ally.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Lieberman parted company with his running mate to tell the Wall Street Journal that Gore's populist rhetoric wasn't sincere. Don't take Gore seriously, Lieberman promised, Democrats could be counted on to deliver for corporate America.

During the Florida recount fight of that year, Lieberman told Democrats to back off their challenges to Republican efforts to count votes that were cast late or illegally.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, after Democrats had overwhelmingly rejected Lieberman's candidacy for their party's nomination, the senator traveled to the battleground state of Florida three weeks before the election and told a predominantly Jewish crowd in Delray Beach that criticism of Bush's Middle East policies were "unjustified." "We are dealing with a president who's had a record of strong, consistent support for Israel," Lieberman argued. "You can't say otherwise."

It is not surprising that Joe Lieberman waited until the end of this summer's Connecticut primary campaign to complain about "bogus charges about my Democratic credentials." He's hoping that no one has time to check out the charges before election day. If they do, they will find that there is nothing "bogus" about the Lamont campaign's detailing of Lieberman's penchant for carrying water for Bush and the neoconservatives.

Joe Lieberman is hoping that Connecticut Democrats won't recall his record when the vote on Tuesday.

If they do, he's as doomed as the polls suggest.

DeLay, Coulter, Kristol Defend Lieberman

The polls show Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is falling far behind anti-war challenger Ned Lamont as the state's August 8 Democratic primary approaches.

But it's not all bad news for the embattled senator. At least Tom DeLay's rooting for him.

The former House majority leader from Texas is a Republican who may not agree with the Bush White House's favorite Democrat on every issue but who thinks the Senator is right-on when it comes to foreign policy.

"[Lieberman's] very good on the war," DeLay said during an interview this week on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" program.

With the Connecticut primary, in which Iraq War-enthusiast Lieberman trails war-critic Lamont by 13 points in the latest poll, just days away, the incumbent's neoconservative allies are rushing to his defense.

Lieberman's latest campaign contribution list features a $500 donation from Bill Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, a publication so Pravda-like in its cheerleading for the Iraq imbroglio – and for an attack on Iran -- that Vice President Dick Cheney has stacks of each new edition delivered to the White House for distribution to the staff.

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter's defending Lieberman, as well, going on at some length during an interview with Fox's Neal Cavuto to explain how much she admires the senator and suggesting that, instead of fighting for the Democratic nomination in Connecticut, Lieberman ought to switch parties. "I think he should come all the way and become a Republican," argues Coulter, who says of Lieberman and the GOP: "at least he'd fit in with the party."

Even though it comes from Coulter, that's not entirely crazy talk. In February of this year, Connecticut Republican Congressman Chris Shays told editors of the Stamford Advocate newspaper that he would be voting for Lieberman this year and urged other Republicans to do the same. The Hartford Courant reported on February 28 that "GOP officials have discussed cross-endorsing Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman this fall."

The Courant story, which broke before a cross-endorsement deal could be brokered, squelched it for the time being. "One GOP operative who was aware of the discussions said premature public disclosure of the possible cross-endorsement probably would kill the idea. That seems to be case," the paper observed last winter.

But with Lamont pulling ahead in the polls, and with the Lieberman's backers circulating petitions to run him as an independent if he loses the Democratic nod, some Connecticut Republicans have again been discussing the prospect that a defeated Lieberman might find a new political home on the GOP line. The campaign of the endorsed Republican candidate for the Connecticut Senate seat, former legislator Alan Schlesinger, has been rocked by charges that he may have a serious gambling problem. Connecticut's Republican Governor Jodi Rell suggested in July that Schlesinger might want to consider quitting the race. Schlesinger stayed in for the time being. But all bets could be off if Lieberman – a Senate supporter the Bush White House does not want to lose -- suddenly becomes available.

Chuck Hagel: Opposition Senator

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."

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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.

Dems on Iraq: Still Vague, Out of Touch

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.

The GOP's Sleaziest Attack Campaign

How low will Republicans go to try and hang onto control of Ohio, the swing state where their machinations secured the presidency for George W. Bush in 2004?

Lower than reasonable Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, could imagine.

Gary Lankford, the Ohio Republican Party's recently hired "social conservative coordinator" this week dispatched a mass e-mail to so-called "pro-family friends" that featured his 10-point introduction to U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who has thrown Republicans for a loop by speaking about his faith during the campaign, is running far ahead of scandal-plagued Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee who gained national fame in 2004 when he was broadly accused of manipulating election processes and vote counting to favor Bush in the presidential race.

What's the GOP strategy for getting Blackwell back into the running? Imply that Strickland is gay.

What are Republican staffers pointing to as evidence? Reports that the Democratic congressman and his wife of 20 years reside in different locations when he is in Washington.

In his email, Lankford, the GOP "social conservative coordinator," links to an Internet posting by a conservative operative that is headlined: "Article Adds Fire to Strickland Gay Rumors." The posting suggests that a mid-June Toledo Blade newspaper article implies "the Stricklands are both gay."

The article turns out to be a wide-ranging Father's Day feature on Strickland and Blackwell, in which mention was made of the fact that Strickland and his wife have no children. Blackwell was quoted as saying that it would be absurd to try and make an issue of whether the Democrat was a father or not. "Some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents," said the Republican. "Pope John Paul II was not a parent."

But Strickland, who is supported by gay and lesbian groups in the state and has criticized legislative assaults on gay rights, noted the frustration of Republicans with the Democrat's ability to match them on moral values issues and suggested that he might well be attacked. "The most effective way to campaign now is to identify your opponent's strengths and try to destroy those strengths," Strickland warned.

It looks like the Republican Party in Ohio has decided to jettison the "some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents" line in favor of an aggressive "Strickland's gay" assault on the Democrat's "moral values" appeal.

Indeed, Lankford's email, which highlighted his Republican Party role, urged recipients to: "Pass this information along."

When the "information" got passed along to the media, Ohio Republican Party political director Jason Mauk said the party repudiated the email. "We do not engage in rumor or innuendo," said Mauk, "especially rumors that are not relevant to this election."

Sure.

Bill Moyers for President? Absolutely!

Molly Ivins is trying to get Democrats excited about the prospect of running Bill Moyers for president.

"Dear desperate Democrats," the nation's most widely-read liberal newspaper columnist begins her latest missive. "Here's what we do: We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap, and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there."

Ivins makes a great case for why her fellow Texan ought to be on the ballot in 2008.

"Bill Moyers has been grappling with how to fit moral issues to political issues ever since he left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and went to work for Lyndon Johnson in the teeth of the Vietnam War," she writes. "Moyers worked for years in television, seriously addressing the most difficult issues of our day. He has studied all different kinds of religions and different approaches to spirituality. He's no Holy Joe, but he is a serious man. He opens minds--he doesn't scare people. He includes people in, not out. And he sees through the dark search for a temporary political advantage to the clear ground of the Founders. He listens and he respects others."

After making her case, however, Ivins adds what appears to be the "reality" section:

"Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me."

Ivins wants Moyers to make a sympbolic run, with the purpose of shaking up the Democratic party, and perhaps the nation.

"It won't take much money -- file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates," the columnist explains. "Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I'm damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who's right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win."

But why limit this quest?

Why ask Democratic primary voters to send a message when they can send the best man into the November competition and, if the stars align correctly, perhaps even to the White House?

With all due regard to one of the finest journalists and finest Americans I know, I respectfully disagree with Molly Ivins -- not on the merits of a Moyers candidacy, but on the potential.

I'm not suggesting that Bill Moyers -- with whom I've had the pleasure of working in recent years on media reform issues -- is a sure bet to win the Democratic nomination or the presidency in 2008. I'm not even suggesting that he would be a good bet. But the politics of 2008 are already so muddled, so quirky and so potentially volatile that I believe -- as someone who has covered my share of presidential campaigns -- that Moyers could be a contender.

Moyers would enter the 2008 race with far more Washington political experience than Dwight Eisenhower had in 1952, far more national name recognition than Jimmy Carter had in 1976 and far more to offer the country than most of our recent chief executives.

Against the candidates who are lining up for the 2008 contest, Bill Moyers and his supporters would not need to make any excuses.

After all, the supposed Democratic frontrunner is a former First Lady who ran her first election campaign just six years ago. One of the leading Republican contenders is a guy whose main claim to fame is that he did a good job of running the Olympics in Salt Lake City, while another is still best known as the son of a famous football coach. And the strongest Republican prospect, John McCain, is actually more popular with Democrats than with his own partisans.

Consider the fact that a professional body builder is the governor of the largest state in the union, and that the list of serious contenders for seats in Congress and for governorships this year is packed with retired athletes, former television anchorpersons and bored millionaires, and it simply is not that big a stretch to suggest that someone with the government and private-sector experience, the national recognition and the broad respect that Bill Moyers has attained across five decades of public life could not make a serious run for the presidency.

So, Molly, I'll see your suggestion of Bill Moyers, and up the ante to suggest that Moyers really could be a contender.

Condoleezza "False Promise" Rice

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice goes through the charade of meeting with international leaders to discuss the crisis in the Middle East – while showing her true sentiments with a firm rejection of the "false promise" of a ceasefire – observers of the carnage might reasonably ask: Is there anyone in Washington who wants the killing to stop?

In fact, there are a few dozen brave members of Congress who have leant their names to a call for halting the violence and allowing diplomacy to replace the bombs and bullets that are ripping apart whole regions of Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.

Twenty-four members of the House of Representatives have endorsed House Continuing Resolution 450: "Calling upon the President to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."

Submitted by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, the measure resolves that Congress:

(1) calls upon the President to--

(A) appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence;

(B) commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions; and

(C) send a high-level diplomatic mission to the region to facilitate such multi-party negotiations…

The resolution also "urges such multi-party negotiations to begin as soon as possible, including delegations from the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; and supports an international peacekeeping mission to southern Lebanon to prevent cross-border skirmishes during such multi-party negotiations."

The members of the House who have signed onto Kucinich's resolution include:

Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri

John Conyers Jr. of Michigan

Danny Davis of Illinois

Bob Filner of California

Raul Grijalva of Arizona

Maurice Hinchey of New York

Mike Honda of California

Marcy Kaptur of Ohio

Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan

Barbara Lee of California

Betty McCollum of Minnesota

Jim McDermott of Washington

Gregory Meeks of New York

James Moran of Virginia

Charles Rangel of New York

Bobby Rush of Illinois

Louise Slaughter of New York

Hilda Solis of California

Pete Stark of California

Maxine Waters of California

Lynn Woolsey of California.

"Everyday this Administration sits on the sidelines the chance for a peaceful resolution becomes less likely," says Kucinich. "Every day this Administration sits on the sidelines more innocent civilians on all sides are dying. Every day this Administration sits on the sidelines America's already poor reputation in the world community gets worse."

Kucinich is right. But is it not also true that every day members of Congress sit on the sidelines – refusing to pressure the Bush administration to get serious about a ceasefire -- they too make the chance for a peaceful resolution less likely.

Two dozen members of Congress are doing something. What about the other 411 representatives? What about the 100 senators?

Peace Action is urging Americans to contact their Congressional representatives to: Demand that they do everything in their power to effect an immediate ceasefire in the current hostilities in the Middle East. For more information, visit their website at www.peaceaction.org

Progressive Democrats of America has launched a campaign to get members of the House to cosponsor the Kucinich resolution. For more information, visit their website at: www.pdamerica.org

Says PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter: "It is unacceptable to stand and watch as the violence escalates."

It's more than just unfortunate – it is tragedy writ large -- that Condoleezza Rice does not share this sentiment.

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