The familiar hallmark of Republican politics is what I call "roll-call slander." The party of Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, pioneered the use of ridiculous legislative roll calls to put incumbent Democrats on the spot--recorded votes that can be used against them in the next election. The purpose is not to enact legislation but to generate demagogic fodder for Republican challengers.
Did you know your senator voted in favor of burning the American flag? Well, he did. Here is the Senate roll-call to prove it. Elect me and I promise to stand by our flag.
Sometimes, this works or makes Dems scurry for cover. More often, it simply revs up the GOP troops, like waving a piece of bloody meat before a pack of hungry dogs. The technique turns representative democracy into a cheap cartoon.
This week in the Senate, the Republican strategists reached a new nadir of cynicism with their proposal to raise the minimum wage for the working poor in the same bill that slashes the estate tax for billionaires.
How cute is that? Republicans loathe the minimum wage, of course, but they figured this could sucker a handful of wobbly Democrats into going along with them on gutting the estate tax. Or else face the wrath of their constituents. The GOP tricksters failed by four votes.
I say, hurrah for Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader. Democrats hung together and blocked this ugly maneuver-–a rare moment of solidarity when some of them were seriously tempted to defect. Republicans might try again in the fall, but they are running out of gimmicks.
The GOP is fearful this fall's elections will seriously weaken its House and Senate majorities, so this might be their last chance to crumple the estate tax. The party has collected hundreds of millions in contributions from the small number of very, very rich families obsessed with repeal. A handful of Dems wanted to vote for them too. They will probably be targeted in the fall campaign but with this twist: Did you know your senator voted against poor people?
The cloakroom politics surrounding this issue was intense, but minority leader Reid was the stand-up guy. We don't know what he said privately. Presumably, nobody's arm was broken. But Harry Reid kept the wannabe stray cats in line. How refreshing. A party leader who stands and fights, who warns wayward colleagues they better not sell out.
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.
If the Bush administration had any sense of commitment to the protection of endangered species it might consider adding "science" to its list. After thwarting stem cell research and muzzling global warming scientists (how are you enjoying the latest heat wave, Mr. Bush, and the fact that the first six months of this year were the warmest ever recored in the US?), right-wing ideology trumping sound science is currently found in the effort to hold women's health hostage.
Forty-five countries and nine states have approved Plan B emergency contraceptive – "the morning after pill" – for over-the-counter sale, while the Food and Drug Administration has avoided making a decision for three years running. Now, as acting-FDA Commissioner Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach enters his confirmation hearing this week, he is promising to end the delay caused by – according to his predecessor, Dr. Lester Crawford – "unique regulatory issues."
But Democratic Senators such as Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray are rightfully threatening to block the confirmation until a decision on Plan B is actually made, not simply promised. After a written assurance from the Bush Administration that there would be action on Plan B – during Crawford's confirmation hearing –it turned out that the promise wasn't worth the paper it was written on.
"Americans want the Bush administration's political appointees at the FDA to stop blocking a decision on whether to make Plan B available over-the-counter," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "Dr. von Eschenbach must prove that this action is genuine and not just a political ploy intended to pave the way for his confirmation."
And the Plan B fight isn't the only development showing us in no uncertain terms that Americans need to protect women's health from those who are working overtime to impose their ideological beliefs on all Americans.
Last month in Jackson, Mississippi, Operation Save America held a weeklong siege of the last abortion clinic in the state. "A gauntlet" of demonstrators – up to one hundred – harassed patients and held up "photos of aborted fetuses blown up to the size of 4 year olds." They also went to the homes and neighbors of clinic workers to speak out against the "baby killers." At the Capitol building, they demonstrated against Islam, homosexuality, abortion and compared Jackson to Nazi Germany.
And in the state legislature – as in State Houses across the nation – antiabortion bills are part of this shameful attack on women's privacy and health. According to Salon, Mississippi requires "women seeking abortions [to] sign informed consent forms certifying that they've been told about the risks of abortion, including ‘danger to subsequent pregnancies, breast cancer, and infertility.' Thus doctors in Mississippi are legally required to mislead their patients." Add to that Bush-buddy Governor Haley Barbour's official "week of prayer regarding the sanctity of human life" before the Roe v. Wade anniversary… and a nearly passed abortion ban… and a clear picture emerges of the right-wing crackdown against women and public health.
There is a signal being sent from the Bush administration to its political appointees and to its right-wing allies and zealots: women's health is not in the hands of women and their doctors. The extremists who have already hijacked our foreign policy, eroded our civil liberties, and attempted to strangle the progress of science, must be stopped.
I was doing a radio interview this morning on the Connecticut Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate -- roughly the 50th in recent days -- with Jay Marvin, whose show on KKZN-AM in the Boulder-Denver market is one of the smartest progressive talk radio programs in the country.
Jay doesn't pull punches. He asked straight up: "Is Ned Lamont going to beat Joe Lieberman?"
I thought for a second and answered: "Yes, I think Lamont's going to pull this thing off."
It was the first time I had dared suggest, on tape and without the usual qualifications, that a pro-war Democratic U.S. senator could lose his own party's primary to a candidate running on a progressive anti-war platform. To be honest, I am still a little uncomfortable making predictions about this race, as the politics of Connecticut Democratic primaries are complex and prone to unexpected shifts.
But the latest survey from Connecticut suggests that Lamont may well be pulling away in this contest. A new Quinnipiac University Poll of 890 Democrats taken July 25-31 has Lamont at 54 percent to 41 percent for Lieberman, the three-term incumbent whose support for the Bush administration's war in Iraq has put him at odds with grassroots Democrats.
According to poll director Douglas Schwartz: "Despite visits from former President Bill Clinton and other big-name Democrats, Lieberman has not been able to stem the tide to Lamont."
That's certainly the sense I've gotten on my visits to the state, as I've talked to Democratic voters who are furious with Lieberman's neoconservatism and increasingly enthused about Lamont.
The prospect that the challenger might not merely win but win with by sizable margin is more important in this race than most.
Lieberman is planning to mount an independent run for the seat if he loses the primary. How far Lieberman can get as an independent will be decided by organizations such as the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters -- which have backed the incumbent because of his reasonably sound domestic record -- and traditional Democratic donors. If the Democratic party's 2000 vice presidential nominee is beaten badly in a homestate primary, it will be harder for him to get interest groups and big givers to stay with him as he mounts a sore-loser campaign in the fall.
Of course, the first task for Lamont is still to win -- and, if he does, it will be a remarkable accomplishment considering the fact that the challenger was a virtual unknown six months ago. But if the first task is accomplished, then the question that will arise is: Did Lamont win by a decisive enough margin to get Lieberman to accept defeat in August rather than November?
Even a few weeks ago, a discussion about the size of Lamont's margin would have seemed surreal. But this race has moved to a point where that discussion is becoming realistic -- and consequential as regards the course of the fall campaign.
It's 93 degrees outside my apartment window -- positively Nordic (it was 100 yesterday). This week, after years of resisting -- because of the expense, and the environmental impact -- my husband and I finally bought a living room air conditioner. It sure feels nice. But it's disturbing that because of global warming, we had to buy something that may contribute to... global warming.
Summer in New York City is always unbearable for at least a couple weeks, but this year is hell. Like all bad weather, this heat has hit some people much harder than others: a blackout left folks in Queens without power for almost two weeks, while the air conditioner from the H&M store near Penn Station wastefully cools the sidewalk, a seductive ploy to invite customers inside. Heat waves have always been a possible hazard of spending the summer in this city, so we don't know for sure what's causing this one, but no serious scientists dispute that global warming is taking place, and that we should make serious changes in our greenhouse gas emissions in order to ease up on this poor old planet and at least minimize the damage.
Last year, a friend (a longtime, deeply committed social justice activist) confessed that since he'd be dead before any serious fallout from global warming -- meaning, I suppose, before Manhattanites are up to our ankles in water -- he wasn't motivated to take any action on the issue. That's quite understandable, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.
Even some environmentalists aren't much help. I read in today's New York Times that people are objecting to a plan to use the water power of Manhattan's East River as a source of alternative energy because it might hurt the fish. I'm sorry, if I'm a fish in the East River, my life already sucks -- it's really, really polluted in there. Energy innovation is badly needed, and environmentalists, of all people, should be playing a more constructive role. It's like Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, and all those Cape Cod liberals mobilizing against the wind turbines -- fearing they would mar the view of the Bay. Honestly, being a populist right-wing talk show host and making fun of the liberal elite must be such easy money.
But over the past year, after Hurricane Katrina, and this apocalyptically hot summer, more people are feeling personally affected by climate change -- and wondering what they can do.
I was wondering myself, so I signed a petitionthe other day from the League of Conservation Voters. I'm sorry to report that I then got a follow-up email from them, a communication so foolish I'm embarrassed even to have it in my inbox. It exhorts me to send an email to Bush telling him to see Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." "Maybe he'd finally see the light!" the League gushes. Are they kidding?
Call me cynical, but sending an email to Bush telling him to see a movie made by his arch-rival in a bitterly contested election didn't seem very promising. Luckily, I do know some people who have better ideas. I'd recommend the great brains at EcoEquity, an amazing website, full of essays lucidly explaining the science of the problem, its social justice dimensions, and exploring real policy solutions (like emissions trading) in a serious, nuanced way. (Great view of debates within the climate justice movement, too.) Another acquaintance, Liz Galst, has a blogoffering practical solutions to global warming. I like the way she combines political action -- like telling Congress to support the Safe Climate Act-- with intriguing ways you can take more personal responsibility in daily life (her tips go far beyond the usual feel-goodery-- she even recommends, for drivers, an ecologically-conscious alternative to evil Triple-A). Finally, my friend Meg Daly, a writer and editor in San Francisco (where temperatures also reached the 90s this week -- and when does that ever happen?), has also started a blog on this subject, written in an accessibly intimate, personal tone, offering reflections, resources, and small actions. (Meg is going to be posting much more over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.) Given the scary subject, there's an admirable dearth of despair on these sites. I haven't, sadly, seen much visible, in-person collective action on climate change. But it's hard to imagine marching on Washington right now -- it's much too hot!
Ned Lamont keeps climbing. And Joe Lieberman keeps sinking. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Lamont leading Lieberman by 13 points, 54 to 41 percent among likely Democratic voters, less than a week before the August 8 primary. To put the recent poll in perspective, Lamont's swung from a 46 point deficit to an 13 point lead in three months.
When asked why they're voting for Lamont, 94 percent of respondents cited Lieberman's steadfast support for the war in Iraq as one of the reasons (50 percent) or the main reason (44 percent).
Lamont is not a single-issue candidate, as Lieberman has repeatedly tried to suggest. But even if the primary was only about Iraq, so what? Too many politicians in both parties have failed to respond to the deep anger about the war that so many Democrats, and Americans, feel.
Iraq is the primary reason why America is less respected and less safe in the world. And it's a major reason why our government isn't even trying to invest in America anymore. On the stump Lamont frequently cites the $250 million a day price tag from the war and the money we could be spending on health care, education and job creation.
In a recent article, John Nichols compared Lamont to Bobby Kennedy in 1968, "who opposed the war but offered a far broader promise of reform and renewal--for the Democratic Party and America. Kennedy's 1968 campaign, with its emphasis on fighting poverty and making real the promise of the American dream for all Americans, argued that the expensive war in Southeast Asia was robbing this country of the resources and energy required to achieve progress at home. Lamont offers an updated version of the Kennedy message."
Lamont is no RFK. But Iraq is the central issue for our country today. Politicians who don't recognize that reality may finally pay the price at the ballot box.
Who is the most outspoken and through-provoking Senate critic of the Bush administration's misguided foreign policies?
Hint: The boldest opposition voice is not that of a Democrat.
Over the course of the past week, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a maverick conservative Republican from Nebraska, has scored the administration for its misguided approaches in language far wiser and bolder than the empty stream of rhetoric that continues to pass the lips of his Democratic colleagues.
Here's Hagel on Iraq: "[The occupation's] an absolute replay of Vietnam." The Vietnam veteran deplored the fact that U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq had become "easy targets" in a country that he told the Omaha World Herald had descended into "absolute anarchy." Hagel condemned the decision of the Bush administration and its rubberstamping Pentagon to suspend military rotations and add new troops in Iraq -- increasing the size of the occupation force from 130,000 to 135,000. "That isn't going to do any good. It's going to have a worse effect," argues Hagel. "They're destroying the United States Army."
More significantly, here's Hagel on the failure of the United States to use its influence with Israel to end the killing of innocent Lebanese men, women and children and the destruction of that country's civilian infrastructure: "How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend -- the country and people of Lebanon -- is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East? The sickening slaughter on both sides must end now," Hagel said on the Senate floor. Delivering the message that should be coming from the opposition party, the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declared: "President Bush must call for an immediate cease fire. This madness must stop."
Most significantly of all, here's Hagel making the connection between the occupation of Iraq and the broader Middle East crisis: "America is bogged down in Iraq, and this is limiting our diplomatic and military options." Because the Bush administration deals in unreasonable "absolutes" when it approaches disputes in the region, the senator said, the United States in no longer seen as the "wellspring of consensus" that might be able to develop multi-national support for peace initiatives.
Finally, here's Hagel on what the U.S. should be doing in the Middle East: "We know that without engaged and active American leadership, the world is more dangerous," explains the senator, who has been talked about as a possible 2008 presidential contender. So, he says, the U.S. must engage. Instead of Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's hands-off approach, Hagel argues, U.S. diplomats should be working with Arab governments, including governments that leaders in Washington may not like. Rejecting Bush's ranting about Syria and Iran, Hagel says the U.S. should be in direct negotiations with those countries. The senator characterized the administration's decision to pull the U.S. ambassador out of Damascus as "mindless." Paraphrasing the advice of a retired senior U.S. intelligence officer, Hagel said, "Even superpowers have to talk to bad guys. We ought to be able to communicate in a way that signals our strength and self-confidence."
To those who would suggest that the U.S. must choose between supporting Israel and engaging with its Arab neighbors, even those neighbors that Washington may consider to be "bad guys," Hagel offered one of the sanest statements heard on the floor of the Senate in the whole debate over the Middle East crisis: "Our relationship with Israel is special and historic," the Nebraskan said. "But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice."
Hagel is far from a perfect player. He doesn't have all the answers. He's not even proposing bold responses to the current crisis, and not all that he suggests is wise or responsible. The senator's simply a throwback to the old bipartisan consensus that said diplomacy and common sense ought to guide U.S. foreign policy, as opposed to messianic ranting and kneejerk reaction. Bush and his neoconservative colleagues are so out of touch with global realities and traditional American values with regard to diplomacy that they don't even understand where Hagel is coming from. Unfortunately, the Democrats are so lacking in spine and vision that, while they may recognize that Hagel is right about the failures and false choices that are the byproducts of this president's policies, they lack the guts to borrow enough pages from Republican senator's playbook to make themselves an effective opposition party.
In her Nation weblog, Katrina vanden Heuvel recently sounded off on the shameless hypocrisy of the GOP for linking a minimum wage increase--which would be the first one in nine years!--with a gutting of the estate tax.
In essence, after having failed to get an estate tax repeal or reduction passed in the Senate this year, the GOP is holding hostage the long overdue minimum wage increase , which would benefit seven million workers, in order to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts to a few thousand multi-millionaires and billionaires! (Minimum wage workers would see an annual wage increase of $4,400, while the average tax break to multi-million dollar estates would be $1,400,000.)
On the eve of adjourning on July 28, Congressional Republicans pushed through the controversial bill in the House. The Senate is expected to vote this Friday, August 4. A very close vote is expected as GOP leaders seek to convince several holdout Republicans and a handful of Democrats to support the legislation. Sixty yeas are needed to shut off debate and bring the measure to a vote in the Senate, where there are 55 Republicans, 45 Democrats and one independent.
Our friends at United for a Fair Economy are urgently imploring all Americans to take a stand against this legislation. With the outcome in doubt, this is an issue in which citizen involvement can make a real difference. So please contact your Senators today. UFE suggests the following talking points, which I found useful in the call I just made to Chuck Schumer's office.
"Please oppose any legislation that includes severe cuts in the estate tax. Demand separate votes on increasing the minimum wage increase and on extending other tax cuts. There is no way to justify providing yet another enormous tax break to the nation's wealthiest heirs in the face of huge budget deficits, growing income inequality and looming government obligations for Social Security and Medicare. Vote NO on HR 5970."
Here's contact info:
Call Your Senators Toll-Free, 800-459-1887. This connects you to the US Capitol Switchboard - call twice; first ask for one of your Senators, then the other. For each, leave a short message with the front desk, then ask to speak with the Legislative Assistant on Taxes and leave a message there. Or click here to find Senators' direct DC numbers and here for email addresses.
Send a letter to the editor of your local papers -- explain why you support the estate tax and why America should not be giving tax cuts to multi-millionaires now. You can see UFP's estate tax info and letter writing tips by clicking here and then check out The Nation's media database to find contact info for media in your area.
Reports are that Rupert Murdoch plans to offer Tony Blair a prominent position in his media empire when Bush's poodle steps down as prime minister or Gordon Brown finally stages a coup. Now that's a Fox and Friends episode I'd like to catch.
Just imagine the possibilities…Murdoch could give Tony his own show.
Given the PM's involvement in the quagmire in Iraq, Fox News should call it: Sticky Situations with Tony Blair. Its focus: public figures who need to wriggle out of a mess of their own making. There would be no shortage of guests.
Take for example Mitt Romney, who recently got himself into a sticky situation by using racially charged slang--"tar baby." Mel Gibson could provide the Hollywood star factor with tearful explanations about the link between alcoholism and anti-Semitism. And Katherine Harris is a guaranteed weekly guest. After she loses her Senate race, she'll have a lot to get off her chest.
Of course, all opinion shows needs their recurring segments. Tony Blair's could be: Peace in the Middle East, Turning the Corner in Iraq, and My Friend George.
Yes, the possibilities are endless. I hope Bill O'Reilly is ready for the competition.
It's always nice to be validated by the Washington Post.
A month ago I wrote a feature article for The Nation inquiring whether Democrats, particularly the DNC, had a sufficient plan for turning out the vote in the November elections.
DNC Chairman Tom McMahon responded by writing: "Contrary to the implication of the Berman article, the DNC has a sound political plan for 2006 that contemplates the investment of unprecedented resources."
But according to today's Post, some influential Democrats still aren't convinced. DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel, who's been publicly and privately sparring with DNC Chairman Howard Dean for months, is raising money to launch his own get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation for House Democratic candidates, to be run by veteran operative Michael Whouley. Emanuel has stopped speaking to Dean, the Post reports, "because of their strategic differences." He wants less money to flow to Dean's 50 state strategy and more directed at specific House races.
In an interview with ABC News, Dean recently dismissed the feud as "mostly inside the Beltway gossip." But obviously it's grown to be much more than that--raising serious questions about whether Democrats are mature and organized enough to take advantage of the unprecedented electoral opportunities Republican failures have bestowed upon them.
Both Emanuel and Dean have pluses and minuses. Rahm is a ferocious behind-the-scenes operator and skilled tactician, no matter what you think of his hawkish-corporatist politics. Dean is a visionary who's admirably trying to rebuild the party at the local level and a hero to grassroots Democrats.
But right now, their dysfunctional relationship is threatening to damn the party in November.