a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Obama’s biggest "Lieberman" of all

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd January 2008

Yesterday, Steve Benen evaluated the charge that Barack Obama uses so-called “right wing memes” — Social Security in crisis and so forth. Benen had the amusing idea of grading Obama with a score measured in “Liebermans” — “5 Liebermans for the most annoying use of conservative frames, 1 Lieberman for the least annoying.”

Benen’s measure was even better than he acknowledged — because he missed one of the biggest “Liebermans” of all on the audacious one’s scorecard: Obama’s endorsement of Lieberman in the bitterly contested 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary with Ned Lamont. According to the March 31, 2006 Boston Globe, Obama told a Jefferson and Jackson Dinner gathering in Hartford, Connecticut:

The fact of the matter is, I know some in the party have differences with Joe. I’m going to go ahead and say it … I am absolutely certain Connecticut is going to have the good sense to send Joe Lieberman back to the U.S. Senate so he can continue to serve on our behalf,” he said.

This wasn’t when Lamont’s challenge was off the radar screen, either; the report says that “legions” of both Lieberman and Lamont supporters attended the dinner, and that Obama called Lieberman’s shrunken stature among Democrats “the elephant in the room.”

Like Benen, I think it’s reasonable to shrug off one or the other or even several of the items he mentioned, even if I’d grade Obama a little tougher than Benen did on some of them (especially the business about the SEIU 527 ads being the work of a “special interest” akin to any other). But like Digby, I think the political pattern Obama is making is relatively clear: at least his rhetoric is calculated “sistah souljah”-ing of the Democratic base, in a bid for the alleged center. And the Lieberman endorsement in the heat of a primary campaign suggests this tendency goes farther than rhetoric.

It wasn’t an isolated event, either. Obama also gave his support in the 2006 primary season to the centrist Democrat (and eventual general election loser) Tammy Duckworth in the IL-6 campaign over the prior nominee, Christine Cegelis — who nearly won the primary anyway, and who had won 44% of the vote against Henry Hyde in the far tougher 2004 election. Obama explained his intervention to David Sirota with a laconic “There are going to be strategic questions about who do I think is best equipped to win the general elections.”

OK, but then there are also going to be strategic questions for the rest of us about who we think is best equipped to make those judgments. (The voters of Connecticut and Illinois, perhaps?) At any rate, what business it was of Obama’s — who had earlier professed an aversion to “kingmaker” status — to be be tipping the scales in primary elections? Most to the point of tonight’s Democratic caucuses, do we want a Democratic presidential nominee whose idea of political wisdom was to tip those scales against progressives like Cegelis or Lamont?

There’s a lot that’s good about Obama — see the prior post for his views on executive power, for example. But there’s something very annoying about endorsing someone like Lieberman, too. Sirota’s “The Nation” article is a skeptical but fair profile of Obama in 2006, and it’s worth dusting off. Sirota wrote:

Obama is … not opposed to structural changes at all. However, he appears to be interested in fighting only for those changes that fit within the existing boundaries of what’s considered mainstream in Washington, instead of using his platform to redefine those boundaries. […]

Obama’s deference to these boundaries was hammered home to me when our discussion touched on the late Senator Paul Wellstone. Obama said the progressive champion was “magnificent.” He also gently but dismissively labeled Wellstone as merely a “gadfly,” in a tone laced with contempt for the senator who, for instance, almost single-handedly prevented passage of the bankruptcy bill for years over the objections of both parties. … I understood why Beltway publications and think tanks have heaped praise on Obama and want him to run for President. It’s because he has shown a rare ability to mix charisma and deference to the establishment. […]

Obama will often be a reliable liberal vote, and he can give one hell of a speech. But we should believe him when he downplays our expectations.

I suspect reservations like these are too late and too insubstantial for many Obama supporters. I had a discussion with a dear relative over the holidays about Obama, in particular about his Social Security in crisis talk. As we reviewed my post about it, my relative argued that Obama was caught off guard by the National Journal and Meet the Press interviews involved, that other Democrats were simply looking for reasons to oppose Obama, and that Social Security may well need fixing, even if he usually defers to Paul Krugman on such issues.

In other words, he wasn’t changing his mind. What if, he said, you find someday that Social Security is on the rocks — won’t you regret not supporting Obama now? At the time I said I thought there were far more pressing problems on our to-do list right now: Medicare, health care, Iraq. But now I wish I’d remembered the Lieberman endorsement and said what “if” you find a so-called Democratic weasel like Joe Lieberman in the Senate — or worse, in an Obama administration? How will you feel then? It’s a measure of my own forgetfulness — and Obama’s political skills — that I didn’t.

NOTES: Benen item via eRobin (“fact-esque”). The Digby (“hullabaloo”) post “Partisan Soljahs” was from 12/10/07.
EDIT, 1/3: Links documenting Lieberman’s weaselhood added.
EDIT, 1/4: Link to prior post added.

UPDATE, 1/10: Ned Lamont endorses Obama. (Lieberman still in U.S. Senate.)

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Tipping points of the last two years

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th December 2006

Josh Marshall asks an interesting question at TPMCafe:

…far from having the political capital he boasted of in November 2004, President Bush is positively radioactive in much of the country. Certainly, he is more consistently unpopular than probably any president in modern American history. So here’s the question. Was there a key galvanizing event? And if so, what was it? Katrina? The failed Social Security gambit? Abramoff? Or was it simply the long political fuse of Iraq finally catching up with the president? Certainly all these events and trends played a role. But what was the tipping point? Looking back, what mattered most?

Tipping point” is an interesting concept; whole books have been written about it, and there are certainly any number of web sites and articles applying the idea to social change, climate change, and epidemics, to name a few. Think of a penny balanced on its edge; with just a small push at this tipping point, it falls heads or tails.

But usually tipping point also means that once the tipping’s done, a new equilibrium rules: i.e., the penny lies flat, heads or tails. It seems to me that both the 2000 and 2004 elections showed that the whole country was roughly balanced at a tipping point — but throughout Bush’s first term. And without at least two photo finishes in Montana and Virginia, the 2006 election wouldn’t have quite the same promise of being a watershed event (similar notion, I think) in its own right. So being at a “tipping point” has become a political way of life in this country.

Still, there’s an undeniable change of momentum, and Marshall proposes a number of events that may have provided the impetus. I’d add at least a few other suggestions: Cindy Sheehan’s vigil at Bush’s Crawford ranch (August 2005) , the Scooter Libby indictment (October 2005), the Samarra mosque bombing (February 2006) the Foley scandal (September 2006), and the overwhelming 90-9 passage of the McCain amendment prohibiting torture by US personnel (October 2005).

You don’t have to agree with Sheehan on every count to acknowledge that her vigil was supremely effective political theater. The symbolism and, yes, spectacle of a dead soldier’s mother confronting a president off on yet another vacation resulted in a public relations shellacking for Rove and Bush that they never did figure out how to address. At least as important, she was an inspirational rallying point when others were ready to throw up their hands and just wonder what the matter was with Kansas, so to speak. Camp Casey may have been a “little tipping point” between giving up and not giving up for a lot of people.

That isn’t to say the other events listed above didn’t play important roles, too. The Social Security debate showed what even a humbled Democratic Party could do if it stuck together and stuck to its guns about an issue. The Schiavo travesty was an extremely sharp reminder of the Bush administration’s identification with and service to its radical base. It’s hard to classify a continuous debacle like Iraq as a “tipping point,” but the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006 was at least one of several waypoints towards irrevocable civil war and the attendant American public disillusionment. For all that Senator McCain was so deeply disappointing later on in his support for the Military Commissions Act, the McCain amendment vote was a rare but important legislative defeat for the Bush administration, and showed there was the possibility of a broad coalition against human rights abuses by this country. And the Foley scandal might deserve to be the runnerup; it dominated news coverage, undercut GOP claims to the “moral values” vote, and it was far more easy to understand than the convoluted webs of corruption woven by the likes of Abramoff and DeLay.

But the big tipping point, I think, hit with hurricane force. It was the Katrina disaster that irrevocably lost Bush the respect of his electorate, and knocked a lot of the swagger out from under the “drown the government” crowd that supplies half of the Republican Party’s ideology. As Boyd Blundell wrote in May, Katrina

…offered irrefutable images that [Bush] was not looking after the common good. It undermined the average American’s self-image of being part of a country that actually worked. Without consciously changing their mind on a single policy, a good quarter of the country just stopped believing in the President.

It turned out Americans didn’t like seeing their government fail at essential services; they were, in fact, profoundly ashamed. Even if that memory has receded more than it should have, Katrina tipped the scales from Bush the Bold to Bush the Bumbler, and crucially had nothing to do with terrorism or Iraq — for which Bush deserved a failing grade as well, but which had been politicized seemingly beyond all hope of consensus.

Katrina, by contrast, was an undeniable, consensus disaster of biblical proportion — with an equally undeniable, consensus verdict that knaves and fools were “leading” the country as the levees broke. While Bush’s approval ratings were already declining by late August 2005, it never recovered from the additional hit Katrina delivered. I’d argue that Katrina provided the point of comparison and even, for many, the psychological permission to realize that Bush was likely a screwup in Iraq as well.

Katrina was and remains a breach of faith between a government and its people, and I think it’s not “merely” right for Democrats to address it — it’s politically smart to do so. Democrats must establish themselves as the “can do” party, and whatever they can do in the Gulf coast will simultaneously remind voters of the “can’t do” party. Whether or not that translates into winning a particular Louisiana or Missisissippi election down the road, it could be a “tipping point” too: reminding voters of what a government with and by adults can look like, and helping them decide that’s the kind of government they want.


NOTE: “never recovered” leads to a graph of presidential approval ratings by Charles Franklin (“Political Arithmetik”), a UW political science professor who puts Katrina more in the middle of the pack of “galvanizing moments”: Katrina was a substantial “hit” to approval after a decent summer in which the approval decline had flattened out a little bit (though not started back up) after a very poor winter and spring that included the failed social security reform. However, “never recovered” seems a fair reading of the graph as well. DemFromCT (“The Next Hurrah”) cites Gallup findings suggesting that it wasn’t Bush’s job approval ratings that changed so much — just evaluations of his competency and leadership.
UPDATE, 12/28: Marshall links to several responses including ones by Mark Schmitt and Todd Gitlin. For his own part, Marshall agrees with a reader that the Social Security debate was key, pointing out that Bush’s fortunes were declining before Katrina. Elsewhere, digby bends the rules and IDs the pre-2004 election Duelfer report officially concluding there were no Iraqi WMD (“it just took a while to sink in.”)

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Great choice: Chris Van Hollen for DCCC

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th December 2006

Nancy Pelosi has chosen Montgomery County’s own Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) to succeed Rahm Emanuel as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the New York Times’ Greg Giroux reports. Giroux quotes from a succinct political bio of Van Hollen by Emanuel at the DCCC web site:

“Coming in the same class as Congressman Van Hollen, it was clear to me from his hard-fought primary victory and even tougher general election win [in 2000, agains Connie Morella — ed.] that he had an acute political capacity rarely found in Washington,” Emanuel said Tuesday in a statement, in which he also noted that as head of the 2006 candidate recruitment team, Van Hollen “helped create the field that became the Democratic majority.”

Van Hollen co-chaired the “Red to Blue” committee of the DCCC, recruiting and supporting candidates in districts that had leaned Republican in the past, but seemed vulnerable in ’06.

This is a great choice. Van Hollen is no triangulating, finger-to-the-wind DLC Democrat — Maryland blogger Stephanie Dray got this admirably succinct position from Van Hollen’s staff on the issue of torture and the MCA bill:

“Congressman Van Hollen opposes torture, opposes efforts to redefine torture, and opposes efforts to redefine our commitment to the Geneva Conventions.”

Van Hollen also took the lead in fighting for the Davis-Bacon Act when Bush wanted to revoke that in the Gulf Coast after Katrina, and voted “Nay” on the bankruptcy bill — where both Steny Hoyer and John Murtha voted “Yea.” He also stands for clean politics, most lately as a stalwart supporter of Jamie Raskin in this year’s Democratic primary in my state district when misleading mudslinging began to get out of hand.

I have a feeling — at least I sure hope — that Van Hollen can also iron out something else that got out of hand: the rancorous differences between his predecessor and Democratic party chair Howard Dean. The DCCC and the DNC have different purposes, of course: the former is all about the next Congressional election, the latter is about the party as a whole, at federal, state, and local levels. But Dean’s 50-state strategy has already paid dividends for the Democratic Party in the past election, and it will only get better as more and more strong candidates emerge at the local level across the country.

There’s no need for Congressional leadership to alienate rank and file Democrats or undermine what we’re all working for in different ways: a rekindling of a progressive, effective Democratic party. Both Dean and Van Hollen stand for that, and I have high hopes they’ll work together as closely as possible in setting agendas and plotting strategies for the years ahead.

UPDATE, 12/20: In comments, Nell Lancaster recalls Van Hollen’s letter to Rice criticizing U.S. policy regarding Israel, Hezbollah, and Lebanon this summer — and his subsequent rowback/clarification/call it what you will. I found links to the statements involved, and agree this was a disappointment, however rare.
UPDATE, 12/28: Giroux (writing for CQPolitics this time) interviews Van Hollen: “The main thing for our members is to be able to go into the next election telling voters that they heard the message that was delivered in November, and that they are following through and keeping the commitments that were made.” Via OnBackground at “Free State Politics.”

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Cardin snags Judiciary, Foreign Relations, Budget committee posts

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 15th November 2006

Off the CNN Political Ticker:

Their election victories last Tuesday handed the Democrats control of the senate for the first time in four years. So what committee assignments did incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reward them with? […]

Sen.-elect Ben Cardin, D-Maryland: Environment & Public Works, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Budget, Small Business.

These are some pretty important committees. I suppose they all are, but Budget, Foreign Relations and Judiciary seem like pretty plum, high-profile assignments; Cardin and Maryland have done very well indeed.

I don’t pretend to know enough about committees like Small Business or Environment and Public Works to draw any conclusions — although “Public Works” at least sounds like “Purple Line” to me. Outgoing Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes was on the Budget and Foreign Relations committees as well, so Cardin’s assignment there may have been a simple way not to roil things up.

But both Budget and Foreign Relations also fit Cardin’s resume: he focused on the Ways and Means Committee in the House, and the Foreign Relations committee post does fit with the two other House committees Cardin was on: the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Judging by a lengthy human rights page on his campaign web site, I think Cardin will be a good Senator to go to about those concerns; it’s also great to have a Senator who’s already a well informed participant in our relations with Europe.

From my perspective, though, it’s the Judiciary Committee assignment that is both exciting and daunting. It will put Cardin in the middle of judicial nomination fights like William Haynes II or (please, not yet) Supreme Court nominees, and also in the middle of the warrantless domestic surveillance scandal — assuming Bush isn’t successful in sweeping that under the rug in the lame duck session. As far as I can tell, Cardin essentially replaces outgoing Mike DeWine (R-OH) — a real net gain.

This is a great opportunity for Marylanders to weigh in on civil liberties, civil rights, and the Constitution itself with their own Senator; judging by at least one survey, that’s where many of us have high hopes for the 110th Congress. The caveat, if there is one, is that it’s a bit of a surprise (to me, at least) that Cardin is headed here. Neither Cardin’s own House web site biography nor his campaign web site strongly suggest it — his focus in the past has been on his Ways and Means committee position, with a strong emphasis on health care and fiscal issues.

I notice that the other freshman Senator to draw a Judiciary Committee assignment was Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).* It may be that like Whitehouse, Cardin combines political strength (won fairly comfortably) with a core Democratic stance on issues before this committee; by contrast, Casey (D-PA) once trumpeted his willingness to confirm Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) cast a disappointing vote for the Military Commissions Act. While I’m no Hill handicapper, I think Reid and Cardin made a good choice here — but one that puts a special responsibility on Maryland liberals and progressives as well.

* I’m guessing, or hoping at any rate, that Whitehouse will replace Tom “The Sterilizer” Coburn (NUT-OK), who seems to be the junior Republican Senator on the Judiciary Committee. Other interesting assignments for freshman Senators: Webb (D-VA) and McCaskill (D-MO) are both headed for the Armed Services Committee; Whitehouse (D-RI) will be on the Intelligence Committee; Casey and Webb will be on Foreign Relations. Interesting non-assignments for freshman Senators: Appropriations, Finance.

CROSSPOSTED to “Jousting For Justice” (” Progressive Politics with a Maryland Tilt”).

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Contra Reich

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th November 2006

Robert Reich lays out a case for caution in the American Prospect:

The 2008 Presidential campaign began yesterday. Whatever the Democrats do with their new-found congressional power over the next two years, it will be with the big 2008 prize in mind.

Some Democrats want to expose the malfeasance and nonfeasance of the Bush Administration — find out who really knew what and when with regard to weapons of mass destruction, Abu Graahb, Katrina, payoffs to Abramoff, and all the other rot. That’s understandable, but it would be far better if Democrats used their new-found power to lay out a new agenda for America.

Reich is ordinarily smarter than this, I think. First off, the 2008 Presidential campaign is not the be-all and end-all of Democratic aspirations. There is some work to be done and some respect to be re-earned right now by a party that has not acquitted itself very well as an opposition party in the Bush era — even when it had a Senate majority.

I’m all for concrete achievements first and foremost; raise the minimum wage, fix Medicare, fix the alternative minimum tax, render aid to the Gulf Coast, force an Iraq withdrawal plan on Bush, and (in my opinion) roll back corporate and upper income tax cuts. That way Democrats earn the mantle of a “can do” party to contrast with GOP fecklessness and incompetence.

But I’m not for setting up false dichotomies between “new agenda” and “investigations” as we do so, because if we don’t know exactly what went wrong, we can’t hope to fix it, either. That goes for Katrina and the New Orleans levees, that goes for the misuse and politicization of intelligence, that goes for the conduct of the war in Iraq, that goes for warrantless domestic surveillance and other abuses of executive power, that goes for torture and death in American custody.

There’s an even deeper reason to investigate and, when appropriate, apportion blame without fear or favor. It’s because we owe it not just to this electorate but to future electorates to draw a line in the sand wherever we can and say “this must not ever happen again”: torture, lawlessness, cronyism that costs lives. That’s not some kind of frivolous waste of time, that’s the solemn duty of newly elected and re-elected Representatives and Senators. We can’t afford to let cries and lies of “partisanship” get in the way of that, and Reich has not rendered his party, his country, or his ideals a service by arguing otherwise. He concludes,

That’s what the election of 2008, which started yesterday, ought to be about.

Possibly so — but this business of always looking to the next election overlooks our responsibility to this one. We ought to live up to the election of 2006 first, and then worry about 2008. That’s certainly what we owe the voters of 2006 — and I think it’s actually better politics as well.

NOTE: Reich via “Crooks and Liars.”
UPDATE, 11/14: I’m somewhat surprised to see I’m more in agreement with Peter Beinart on this than I am with Robert Reich.

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Everybody wants in on ignoring you

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th November 2006

Various news reports over the weekend seem to indicate that the Baker/Hamilton “Iraq Study Group” (ISG) brain trust is just about as clueless as the rest of us about what to do in Iraq, at least if “salvaging a bit of something for Bush’s legacy” is supposed to be part of the outcome. First there’s Reuel Marc Gerecht, who is an advisor to the ISG, but who outlines the available choices in a Wall Street Journal article as follows:

We either declare defeat and withdraw completely tout de suite, or we surge troops into Baghdad and fight. The ISG will surely try to find some middle ground between these positions, which, of course, doesn’t exist.

Warning of massive carnage if there’s a quick pullout, Gerecht apparently prefers to “surge” troops into Baghdad and fight, but what troops? And fight whom? Is he seriously proposing “Fallujahizing” Baghdad, too?

With that in mind, let’s hope this report in the Washington Post (“Panel May Have Few Good Options Left,” Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks) isn’t an actual reflection of what Democratic study group member Lee Hamilton or Democrats in general are hoping for (emphasis added):

While Baker has been testing the waters for some time to determine how much change in Iraq policy will be tolerated by the White House, Hamilton perhaps faces the now even-more-difficult challenge of cajoling Democrats such as former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon E. Panetta and power broker Vernon E. Jordan Jr. to sign on to a plan that falls short of a phased troop withdrawal, the position of many congressional Democrats. In a brief interview, Hamilton conceded the obstacles ahead and emphasized that no decisions have been made. “We need to get [the report] drafted, number one,” Hamilton said. “We need to reach agreement, and that may not be possible.”

As John Aravosis (“AMERICAblog”) says, for Democrats to suddenly sign on to half-measures that won’t work is insane. They should at least press for phased withdrawal — or nothing. No “surge into Baghdad,” no “let’s see how a conference with Iran and Syria goes and build on that.”

Why? (Other than that’s what they were elected for, that is?) Because otherwise they’re most likely stuck with something that only our failed executive branch is empowered to evaluate: military and/or diplomatic success. Short of the one thing Democratic leadership keeps saying is off the table — funding cuts for the war — they’ll have no options at all but to endure 2 years of “but you guys signed on to this too!” along with the familiar “look! it’s working! we painted another school and killed 5 more insurgents.”

Meanwhile, the ISG isn’t the only game in town; not surprisingly, the Pentagon wants in on the action of ignoring the 2006 election verdict on Iraq, too. (I wonder if this started before or after the top brass figured out or found out Rumsfeld was on his way out.) The Washington Post’s Anne Scott Tyson reports (“Pentagon to Reevaluate Strategy and Goals in Iraq“):

The Pentagon is conducting a major review of the military’s Iraq strategy to determine ‘what’s going wrong and should be changed’ to attain U.S. objectives in the war-torn country, the nation’s top general said yesterday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, initiated the review this fall after starkly deteriorating security in Baghdad led commanders there to rule out any significant cut this year in the level of U.S. troops in Iraq — now at about 145,000 — according to senior defense officials and sources.[…]

Now there’s nothing wrong with reviewing options — unless it’s about elbowing pesky elected civilians out of the way (again, emphasis added):

Pace’s comments also could foreshadow a reassertion of influence by senior officers in the wake of this week’s resignation by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to military officers and analysts. Moreover, some military officers have voiced concern in recent days that if they do not assert a greater role in formulating a future course in Iraq, that course will be defined for them by the resurgence of congressional Democrats, many of whom favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Can’t have that.

Things in Iraq are going to hell in a handbasket, and that’s with maximum American involvement, probably in large part because of maximum American involvement, and to top it off an involvement that seems to serve our enemies’ purposes better than it does our own.

I’ve heard of a kind of monkey trap in which the monkey reaches into a tied-down can to grab a piece of fruit or a nut or something. In grasping the bait, the monkey’s hand makes a fist that can’t be pulled out of the can. It’s said that most monkeys don’t let go, and are trapped. Whether there’s anything to that story or not, Iraq is a similar “prize” for us; the sooner we let go, the better off we’ll be.

I’ve also heard that some leading Democrats in foreign policy circles are taking their eye off the ball and looking ahead to 2008 — as if any Democrat has a crystal ball that good, and as if Democrats have that long to make good on last week’s election. They need to help us let go of Iraq; the sooner, the better.

NOTES: Gerecht via Laura Rozen (“War and Piece”).

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Steele: “I just have to laugh at” criticism of deceptive sample ballots

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th November 2006

'Democratic Sample Ballot' dirty trick by Ehrlich and Steele campaign
Photo credit: Associated Press.
From 11/13/2006 Washington Post article
GOP Fliers Apparently Were Part of Strategy.”

I was just listening on the radio to a talk show with Michael Steele as a guest. A caller asked Steele about the misleading Prince George’s County “Democratic Sample Ballot” scandal. (Fliers were handed to voters entering polling station falsely claiming that prominent African American Maryland Democrats, including Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume and PG County Executive Jack Johnson, had endorsed Steele for Senate.) From memory, Steele’s response was

I just have to laugh at that. This is something Democrats have done to eachother for a long time.

He’s not denying it, he’s proud of it.

I had held out some amount of hope that Steele would eventually distance himself from this tactic, but instead he’s just saying he did it, and using an excuse my eight year old would be ashamed of: “somebody else did it, so why can’t I?”

Steele then complained about posters comparing him to Clarence Thomas, saying it was a shame that Thomas’ name could be used in a derogatory way. I suppose he has a point: you could argue Thomas has never stooped to quite the level Steele has.

UPDATE, 11/13: I’ve dug around and found that Steele’s remark was made in response to Donna Brazile (not a caller as I stated above) on the “Washington Journal” CSPAN radio talk show of 11/12; Ms. Brazile’s comment begins at around 24:40 minutes into the segment (RTSP or RM streaming format; alternative link here, may require RealPlayer upgrade). The precise quote (emphasis added):

Again, I have to laugh at that because I, I find that that’s somewhat amusing that that’s the same tactic that Democrats have used in previous campaigns against eachother and I borrowed from that, one, two, I don’t find that nowhere nearly as offensive as the, the signs that went up around my county calling me a “Clarence Thomas”, that we have to reject the “Clarence Thomas” Michael Steele.

EDIT, 11/13: photo, link added.
UPDATE, 11/13: David Kurtz (“Talking Points Memo”) picks up this story and transcribes more Steele comments, including a defense of “Steele Democrat” signs as a variation on the term “Reagan Democrat.”

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Oddly enough, "Ehrlich" means "honest"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th November 2006

(…in German). Via Steve Benen (“Carpetbagger”), a Philadelphia Daily News report (Ronnie Polaneczky) on the fake voter guides claiming Ehrlich and Steele were Democrats endorsed by real Democrats like Kweisi Mfume — and about the homeless Philly men asked to hand them out in PG County. Turns out a lot of the Philly men are mad about it, too:

“People started screaming, at us, ‘Do you think we’re that stupid? What are you trying to pull?’ ” said El-Bedawi. “I said, ‘I didn’t know it was a lie! I’m from Philly!’ And they said, ‘Then go back to Philly!’

When the voters left, he said, he was so shaken and angry, he tossed his remaining literature in the trash. On the bus back home that evening, he said, others were as upset as he was. They were told, “Don’t worry about it. People don’t care.”

“That’s some dirty, sneaky, underhanded stuff,” said El-Bedawi, shaking his head. “Voting is the most important thing we do. To mess with it is wrong.”

There’s some kind of “Trading Places” movie in this (how’d that end again? Oh, yeah.) Benen, who’s researching the Maryland Republican Party for a writing project (he’d better hurry while there’s still one left), points out that Ehrlich and Steele pulled a very similar stunt back in 2002.

Lest there be any confusion here that this was somebody else’s brainstorm: the Philly buses were reportedly met and greeted by Ehrlich’s wife Kendel, the glossy guides were paid for by the Ehrlich and Steele campaigns — and Ehrlich went on record with a “what’s all the fuss?” reaction.* And lest there still be any confusion that this is in the Republican DNA, past, present, and future: Michael Steele’s name is now being bandied about for either the RNC or a Bush cabinet position. I guess he would fit right in.

Final thought: smooth move, Wayne Curry. You and your genius pals took the side of a guy who tried to play Prince George’s County for a bunch of ignorant fools. Looks like you were the only ones who fell for it.

* “That’s what the Democrats have always done,” Ehrlich said. “It’s legal, and it’s what the Democrats have done forever. This is a story?” Maybe not. It’s not a chapter in the “Book of Virtues” either, that’s for sure.

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Howard Dean, the 50-State Strategy, and Democracy Bonds

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th November 2006

Howard Dean, Democracy BondholdersYesterday I got a message from the DNC inviting me and other supporters to a victory party at a brew pub* near Union Station. As a “Democracy Bond” donor, I would also have the opportunity for a brief meeting with Howard Dean before he spoke to the crowd.

So I went. I wish I’d brought a notepad, but I did bring a camera and a Cardin/O’Malley/Brown doorhanger left over from get out the vote work the day before for Dean to sign.

Dean was ebullient, as you’d expect. He jokingly thanked Rahm Emmanuel of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) , which came as a bit of a surprise given the reported fights over strategy between the two Democrats. Dean explained that the the dispute — Emmanuel wanted to spend Democratic resources on a few races, while Dean wants to build the party in “red” states and areas — helped publicize and explain Dean’s “50 State Strategy” to a wider public. (“Our web site would light up every time.”) Dean singled out Senator Charles Schumer (head of the Senate counterpart DSCC) for more unstinting praise, crediting him with key support for Jim Webb in Virginia.

One of the winners Dean was especially pleased about was Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire, who won against incumbent Jeb Bradley — after beating the DCCC’s candidate Jim Craig in the primaries, and then getting no help from the DCCC in the general election. (I should say that it’s possible Craig might not have got much help, either.) By contrast, the DNC’s “50-State” program set up operations in New Hampshire that benefited not only Shea-Porter, but also helped retake that supposedly conservative state’s legislature. There and elsewhere, the idea is to no longer write off any part of the country. For some other examples of the “50 State Strategy” at work, see Dean’s November 8 message and the “50 State Strategy” web site.

This kind of strategy is the opposite of what political donors usually want — a candidate, a timeline, a specific win to look forward to. Instead, it takes steady, patient support. So Governor Dean also specifically thanked us in the room for being Democracy Bond supporters — we give a small monthly donation by credit card. Dean said he appreciated that small donors like us “don’t want anything in return but good government” so that he didn’t need to “kiss part of anyone’s anatomy.” (Thereupon one lady said he could always kiss her.)

DNC at Cap CityLater on, in his remarks to the crowd, Dean counseled patience about Iraq in the short term, urging that Democrats first work on and pass legislation like the higher minimum wage, and either take the win or the veto and a 2008 campaign issue. He felt that it would be unwise to fall to squabbling about whether an Iraq pullout should be immediate, or in 6 months, or 8 months; the president still controls foreign and military policy.

Meanwhile, Dean argued, Democrats should be about redefining “moral values”; he pointed out that fully 30% of white evangelicals voted Democratic this election, the highest that’s been in a while. He went on to name issues like health care and poverty that also have to do with moral values; I was rude enough to add a loud “no to torture!” from the back of the room. I think Dean was getting there himself; he closed with saying that the United States should return to full support** for the Geneva Conventions, which earned him some of the longest applause of the evening.

I don’t mean to weigh in too much on the inside baseball of DNC vs. DCCC; as Thomas Schaller has argued, there’s room for both approaches to work together, even in campaign mode, as the two camps seem to have agreed back in September. The one wants to build the party over the long run, the other wants to win races right now, and people can feel strongly about that in the heat of a campaign.

But for my money, the place I’m giving the most is Democracy Bonds. We need a Democratic Party that’s respected and competitive everywhere, and that stands ready to help its grassroots supporters wherever they are.

I’m supporting that via Democracy Bonds — and I feel like I’m getting a very, very good return on my investment.

* Capitol City Brewing Company, great place, good beer.
** While I think I’m accurate about the gist of Dean’s remarks, these aren’t verbatim quotes; as I mentioned above, I didn’t bring a notepad. I was mainly there to celebrate.
EDIT, 11/9: (“Our web site…“) added.
UPDATE, 11/10: Via digby, word from TNR’s Ryan Lizza that James “I’m an idiot” Carville is floating the idea that Dean ought to be replaced — and to top it off, by Harold Ford. Steve Benen is also appalled.

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We will, we will ROCK YOU

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th November 2006

Let no one say this Democrat doesn’t have a post-election plan: in the first 100 hours after this election, I pledge to each and every one of you that I will be gloating non-stop. Speaker of the House Nancyyyyy Pelosiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, and here in Maryland: Bob Ehrlich? Michael Steele? Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, scumbags.

I’m proud to have been a small part of the combined O’Malley/Cardin get out the vote work here in Montgomery County, canvassing in Germantown, Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Takoma Park over and over again, and I’m a lot more familiar with this home of mine than I was before. Monday evening and Tuesday alone I must have knocked on a couple of hundred doors. Volunteers like myself swamped the District 20 office yesterday, and it’s my sense that we knew we were part of a national election: hold the line in Maryland, keep that U.S. Senate seat, return a Democrat to the governor’s mansion in Annapolis. At least at our own headquarters, we were ahead of schedule all day long, and at the end of the day I wound up getting sent over with a couple of other volunteers to P.G. County to help out there.

In the process, I was able to let at least one DSCC staffer know how little I think of Joe Lieberman, and I hope she carries that message back to her bosses. There’s a lot of loose talk about how this election signals some kind of return to the center, and that moderates hold new sway in the Democratic Party. I’ve got nothing against moderates or the center, really. By historical definitions of either notion, that’s where I am, too.

But not by today’s definitions. I think the energy Democrats got yesterday wasn’t from people who wanted “bipartisanship” for its own sake to prevail, it was from people who wanted the Democratic Party to prevail, and who want it to give Bush the first real fights of his presidency. The same rising tide that’s lifting all hopeful DC interns today can ebb right back out to sea if their bosses flinch from that mandate.

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