Sunday, May 27, 2007

Capitulation, Yes. To Bush, No.

Well, they did it and everybody's dependably pissed.
Congress sent President Bush a new Iraq funding bill yesterday that lacked troop withdrawal deadlines demanded by liberal Democrats, but party leaders vowed it was only a temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops.

War opponents dismissed the bill as a capitulation to Bush and said they would seek to hold supporters in both parties accountable. But backers said the bill's provisions -- including benchmarks for progress that the Iraqi government must meet to continue receiving reconstruction aid -- represented an assertion of congressional authority over the war that was unthinkable a few months ago.
Elected last November to stop the war, they just voted to keep it going yet again. The reaction was predictable. For an example of righteous anger pithily expressed, here's The Master: Adam Lipscomb at A Violently Executed Blog.
I'm not happy that the Democrats backed down on the war funding bill. So Bush was gonna veto - big fucking deal! That puts the blame squarely on him, because - get this - 70-fucking-percent of the American public is on their side in this. Sure, there's that 25-30% that would support Bush if he raped and ate babies on live TV, but they're not going to support the Democrats anyway.

So I'm not happy about that, not at all. But maybe, I figured, maybe they knew they didn't have the votes to pull it off again. Maybe. But according to the NYT, the Democrats were afraid Bush would speak harshly about them.
Democrats said they did not relish the prospect of leaving Washington for a Memorial Day break — the second recess since the financing fight began — and leaving themselves vulnerable to White House attacks that they were again on vacation while the troops were wanting. That criticism seemed more politically threatening to them than the anger Democrats knew they would draw from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush.
Let's parse that out, shall we? The American public wouldn't have been angry at Congress over the funding bill not being passed. They'd be angry at Bush. Which they are already. DOY! Then, there's the vacation thing. Reid was worried about the appearances of that? Hell, the American public already think you jokers in DC get too much vacation time. Jeezy-creezy! The way to contradict that is to say, "OK, we tried to get you to understand that the American people want this war to end, but you're too stupid. That's OK. We'll stick around here in Washington and make sure you get it." Then, when Bush goes down to the Sack-O-Shit Dude Ranch in Crawford, he shows himself to be even more of the slacker and lazy ass he is.
Which would certainly be good advice if this were in fact "capitulation" to the weakest president in history and a classic example of Democratic cowardice. It's capitulation and cowardice, alright, but not to Bush.

To its own right-wing Democratic Leadership Council.

The DLC has a backstage bullwhip named Rahm Emanuel, and Rahm likes to win. But even more than he likes to win, he likes collecting money - campaign money from corporate contributors, many of which feature long-term membership in the upper echelons of the MIC (military-industrial complex) as integral elements in their portfolios, and/or a right-wing support for the war. Rahm is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, fundraisers in the Democratic party (it's the source of his power) and a major behind-the-scenes playa in the DLC leadership.

For the past week, probably longer, Emanuel has been button-holing benchmark supporters and haranguing them with every argument he can think of to bolster the [stifling sarcastic chuckle]"compromise"[/stifle] on the Iraq supplemental. I don't know what the arguments were but it isn't hard to guess:

  • We don't have the votes to win a confrontation. Let's take what we can get and call it a victory.

  • We promised a lot more last November than we delivered. The minimum-wage bill - very popular with the base - is stuffed into a provision of the Iraq supplemental. If we do what the president wants, he'll sign it with the provision intact and voila! Victory from the jaws of defeat.

  • And we've got cover: we can always say the president was right and the military is going to run out of money next week instead of in June. That means we had no choice. We had to "support the troops". Because if we inmsist on a bill with benchmarks, we'll lose and the Republicans will be able to accuse us of abandoning the troops instead of supporting them.

The real reason, of course, has less to do with any of these arguments than it does with the conservative, corporate-friendly tilt of a DLC that doesn't want to endanger its relationship with contributors over something as minor as a war. Winning elections, after all, isn't about issues or consciences or keeping promises. It's about $$$MONEY$$$.

I know what you're thinking. "but...but...Hillary voted against it!" And Hillary is a Charter Member of the DLC. Yeah, I know.

But that's the point. Hillary has no - zero - credibility problem with the DLC. As a candidate, however, she has a credibility problem the size of Siberia over her support of the war for the past 6 years. She had nothing to lose with the DLC and everything to gain with the base if she voted against the supplemental. It wasn't going to pass anyway and she gets points, finally, for standing up for something when it didn't cost her anything or even threaten to cost her anything.

No, as long as the DLC runs the Democratic party, THIS WAR WILL NOT END until things get so bad that the corporate support for it melts away.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Rahm Emanuel: The Democrats' Junkyard Dog (1)

There have always been junkyard dogs in American politics - mean, brutal, remorseless sons-of-bitches without mercy or conscience who'll run you down like a rabbit if you get in their way. They've always been here because they've always been needed, and they probably always will be. They have a role and it's an important one.

They win.

The latest Democratic junkyard dog was Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC or D-Triple-C if you live inside the Beltway) for the 2006 election and is a rising star behind the scenes in the DLC. His name is Rahm Emanuel, and he's been called the purest no-holds-barred political animal in America. In a Salon review of a book about him, Chicago reporter Ed McClelland says he "comes off as one of the most colorful, driven and profane Washington characters since Lyndon Johnson". That may not be hyperbole.
At a Clinton victory dinner in Little Rock in 1992, Emanuel celebrated by reciting a hoped-for necrology of Democrats who had "fucked" the president-elect. After every name, he stabbed a steak knife into a table and screamed, "Dead man!"
McClelland appears to be an admirer of Emanuel's down-and-dirty style.
Election Night 2002 was a gloomy watch for Democrats. Their party, led by a pair of innocuous Midwestern Main Streeters, Richard Gephardt and Thomas Daschle, lost control of the Senate and lost seats in the House, sinking to its lowest ebb since the Roaring '20s. Smug right-wing pundits predicted the Democrats were on their way to joining the Whigs in the ashcan of American political parties.

It was a different story in Illinois. The Democrats won everything. They took the governorship for the first time in 30 years. They captured the state Senate. This despite running a ticket made up of ward bosses' children and in-laws. I remember sitting on my couch in Chicago and thinking, "If the Democrats want to turn it around, they need to take some lessons from the machine around here. Chicago Democrats have no scruples. They treat political offices as feudal inheritances. They shake down contributors like a corrupt pope selling indulgences. They're sleazy, they're arrogant … and they WIN."
That's what junkyard dogs do. They win and they don't much care what they have to do to make it happen. That's their function and that's why we need them.

But you don't let them govern. You don't let them make policy. In fact, you keep them as far away from the levers of power as possible because they're as likely to embarrass you - or turn on you - as not. They're dangerous, and they have to be controlled or you'll lose three times as often as you win. They're two-edged swords, and for every friend of theirs who puts money in your coffers there will be two enemies waiting to slit your throat.

On the basis of his highly-touted wins, Emanuel gets to play power-broker, policy-maker and kingmaker. He meets regularly with Al Frum and calls Bill Clinton several times a week to "talk strategy". He has read the riot act to Howard Dean over Dean's 50-state strategy.
When Emanuel and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York met with Dean to ask him to shift money to congressional races, Emanuel mocked the former Vermont governor as a political lightweight from a tiny, rural, homogenous state. "No disrespect, but some of us are arrogant enough, we come from Chicago, we think we know what it means to knock on a door," Bendavid quotes Emanuel as telling Dean. Emanuel "slammed his hand on the table," then continued his tirade: "Look, Chuck comes from Brooklyn. I come from Chicago. It ain't Burlington, Vermont. Now, we understand that Burlington knows a lot about grassroots politics and we know nothing. I know your field plan -- it doesn't exist. I've gone around the country with these races. I've seen your people. There's no plan, Howard."
Nobody told him to cool it, nobody told him to lay off, and nobody explained the genius of Dean's planning. Instead, they patted him on the back and repeated the story with admiration for how "tough" Emanuel is.

Well, after 30 years of Democratic wusses afraid to talk back to Republicans, it would make sense that Emanuel's take-no-prisoners approach felt like a breath of fresh air. The problem is that that freshness is all illusion. And his "victories" are mostly PR illusions as well.

A junkyard dog is supposed to win. That's what makes him valuable. But Emanuel made a lot of mistakes. In point of fact, he lost more elections than he won. Illinois campaign activist Ray Koltys writes:
Here in the Illinois 10th, we are a bit unhappy that Rahm saw fit to parachute in and finance Tammy Duckworth over in the 6th. He offended local dems, who had been supporting Christine Cegelis, who had been making headway in her several attempts at the seat, and pissed away a lot of money to prop up a candidate who didn't really have much presence in front of a microphone, and ended up losing big time.

Meanwhile, in the 10th, Rahm gave virtually NO money to Dan Seals, an energetic challenger to Rahm's schoolmate, Republican Mark Kirk. Despite limited resources, Seals built an organization (of which I was a small part), campaigned his butt off, and came incredibly close to beating a milquetoast incumbent in a historically Republican district with 47% to Kirk's 53%.
And Koltys isn't alone. Another Democratic activist summed it up this way:
1. Overwhelmingly, the electorate listed Iraq as the most important issue in 2006. Up until September of 2006, Rahm was telling Democrats NOT TO TALK ABOUT IRAQ. Only when they noticed that opposition to Bush's Iraq policy made a candidates numbers go up, did Rahms Democrats start talking about it. So - not exactly a message genius there.

2. If you look at the 25 candidates on Rahm's "Red to Blue" list - the races he thought the Dems could win, and where he wanted to pour ALL the money - only 13 Dems on that list won. The rest of the Dem pickups were grassroots, netroots populists and progressives who had been first opposed by Rahm, and were then ignored by the DCCC.

3. Rahm poured MILLIONS and MILLIONS into races on his list that were eventually lost: Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, Darcy Burner in WA, Patricia Madrid in New Mexico.

If Rahm had gotten his own ego out of the way, looked at the polls, and put even a fraction of that money into netroots candidates that the DCCC ignored - like Larry Kissel in North Carolina, Victoria Wulsin in Ohio, Charles Brown in CA - The Democrats could have picked up another 5 or 6 seats in 2006.
Emanuel is now Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, a powerful leadership position and precisely NOT the place you want a junkyard dog. He's helping to fashion the DLC's next campaign platform and sitting in on strategy sessions.

And why not? If losing more elections than you won kept you off the DLC team, none of them would have the positions they hold. Losing a lot but focusing only on the few wins is the unacknowledged pattern they all share.

Next: Show Me the Money