Pulling a Murtha. I think I’ve just coined a political neologism. Actually, it wouldn’t be a neologism since I didn’t coin a word, but you get my drift.
Congressional Democrats have long been known for their courageous willingness to take on Republican presidents bent on mischief. So I waited with baited breath to see how the fearless Dems would react to Russ Feingold’s proposed censure resolution against George Bush for NSA spying. Imagine my surprise to read Dana Millbank in the Washington Post saying:
Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they’d seen a ghost.
“I haven’t read it,” demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).
“I just don’t have enough information,” protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). “I really can’t right now,” John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters — an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.
Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).
“Ask her after lunch,” offered Clinton’s spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.
In a sense, they were. The cause of so much evasion was S. Res. 398, the resolution proposed Monday by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) calling for the censure of President Bush for his warrantless wiretapping program. At a time when Democrats had Bush on the ropes over Iraq, the budget and port security, Feingold single-handedly turned the debate back to an issue where Bush has the advantage — and drove another wedge through his party.
Needless to say, I entirely disagree with Millbank’s last sentence. She sounds more like Chris Matthews and I never take my cues from the likes of him when it comes to analyzing Democratic party politics. Millbank should remember the wonderfully receptive reaction John Murtha received when he proposed bringing our boys (and girls) home from Iraq. Dead silence. No Democrat would come to his defense. Now, who looks at Murtha as a dithering fool or pariah? Murtha was right and so is Feingold.
But Millbank isn’t done pontificating:
they also know Feingold’s maneuver could cost them seats in GOP states.
I really detest journalists who opine as if they were the Delphic oracle and never provide any proof or substantiation for their opinion. How in God’s name will the censure motion cost the Dems seats? It’s a preposterous notion left hanging in the air.
One passage in Millbank’s article I enjoyed was this one:
one Democrat happy to talk was Feingold, who, in a pre-lunch chat with reporters, seemed to enjoy his colleagues’ squirms. “I’m concerned about the approach Democrats are taking, which is too often cowering,” he said.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Andrew Schamess says
That does it. I’m registering Green.
Richard Silverstein says
I had no idea my thoughts on this would cause someone to leave the Democratic party. Or perhaps you’re joking. I’m not leaving the party yet though I’m deeply, deeply disappointed by it.
Andrew Schamess says
Half-joking, half serious. I’ve always voted Democratic, and we still donate to the party. But I am getting tired of the failure to confront Bush on the really important issues. I mean, they all voted for the war in Iraq. They left Murtha hanging as you point out. They’re keeping silent on a major breach of presidential authority because they are afraid it would be politically disadvantageous to speak out. Then they jump on non-issues like the Dubai ports deal (as you wrote) because they think they can gain political points.
I understand that politicians need to watch the polls and they can’t stick their necks out on every issue that’s important to the left flank of the party.
But could they possibly take a principled stand on matters that are critically important to the country’s future like the warrentless wiretapping? Think how much better off we’d be now if at least some Democrats had voted against the Iraq invasion. There are times when politicians should take a risk and do what’s right.
Truly, what does the Democratic Party stand for anymore? I’m starting to wonder.
Dan Sniderman says
While I understand your sentiment, and particularly agree with your last sentence – I am reminded of the 2000 election and Ralph Nader. I distinctly remember my thoughts and Nader’s speeches in that election. My thoughts were that my own personal beliefs and politics were much more closely aligned with Nader’s than Gore’s.
But then I saw Nader make a speech on television and made the claim that (I don’t remember is exact words – but the sentiment was explicit that “There is no difference between voting for Bush and voting for Gore”.
I didn’t believe that then – and there is NO DOUBT whatsoever that it isn’t true. Certainly on some issues there is much truth to that.
But clearly if Gore had won the election (no wait – he did!) er had become President in 2000, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in in Iraq, Roberts and Alito wouldn’t be on the Supreme Court, the NSA wouldn’t be tapping our phones without wiretaps, we wouldn’t be tourturing prisoners in Gitmo, we would be doing something about Global Warming, and on and on.
If Nader hadn’t run – it’s almost certain that Gore would have been president…
While it’s sad that the Democratic party is no more than a lesser of two evils, the worse evil is MUCH more evil (and sadly that word is so appropriate).
We must try ot find a way at the grass roots to try to reform the party – and perhaps “netroots” can make that difference…
Andrew Schamess says
Your points are very well taken. And I’m on the fence about this myself. I made the same argument about Gore and Nader in 00, when I was a solid Democrat. But, for discussion’s sake, let me test out a counterargument…
We can say we’re going to change the party, but, really, the Democratic party pays very little attention to the left. The reason it started courting the conservative and middle-of-the-road voters is that they started leaving the party, or voting Republican. In other words, if we stay in the party and complain, we’re ignored. If we vote with our feet, people listen.
Maybe more important, though, is that we need leftist leadership in this country. Not just a watered-down alternative to the Republicans, but leaders who will articulate a real platform of progressive change. And this, I think, can no longer be done within the Democratic Party. Now, the Greens may not be a winning party in a national election. But (with a better figurehead than Nader) it could be a leadership party. It could say what the Democrats can’t or won’t. It could bring genuine Progressivism back into the mainstream political discourse.
Americans need to hear politicians talking with confidence and clarity about issues like gay rights, women’s rights, the problems of poverty and inner cities, investment in education, economic justice, reducing corporate influence, alternative energy, environmentalism; articulating foreign policies that are based on our long-term interest in a just, peaceful and stable world; etc.
I find myself very attracted to the idea of helping to build a party that would be able to take these positions, as opposed to sweeping them under the carpet to avoid upseting conservative swing voters or monied interests. So what if it’s a minority party? A viable, persistent minority party can still swing the national discourse to the left, just by gaining media time and campaigning openly on a left platform.
It doesn’t seem to me that the Green Party needs to run a presidential candidate every election. Or in a close race, a third party candidate could step out and throw her votes to the Democrat – in return for some promises on the issues. The lesson of 2000 was more that Nader is a stubborn old coot, than that a third party is, per se, a spoiler.
But I look at the demographics – what the Democrats need to do to win – and I think, there is no chance that this party will ever provide leadership to the left. We need a party that will.
Dan Sniderman says
Until there is meaningful campaign finance reform thought, I wonder if any of this matters. While some of the problem with the Dem’s is the conventional wisdom about “pandering to the center” – I think the real evil is the amount of money you need to raise to run on a national level (and state-wide in states with major media markets)…
In my heart I agree with you – but the question is really how to get the message out. The message is controlled by the media which is controlled by large corporations.
The right has succeeded in turning the word “Liberal” into a dirty word. I don’t see how “Leftists” have any hope until that can be countered in the public’s mind.
The percentage of the population that still believes things like “Saddam was involved in 9/11” etc is so frightening. Why is that so – how can it be countered?
Until we can figure it out – the idea that a party like the Greens is going to appeal to a large enough number of Americans to become a viable party.
Anyway – I don’t necessarily disagree with anything you’ve written – I’m just so disillusioned these days at the state of American politics…
Richard Silverstein says
Boy, I’m with both of you. I’m disgusted with the Dems, but I can’t get Nader’s outrageous campaign (Dan’s quotation is only one of many stupid & outrageous things he said) out of my mind. And I’m on the fence as to whether a 3rd party can mount a viable, credible effort to influence the national debate. I think we progressives are between a rock & a hard place.
But I DO think that people like Feingold deserve our complete support because what he’s doing is courageous. Imagine him out there tweaking the powers in his party & they pretend he doesn’t exist. Half of yr colleagues think you’re nuts. And the only folks who don’t are you & me & we don’t amt. to more than a hill of beans as far as the debate it concerned. That takes guts.
Andrew Schamess says
You are absolutely right.
This was my most interesting conversation of the week! Much food for thought. Thanks to both of you.