Monday, August 13, 2007

What Impressed Me This Week

Progressive Activists Are Picking Edwards

This week I checked out an impression I picked up at Yearly Kos: That the kind of people who got behind Howard Dean four years ago -- my people, in other words -- are settling on John Edwards this time around. It seems to be true. Edwards has been leading the DailyKos straw poll all year. He was clearly the crowd favorite at the Yearly Kos presidential debate. PsiFighter37 on Kos made the case for Edwards this way: Edwards is the only top-tier candidate who isn't buying into the idea that Democrats have to make hawkish statements in order to prove that they're tough. Obama thinks that the way to appear strong is to rattle his sabre at Pakistan. Edwards isn't going for that.

It's not just Kossacks who are starting to commit. Rolling Stone anointed Edwards as the real liberal in the race. And Paul Krugman wrote:

There is, by contrast, a lot of substance on the Democratic side, with John Edwards forcing the pace. Most notably, in February, Mr. Edwards transformed the whole health care debate with a plan that offers a politically and fiscally plausible path to universal health insurance. ... Mr. Edwards has also offered a detailed, sensible plan for tax reform, and some serious antipoverty initiatives.

Grist says that Edwards has "far and away the strongest, most comprehensive climate and energy plan among the three Democratic front-runners."

In addition to what Krugman calls "the substance thing," there's the style. Where Obama puts a can't-we-all-get-along wrapper on all his proposals, Edwards is openly combative. Here's Edwards at Yearly Kos:
Who will be about change? And how do you bring about change? Now, I just listened to some conversation about negotiating and compromise. Here's my belief: I don't think insurance companies, drug companies, and oil companies are going to voluntarily give away their power. They never have. They're not going to today. ... To bring about change, you need somebody who has fought these people their entire life and has beaten them over and over and over. They're not going to give away their power voluntarily. We need to take their power from them.
If you substitute a Louisiana drawl for Edwards' North Carolina accent, you can almost hear Willie Stark from All the King's Men. I think he's onto something here: There's a way to sound strong as a Democrat. You don't have to ape Republican rhetoric about bombing people.

The other thing Edwards has going is just pure tactical competence. Again and again I run into example of Edwards doing the little things right. James Hoffa at Yearly Kos challenged the Democratic candidates to put forward a labor platform "like John Edwards has." Edwards was the first Democratic candidate to pull out of the now-cancelled Fox News debate. One of the booths at Yearly Kos was for the event-planning site They were demonstrating a feature of their site that allows you to "demand" an event. You describe an event you want, like a concert in your home town by your favorite band, and if other people agree your event can move up the list of demanded events. Well, the demonstration was that John Edwards had promised to go to whatever town most demanded his appearance. Any candidate could have done that, but nobody else thought of it.

While I can observe my tribe lining up behind Edwards and I can understand why, I'm not there yet. Back when he was in the Senate, Edwards was one of the most hawkish Democrats. He voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq and (like every Senate Democrat but Feingold) he voted for the Patriot Act. When I asked him about it in 2003, I wasn't wild about his answer. At the time he favored protecting civil liberties with oversight processes within the executive branch, not repealing the Act or insisting on more oversight by Congress or the judiciary. I need to do more research before I make my decision.

And this week's humor is Bill O'Reilly wondering why Edwards won't come on Fox News when they've been treating him so well. TPM video collects the evidence.

De-mythologizing Giuliani
For some reason, it was Giuliani take-down week. The Village Voice demolished all the "America's Mayor" myth-making in Rudy Giuliani: Five Big Lies About 9/11. On DailyKos, Devilstower reminded us of this Orwellian Rudy quote:
Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.
It comes from a New York Times account of a speech Giuliani gave in 1994. And in The New Yorker Peter J. Boyer did a longer, more balanced view of Giuliani that still gives a person pause, because he reproduces so many of the character flaws of President Bush. Someone who worked for Giuliani when he was U. S. attorney said:
I’ve always thought that he had a surprisingly small inner circle—and they were not always the best and the brightest.
Another said:
Rudy was a person for whom the world was only black-and-white.
Boyer says:
Giuliani admitted no dissent from his vision, and that ruthless reprisal often seemed his first resort when anyone disagreed. ... he sometimes seemed to be deliberating inside an echo chamber. Loyalty is the virtue that he most prizes, and its absence in an aide is the surest route to exile.
He quotes Giuliani's top foreign policy advisor, neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz, who says that if Bush doesn't get around to bombing Iran by the end of his term, "Rudy seems to me to be the best bet for doing what is necessary."

And of course, nothing is as damning as the 12-minute video put together by the IAFF fire-fighters union. On 9/11 when the second tower came down, 121 firefighters and zero policemen were still in the building. Why? Because the police radios worked. They got the evacuation order. The firefighters died because of equipment that was known to be defective. The idea that Giuliani is running on his 9/11 competence really grates at the IAFF.

The DLC Strikes Back
The other debate going on this week was whether the Democrats are in danger of going too far left, or if maybe some people's impressions of "the center" are actually too far right. The Democratic Leadership Council has long been a force trying to push the Democratic Party to the right, and its leader Harold Ford had a hand-wringing op-ed in the Washington Post. The best response I found was from the Southern progressive blog Left in Alabama.
being a Democrat is no longer a terminal disease, even in the South. Americans agree with many progressive ideas and more people consider themselves Democrats than Republicans. Among Independent voters Democrats have about a 10 point advantage. This is the time for Democratic candidates to stop running away from their party.
Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos debated Ford on Meet the Press Sunday. Markos did well, but I thought the host (David Gregory) framed the discussion in a slanted way as "liberal vs. centrist". Whether or not Ford is actually in the center is what the debate is all about.

The Propaganda Continues
You may have heard about Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, and his eye-opening trip to Iraq. The media cycle started with his op-ed A War We Just Might Win in the New York Times on July 30. For the next several days O'Hanlon and his co-author Kevin Pollack were on all the talk shows pushing the same story: They were war critics from the liberal Brookings Institute, but they went to Iraq and saw all the progress we're making with the Surge. Now they support Bush's policies.

Well, as usual, the parts of this story that aren't completely false are merely misleading. Glenn Greenwald interviews O'Hanlon and explains the con here.

One of the most striking panels at Yearly Kos was when Glenn went head-to-head with guys from Time and the Politico. The Politico guy explained that his organization isn't as big as we think: only 50 people. I whispered to a friend, "Did he say 50? Five-oh?" He did. Glenn, of course, is just Glenn -- without 49 other folks. But somehow he manages to do the background research that the mainstream organizations don't get around to. This story is a great example.

Impeachment Update
This week I read Elizabeth Holtzman's book The Impeachment of George W. Bush. It's from early in 2006, so it's a little out of date. She gives several grounds for impeachment, some of which (like "reckless indifference to human life" in his response to Hurricane Katrina) seem like a stretch. But the March, 2007 issue of Foreign Policy she cut it down to two: wiretapping outside of the FISA process and going to war under false pretenses in Iraq. I'm still looking for a better reference.

One key point Holtzman makes is the importance of impeachment as a way of rejecting the Bush legacy. If we just run out the clock until a new administration takes over, we'll probably see all these same abuses again soon. And Congress' inaction now will be an argument for not acting then.

This is also the problem with the "but then Cheney will be president" objection. Impeachment isn't how you choose a president; we have elections for that. Impeachment is about setting limits. Future presidents need to know that Bush went too far.


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