It is frustrating being part of the progressive movement these days -- truly frustrating. And I say that not because I am on book deadline and exhausted, but because of what I have been reporting on for the book (which is due out in Spring of 2008, for those interested). These past few weeks have felt like a big kick in the teeth -- with these last few days a gratuitous kick in the groin.
Let's step back and look at the effort to end the war. This week we have seen Democratic Reps. David Obey, Jack Murtha and Jim McGovern propose a bill that would force President Bush to raise taxes if he wants to continue spending money on a war in Iraq -- a brilliant political move and commonsense policy. In the face of a recent Roll Call story headlined "GOP Forced to Pivot on Taxes -- Polls Say Issue Losing Power," this proposal is stunning only for how modest it is -- especially considering that even Sen. Joseph Lieberman has endorsed the concept behind it, as has Republicans like New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg and North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones.
Obey has also indicated that as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he will use his position to block any blank check war funding bill from coming to the floor of Congress. It shows a recognition of the Tyranny of the Tiny Minority that I outlined in my last syndicated column -- the tyranny that means that Congress will need to stop something, rather than pass something, in order to end the war. And stopping funding, incidentally, is an idea that the latest Washington Post poll shows the public supports.
So, what has been the reaction of the most prominent Democrats and antiwar groups in Washington? Bobbing and weaving.
As soon as the war tax plan was floated, House and Senate Democratic leaders rushed to reporters to denounce it. Meanwhile, antiwar groups in Washington swiftly decided to dump tens of thousands of dollars into a brand new ad campaign not supporting the push to block funds, not applauding the effort to wedge the Republicans into deciding between war and taxes, not demanding Democrats go even further, but instead attacking Rush Limbaugh -- a person who certainly made a disgusting and deplorable comment but who has absolutely no power to end the war at all.
The move, of course, was applauded by Washington pundits like Joe Klein who supported the war. To the Washington punditburo, any move that gets media attention and that gets people on screamfests like Hardball (a show that almost no one outside the Beltway watches) is seen as a successful political tactic, regardless of how much of a diversion it is from the goal of actually ending the war, regardless of the fact that most Americans have never even heard of this "controversy" or the Moveon ad "controversy" in the first place. Clearly, the ads are very well-intentioned, but they do nothing to move the ball forward in the effort to end the war, and nothing to keep the focus on ending the war -- an issue that polls show the Republicans are losing on. This is precisely why the GOP is publicly laughing at the whole thing -- Beltway progressives' tactics are the gift that keeps on giving.
Oh but it gets more obscene. This week, Costa Rica prepares for a national referendum on whether to ratify the lobbyist-written Central American Free Trade Agreement -- an agreement whose language will, among other things, force that country to dismantle its universal health care program and raise prices for life-saving medicines. CAFTA, you may recall, is one of the Bush administration's extensions of NAFTA, and -- as my syndicated column coming out on Friday will show -- the White House is mounting a vicious and withering campaign of fear and intimidation to manipulate the Costa Rican election on behalf of all the corporate donors who wrote CAFTA in the first place.
And what has been the reaction of the progressive movement in Washington? Why, granting a platform to the very U.S. Senator who is leading the charge to extend NAFTA even further.
That's right, the New Democratic Network -- trumped up in Matt Bai's silly book as a supposedly important piece of the progressive movement -- hosted U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) for a speech on trade. True to form, Baucus in that speech pleased K Street by implicitly attacking rank-and-file congressional Democrats who were elected in 2006 on a promise to reform America's trade policy and who are trying to fulfill their campaign promises by stopping the new package of NAFTAs. Baucus is now leading the fight to give a NAFTA to Colombia -- a country whose government actively colludes with paramilitary gangs to execute union organizers. With "allies" like Baucus and the people who promote him, who needs opponents?
Some of my friends may be angry at me for writing all this, but if we progressives don't engage in some self-reflection when our side has so clearly driven into a ditch, then we won't become the movement we need to become to improve this country. I am a progressive before I am a partisan -- and I reject Partisan War Syndrome that says we must all just applaud every single tactic and decision, no matter how unproductive to the cause.
To paraphrase Thomas Paine, these truly are times that try progressives' souls -- times that, as I said, I will be documenting more fully in my book out in the Spring of 2008. As Beltway progressives pat themselves on the back and think success means getting on Hardball and movement-building means getting one of the most anti-progressive U.S. Senators in America to attack rank-and-file progressive Democrats and undermine organized labor behind logo-emblazoned podiums in D.C., the bloodshed in Iraq continues, and the economic war on the middle class seethes here at home.