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Will Dems Commit Political Suicide in '08?: An Address to Democrats Abroad

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By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers Author's Note: Approximately six million U.S. citizens live overseas, most of them eligible to vote back home. Democrats Abroad has so many active chapters all over the world that their ex-pat members have some leverage in shaping Dem policy and a number wind up as delegates to the National Convention. The largest German chapter is in Munich and they have been kind enough to invite me, as a progressive blogger/public speaker from the States, to meet with them during my occasional trips to Germany when visiting my wife's family. In the two weeks prior to my most recent DA talk, I had the occasion to speak with numerous Germans and Austrians about their take on American foreign and domestic policy. As on previous visits to other countries in the past six years (Crete/Greece, Morocco, Italy, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos), the virtually unanimous reaction of the locals was to commiserate with me as an American with leaders as ignorant, reckless and incompetent as Cheney and Bush. This attitude, voiced by everyone I met on my recent trip to Europe -- from service providers to businessmen to college professors to current officers and former employees of multi-national corporations -- was expressed even before they learned my political persuasion. The roof message above, photographed in Vienna, seems to capture the general point of view. As for my recent presentation to DA-Munich, the meeting room was packed with activist Dems living and working in and around Bavaria's largest city. These Democrats mirror the progressive, activist base back in the States: They are politically savvy and deeply perplexed by their party's timid leadership in Washington. Here are my brief opening remarks, with a few updates: Many of you may remember that the last time you had me here, a month or so before the 2006 midterm elections, I said that it looked like the Democrats could well sweep into control of the House and Senate, but, if that happened, CheneyBush might react with even more criminality and desperation. And that having majority control in the Congress would not be an instant utopia for Democrats, but merely the first steps for a new beginning. And that's pretty much what has occurred. This evening, a little more than a year out from the next presidential election and only a few months before the first primaries, I want to talk about three overview subjects: 1) The imploding CheneyBush Administration, and the dangerous actions of that cornered, wounded beast. 2) The ongoing Iraq Occupation and the impending attack on Iran. 3) The positive and negative nature of current Democratic Party policy, including some discussion about the leading contenders for the nomination. My take is that of a blogger activist in the States; I'll be interested to hear what the situation looks like from your perspective on the other side of the pond. 1. DOWN IN THE BUSH BUNKER The ranks of the Bush Bunker crew, the loyalists who still remain in White House, are shrinking fast, especially with the departure of Rove, Gonzales, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, et al. The first-tier decision makers left include Cheney, Addington, Hadley, and Bush; I don't include Defense Secretary Bob Gates (as he's being frozen out by Cheney&Co.), or Rice and Chertoff, who are basically toadies to their boss. Given the catastrophe that is the war in Iraq (and the one about to begin against Iran), along with the various corruption and sex and policy scandals involving Republican stalwarts, and the enormous unpopularity of Cheney and Bush -- given all those GOP negatives, one would be tempted to say that things look rosy for Democrats going into the November 2008 election. But if we've learned anything in the past six-plus years, it's that the CheneyBush crew do not give up easily, and are quite happy to continue their smashmouth, in-your-face, big-lie brand of politics until someone stops them. Given their bleak situation, they are worried, to be sure -- GOP members of Congress are especially anxious about being wiped out in 2008, but they are sticking with the Administration for now -- but CheneyBush are not in any mood to give up and slink away. Why? Partially because they realize their criminal culpability and wish to remain outside the federal slammer. They continue to control enormously powerful governmental forces to help protect themselves and their friends and punish their enemies. I'm referring to their control of the Judicial Branch, including the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys around the country, the courts they've packed with their ideological brethren, and FEMA, the agency that would supervise martial law if and when it were to be invoked. CheneyBush also still control much of the mass-media, who either are ideologically in bed with them or afraid to openly challenge the Administration on its behavior and blatant lies. In terms of the military power center, there are scores of retired generals and colonels, and currently serving officers, who snipe at the Administration's dangerous and failed military policies; a few days ago, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez ( ) who commanded the troops in Iraq in 2003-2004, blistered Administration policy from the occupation then to the current "surge" now. But CheneyBush still can count on the military services to execute their orders, reckless or no. THE ABANDONED DEM MANDATE Now you may say that I'm ignoring a very real impediment to the CheneyBush juggernaut: the Democrats, who defeated them handily in the 2006 midterm elections. Surely, one would think, the Democrats would be able to use their considerable majority muscle to roll back one bad Administration policy after another, and to make sure CheneyBush do limited major damage in the next 15 months before they depart the premises. But the Democrats, who inherited a clear mandate for major change in the midterm elections, especially on the need to get the U.S. out of Iraq, have little to show for their victory. Several committee chairmen (symbolized by Waxman, Conyers, Leahy, a few others) have conducted important hearings and investigations. But in the main, this amounts to Democrats nipping at CheneyBush around the edges, hardly ever confronting their impeachable offenses frontally. Certainly, the Democrats make a lot of noise, hold a lot of one-day hearings and the like, but CheneyBush made a conscious political decision to simply ignore them. Executive Branch leaders are subpoenaed to testify or to provide potentially incriminating documents -- but these officials simply do not comply. The Democrats threaten them with, and then cite them for, "contempt of Congress," but then choose not to enforce those contempt citations. Time and time again, the Dems back away or roll over for the Republicans, who by holding together in Congress create real obstructionist problems for the Democrats. Even so, the Dems allow their favorite bills to go down to defeat (especially on the war) on the mere threat of a GOP filibuster, without ever making the Republicans actually mount a filibuster, where they would have to put themselves on the record attempting to defend the indefensible. Similarly, the Democrats have within their power -- 41 Senate votes would do it -- to withhold war-funding for anything other than bringing U.S. troops home, but the Dems don't even attempt such a move. In short, the Democrats are mostly bark with no effective bite, and they've taken their major weapon, impeachment, "off the table"; as a result of all this timidity and embarrassing lack of progress, the approval ratings for Congress are even lower than they are for Bush and Cheney, especially so with rank-and-file Democrats. 2. THE PERMANENT IRAQ WAR It seems plain that CheneyBush have no desire, and no intention, to withdraw from Iraq. They aren't building that humongous new embassy and those hardened military bases for nothing. Iraq is to be the staging point for U.S. policy in the greater Middle East for a very long time. Bush likens the mission and time-frame to U.S. troops remaining in South Korea for more than half a century -- ignoring that South Korea in the '50s had no insurgent rebels trying to force out the occupiers, no religious and sectarian civil war raging, no American leaders talking about a "crusade," etc. Apparently, Bush figures that even though the U.S. can not "win" in Iraq, it can't "lose" either. The U.S. eventually will pull back to its massive bases inside the country -- where they will be sitting ducks for rocket and mortar attacks -- and remain effectively in charge of actual Iraq policy while it carries out its covert and overt actions all over the greater Middle East. It's entirely possible, indeed likely, that the U.S. -- perhaps in coordination with its one dependable ally in the area, Israel -- will attack Iran's military infrastructure and weapons labs sometime between now and October of next year. All the signs point to that impending attack, and the campaign has begun in earnest to "catapult the propaganda" (in a manner eerily similar to U.S. actions prior to attacking Iraq) and to provoke the Iranians into taking some action or position that will outrage Americans into acquiescing to an attack on Iran, devoid of any imminent threat to the United States. The Democrats in Congress, incidentally, have done little or nothing to stem -- or even seriously talk about -- this likely attack; several of their leading candidates are on record as favoring an attack, should it come to that. Indeed, more opposition seems to be coming from inside the Pentagon than from Democratic leaders and candidates. 3. WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR DEMOCRATS? So now we come to the future of our party, so filled with hope after November of last year, so frustrating and irritating to so many in the interim. The Democratic leadership seems to be utilizing, to use a football term, a "prevent defense" strategy. They see the Republicans imploding in one scandal after another (sex, financial misconduct, political disasters), see the war in Iraq going nowhere except into a political and civil-war maelstrom, see the awful candidates the GOP is putting up (in one recent GOP poll, "none of the above" won). They look at all this self-destructive Republican behavior and seem to be saying: Why should we stick our necks out with any major "offense" initiatives? Let's just watch the Republicans' self-immolate and in November waltz into the White House and grow our majorities in the House and Senate? But with these "loyal Bushies," who are always on the offense, if you only play "prevent" you run the very real risk of a catastrophic defeat as events change on the ground prior to the election. I think it's true that if present trends continue, the Democrats will do very well in Senate and House races next November, and will extend their control of the Congress, maybe even obtaining a veto-proof majority. Theoretically, the Dems should take the White House as well. But, even without considering major changes beyond their control that could affect the presidential race -- such as an attack on Iran or major developments in Iraq, or a real or invented "terrorist" incident at home, or a successful manipulation of the Electoral College vote into congressional-district voting in key states instead of winner-take-all, etc. -- even without all that, the Democrats, as is their pattern in recent years, could well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How could this happen? Let's look at just two things. 1. The activist base is so angry at Democratic leadership for its weak or non-existent initiatives with regard to Iraq, Iran, Impeachment, Domestic Spying, Torture, Habeas Corpus, etc., that it could well decide to sit on its collective hands in November of 2008. Or bolt to the Greens. Or help create a viable new third party, perhaps in collaboration with the angered, frustrated Republican base -- those centrists, moderates, libertarians and old-fashioned conservatives appalled by the extremists who have hijacked their party and taken it into dangerous foreign adventurism, who have stomped all over the Constitution, who have created such outrageous deficits and debt. A bi-partisan, populist "Unity" ticket, in other words. 2. I've been writing about this anger building in the Democratic base for quite some time. Believe me, I'm not making it up. Just before we left the Bay Area to fly to Munich, the following, highly typical letter-to-the-editor appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. I've seen similar letters and commentary in a wide variety of newspapers and websites; they speak for a huge chunk of disenchanted Democrats and others who normally would be voting Democratic in '08: >> Third-party voter >> Editor: ... As of today, I will vote for Sen. Barack Obama or Bill Richardson [in the primary], because in my opinion, Sen. Hillary Clinton is the best chance the Democrats have to lose the 2008 presidential general election. >> If she is their nominee, hatred of her will motivate Republican conservatives to vote and work to elect the Republican candidate, whoever he is. >> At the same time, Clinton is the most likely to drive a third party candidate from her left to enter the race. The growing number of independent voters includes disaffected Republicans and they, too, would be more inclined to vote Republican if Clinton is the Democratic candidate. >> Even though I strongly feel that the U.S. will be best served if a Democrat, not a Republican, is elected President in 2008, I will vote for a third-party candidate, even if it means the Republican candidate is elected. I won't be alone in doing so. >> JIM DICARLO San Francisco (9/23/07) THE WOULD-BE NOMINEES The candidates vying for the Dem presidential nomination are nothing like the embarrassing lot the Republicans are putting up -- virtually every one of the Democrats in the running would make a far better President than any of the GOP hopefuls. Just look at these guys: Giuliani (a shameless, authoritarian, monomanical liar), Thompson (a bumbling, would-be Reagan), McCain (a total sell-out on the war), Romney (a thoroughgoing, flip-floppping hypocrite trying to buy his way to the presidency), etc. etc. But the fact that Hillary Clinton, Karl Rove's preferred candidate, is running away with the nomination race is not necessarily good news for the Democrats. We now know that the Republicans have been preparing their smear campaigns against Hillary, and John Edwards, for years. (Indeed, a recent story ( ) revealed how illegal actions were taken to smear Edwards in 2004.) Poll after poll has demonstrated that there has been and will continue to be a 40% block of American voters who loathe Clinton and would never vote for her. So in order for Clinton to win, she has to hold on to the 40% who reliably vote the Democratic ticket, and then win the moderates and independents in the middle. This might be possible if she could hold onto that firm 40%. But there is a huge swatch of the Democratic Party, mainly from the dedicated activist base, who do not wish to support Hillary because of her generally hawkish, wishy washy positions on the war, her more-macho-than-you attitude on Iran, her lining up with institutional forces such as with big pharma on the health-care issue, and so on. So, even though she may be highly intelligent, and has run an impressive primary campaign to date, she simply may not be electable -- conceivably putting Rudy Giuliani or another GOP neanderthal in the White House -- and her selection could diminish any coattail influence she might have on other races. The general take on Barack Obama is that he's an exciting candidate, bright, energetic, charismatic -- filled with good ideas and, on occasion, not afraid to express them -- but not quite mature enough as a national politician, with not much of an experiential record to run on. He's certainly a positive, fresh new face, and will be a force to be reckoned with in 2112 and beyond, but probably not this time out, unless as the vice presidential nominee on someone else's ticket (Richardson/Obama?) John Edwards has a long history as an effective anti-corporate individual of conscience, and he's been quite effective staking out his progressive opinions during this primary stretch. The Rove wing of the GOP wants to take out Edwards early, as he's an effective populist campaigner. It looks as if he might score big in the Iowa caucuses, coming in first or second, and gain some momentum. But the media, echoing the White House spin, has been largely ignoring his campaign or treating him roughly. As you can see, Obama and Edwards are battling for the same block of voters -- the liberal-to-progressive, anti-war, anti-Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. By splitting the energy, money and support, they almost guarantee that Hillary will be the nominee of the party. I haven't mentioned Kucinich, Biden, Dodd, Richardson, Gravel because, as intelligent and courageous as some of them have been -- especially Richardson on the war and Kucinich in a number of areas -- they've gone nowhere in the polls and probably stand little chance of capturing the nomination. THE FLUIDITY OF POLITICS Things are fairly fluid politically right now. As I've written previously, there is a potential opening for a third-party run, drawing from the disenchanted wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Is there a charismatic crossover candidate willing to take advantage of that momentary opening to help mount a viable run for the White House in 2008? If a strong third party candidacy emerged, which major party would be most helped, the Republicans or the Democrats? Could the Republican candidate slide by into the White House if too many Democrats deserted their party to vote for this third-party candidate? Might the chances for popular approval soar if that third-party were to create a bi-partian "Unity" ticket, made up of a leading Democrat and a leading, anti-war Republican. (Gore/Hagel?) Finally, a longer-range thought. Even if a viable third party doesn't get born this time out, the Democrats are ripe, as are the Republicans, for a good, long, soul-searching debate about the future of the party. Redefining the mission. Coming up with some philosophies of governance, and foreign policies, we all can agree on. Developing policy statements in various areas that are not just reactions to what the Republicans are doing. Etc. Etc. In short, the 2008 election may well turn out to be a watershed in modern American politics, re-aligning the electorate in ways they feel more comfortable with. We shall see. THE Q&A SESSION What followed those prepared remarks was a wide-ranging discussion of U.S. domestic and foreign politics, everything from: whether Gore (now Nobel Laureate Gore) will jump into the presidential ring -- there was much enthusiasm among the DA crowd for the idea; the intricacies of vote-tabulation and the likelihood of electoral fraud again; the insanity of attacking Iran and why CheneyBush would take that route; the possible genesis of Democratic wimpiness these days; the punishment the Party leadership is preparing for several state Dem organizations such as in Florida and Michigan for pushing their primaries way forward, etc. But a good share of the conversation involved the frustration and puzzlement they feel toward their wimpy Party leadership. And about the Democratic contenders, especially whether anyone can stop Hillary. And, of course, these DA members wanted to know my preferred candidate(s). I told them that, for a wide variety of pragmatic and policy reasons, I would prefer the Dem nominee not be Hillary Clinton; of the potentially electable candidates, I am more favorably inclined to John Edwards, with much to admire also about Bill Richardson and Barack Obama. Despite their elitist ties and tendencies, any of these three would be somewhat more progressive, anti-war, civil libertarian and more sympatico than is Hillary. But, if Hillary Clinton turns out to be the Dem standard-bearer in 2008, then all we progressive, anti-imperialist Democrats will face the usual moral dilemma next November. Clearly, there are significant differences between the two parties. The question is: Will there be enough of a difference between our candidates and those put forward by the Republicans to justify yet again holding our noses and voting for the lesser of two evils? I suspect the answer is yes, but we shall see how the political drama plays out in the next six months. # Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers ( To comment: . First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 10/16/07. Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner


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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
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