Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Democratic Agenda

I offer for your consideration links to two posts on the Democratic Party's future, the first an interview conducted by PBS's Charlie Rose with new DLC-chair and Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, the second, a series of posts at the TPM Cafe by Michael Lind. Each is rather long, as is this post by Steve Gilliard, which you should also read as I believe if provides a counterbalance to the other two and because I will return to its subject matter later.

First, Tom Vilsack.

It's hard to artculate just how god-awful Vilsack is here. Just brutal. His vast wordage here is so terrible at so many levels it frustrates the human mortal's ability to express it. Were he to win the 2008 Democratic nomination and talk like this on the stump, I'd be tempted to vote Republican. I surely would. But his two main problems are that, one, he says absolutely nothing about, and takes no stands on, anything, and two, he virtually ignores the two, ten-ton gorillas in the room--the war in Iraq, and the rise of religious fundamentalism in the U.S. I say "virtually ignores" because his comments do include references to "national security", "faith" and "values" but his responses either show no understanding of their effects and implications or that he favors permitting both to continue unchallenged to cause further havoc abroad and to ruin political and social pluralism at home.

Second, Michael Lind.

Lind has several posts at the Cafe, ranging from citizenship to national security to partisan realignment, but this one on "the only way Democrats can regain a majority" is probably the most relevant to the discussion at hand. Basically Lind contends that Democrats need to repress their image as a socially liberal party in order to showcase a more economically liberal platform, allowing the party to agree to disagree on matters of divisive social and moral matters while attracting more socially conservative but economically populist voters.

There's a lot to dig through here and Lind's articles could suggest multiple angles for revitalizing the party while confronting Republican excesses.

For one thing, Lind's focus on economic populism is very much in line with arguments put forward by Thomas Frank, and to a lesser extent by Rick Perlstein, two other writers who have thought about, and written extensively on Democratic Party politics. Lind is more hostile to social liberalism than either Frank or Perlstein, both all three emphasize economic issues in general, and Republican Party elite corporatism in particular. Were the Democrats to unite around an agenda of economic populism, it's possible that in time, the party could help restore its image and impact in areas of the country and among certain demographic groups in which it is now struggling, not to mention, help redirect public policy to offsetting the power corporate interests possess. And while the social liberals among us might worry about the effects of minimizing issues dear to our hearts, the ultimate effect could be to at least stimy the concerted efforts by religious and cultural conservatives to enforce a more restrictive regime of individual rights.

While articles such as Lind's are preferable to the mush of the DLC because Lind at least takes a stand--many stands--on something, I think there are a number of problems with his perspective. One is that economic populism is both hard to define and to the extent it can be defined, may not represent wise policy-making. For example, where would free trade fit in with this framework? If an economic populism strategy would determine to oppose free trade agreements, what would be the long term impacts for economic growth and technological improvements?

A second problem is that while an economically populist orientation could vaunt Democrats back into majority status, it would potentially carry with it the voices and votes of those who would unite with conservative Republicans on a socially regressive agenda that liberals believe is both subjectively unpalatable as well as objectively illogical and unnecessary.

Which brings us back to the two issues that both the DLC-Vilsack approach and the economic populism approach leave largely unattended to--the war in Iraq and rising U.S. religious fundamentalism.

And which is why I directed your attention to the post by Steve Gilliard on fascism.

I believe there is a great risk, not just for the Democratic Party's fortunes, but for the cause of American democracy and political and social pluralism to allow these matters to go unchallenged. The belligerent nationalism represented by the administration, many Republicans in Congress, and the Republican noise machine is a cause of concern not just to the nations around us, but to those of us at home who value a free society where dissent and opposition are guaranteed protection. For Democrats not to do respond to this threat is to invite the same kind of catastrophe that befell the peoples of Europe at mid-century, when tyrannical and totalitarian societies were allowed to emerge under the cover of nationalism, rascism, and values.

The same goes for the rising influence and increasingly radical demands of Christian dominionists. For those not affiliated with religious fundamentalism, the frequently used term "Christian Nation" is not simply a vague generalization or benign expression meant to depict a nation whose majority nominally identifies itself as Christian. Rather, the term "christian nation" is specific ideological and political word that carries with it the implication that civil society should be guided by Biblical law and culture, rather than the sovereignty of the people. That is, the term Christian Nation signifies a theocracy and not a Constitution democracy. Needless to say, there are inherent conflicts between a democratic pluralist republic and a theocracy. Christian leaders who use this term and the flock of laity that regurgitate it to pollsters aren't just suggesting that Christians should be allowed to worship, which they are already are, but that the laws of the nation, and the very basis of those laws, should reflect their own belief system. Dissenters be damned. I fail to understand why Democrats, and liberal and moderate pundits have not argued more forcefully that this trajectory is unConstitutional. And it's hard to believe that Lind isn't more aware or sensitive to this threat since he made it a considerable element of his anti-conservative Up From Conservativism.

To ignore the threats posed by the New American Militarism and radical religious fundamentalism is to put at risk the furthering of human freedom and human rights. If these are indeed the primary problems the country faces, as I believe they are, then Democrats should offer a response to them. Platforms designed to elevate economic values and issues at the expense of social and political process issues might have periodic success, but at the expense of broader, more elementary principles. Campaigns oriented to be "positive", to forgoe the possibility of offending any particular group of voters is partially what has created the Democratic Party's image problems in the first place. Democracy is messy, as Donald Rumsfeld might say. Campaigns that force Democratic candidates to walk on eggshells will not long attract a dedicated following of support. Democrats need to look long term and from a broad perspective, and yes, risk opposing seemingly popular attitudes and influential groups if they contribute to the destabilizing of American democracy and the imprisoning, both physically and figuratively of its people.

But despite the risks involved in confronting the conventional wisdom about American military overstretch abroad and Christian fundamentalism at home, I believe that the public may be more agreeable and open to such an agenda than many pundits think.

The war is already unpopular. As are most of the religious demands of the far-right wing. As religious as many of us are, I have a hard time believing most people want to model a 21st century society on the basis of ancient Biblical guidelines that are cryptic, theocratic, and frequently punitive. As a result, Democrats shouldn't be afraid to put the "focus" on groups like Focus on the Family. If they don't, there might not be much of a democracy to protect or for the DLC to govern.

As for offending the sensivities of religious folk, Republicans routinely bash teachers unions and unions of all kinds without seemingly being concerned about the potential reactions of the members of those unions to political assault. Republicans frequently attempt to draw the distinction between criticizing union leadership while supporting union members. Likewise, Democrats should be bold enough to call out radical Christian leadership while expressing solidarity with mainstream Christians. The followers of Focus on the Family and groups like it are not likely to vote Democratic anyway, regardless of how nice Democratic candidates play.

In conclusion, let's not "miss the forest for the trees". Yes, Democrats need to expand their constituency if they are to hope for the opportunity to win elections and shape policy. But a too tentative approach to party-building and campaigning that doesn't confront the darkest impulses of American leadership and the body politic won't long further its own interests or those of its country.

Friday, August 12, 2005

At Long Last, Sirs, Have You No Decency?

The Skeleton Key, a horror movie starring Kate Hudson is opening this weekend. Meanwhile, another horror show is set to open on Justice Sunday II featuring the gang shown above. Notice in particular, the smiling face of Tom DeLay.

I suppose it won't offend any of these stars of the religious-feudal circuit that DeLay's crony, Jack Abramoff just got indicted in Florida and faces another grand jury proceeding in Washington, DC, or that DeLay launched a coup against his own party's House "Ethics" Committee so as to avoid any recriminations stemming from his campaign fundraising or that DeLay and Abramoff have worked for years to reduce the Mariana Islands to sweatshop factories and to deprive it of a U.S. congressional delegate that might represent the islands' interests.

To the Christians who are participating in this, and Rebecca St. James, I'm talking to you, open your eyes and smell the coffee. You are being duped and you are being used. Tony Perkins and Tom DeLay are about as moral and as Christian as Vlad the Impaler.

To the gang of 12 leading this farce, I say to you, "Sirs (and Madams), have you, at long last, no decency?"

Self Evident Evil

The announcement yesterday of Tom DeLay crony and Republican underworld king Jack Abramoff's indictment by a Florida grand jury on charges of fraud reminded the Senator of a classic Rude Pundit post about Abramoff he read some time ago, and with nothing better to do, he asked me to track it down for his re-reading pleasure. And for yours.

Here it is.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Right to Privacy ClearingHouse

Because others do it better, I'm including posts from DailyKos and AmericaBlog about the right wing and the Right to Privacy:


Does John Roberts agree with the National Review?:

When the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts begin in a few weeks, his Democratic questioners are sure to obsess on something that doesn't exist: a generalized right to privacy. It was this non-right that was the focus of the successful attack on the nomination of Judge Robert Bork, when he was impolite enough to note that such a right appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. This prompted Democrats to warn that Bork wanted the sex police to patrol America's bedrooms.

. . . In a draft article for Attorney General William French Smith in 1981, Roberts wrote: "All of us may heartily endorse a 'right to privacy.' That does not, however, mean that courts should discern such an abstraction in the Constitution, arbitrarily elevate it over other constitutional rights and powers by attaching the label 'fundamental,' and then resort to it as, in the words of one of Justice [Hugo] Black's dissents, a 'loose, flexible, uncontrolled standard for holding laws unconstitutional.'" Just so.

The mischief began 40 years ago in the case Griswold v. Connecticut, when the Court struck down a prohibition on contraceptives on the basis of a "right to marital privacy." The bit about "marital" was quickly dropped, and the new discovery became a general right to privacy.

. . . If Connecticut's contraceptive law was outdated and purposeless, the answer was simple: for voters to overturn it. Both the dissenters in the case, Justices Hugo Black and Potter Stewart noted that they opposed the Connecticut policy, but that didn't make it unconstitutional. . . . The Supreme Court won't return to its proper, limited role in American governance until it does the same with the mythical "right to privacy."


Does Roberts Oppose the Right to Privacy?

Is that what his former Reagan Justice Department colleague, Bruce Fein, is telling us? The Washington Post has a front page article that documents how the White House is withholding the papers of John Roberts:

Thrown on the defensive by recent revelations about Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr.'s legal work, White House aides are delaying the release of tens of thousands of documents from the Reagan administration to give themselves time to find any new surprises before they are turned into political ammunition by Democrats.

For me, this is a key paragraph:

While serving in the Reagan and Bush administrations, for instance, Roberts argued against affirmative-action quotas and other civil rights remedies that conservatives regarded as reverse discrimination, and he expressed deep skepticism about what he called the "so-called right to privacy" that underpins the constitutional right to abortion."

They should be embracing those memos," said Bruce Fein, who worked with Roberts in the Reagan Justice Department. "They are squandering the opportunity to move public perception."Embracing those memos means Roberts wants to overturn the right to privacy. Only in warped right wing world could that be viewed as a positive that would move public perception.

Fein wrote an op-ed for the Reverend Moon's paper on August 2, 2005 that trashed the right to privacy. He and Roberts were colleagues in the Reagan Justice Department and exchanged memos on that subject. Fein is a hard-core right winger who presumably knows something about Roberts legal views as he intimated in his column:

In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the court again highlighted the nonconstitutional moorings of the right of privacy. Justice Kennedy discerned a right to homosexual sodomy from the penumbras of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Its Framers, the justice insisted, had been blind to the oppression his generation recognized in searching for greater freedom. In other words, if the true meaning of the Constitution does not ordain a liberal agenda, the justices should entertain a false meaning that does the trick.

Judge Roberts has awakened vocal opposition from the female Democratic six and their ideological allies because he disputes the view of the Griswold-Roe-Casey-Lawrence precedents that constitutional law is politics by other means. What liberals fear is an obligation to convince the American people as opposed to a handful of justices that their agenda should be law.

If Roberts opposes the Griswold-Roe-Casey-Lawrence precedents, we're in serious trouble.

That means he opposes the right to privacy. The right wingers not only want to overturn Roe v. Wade, they want privacy rights gone. As Fein made clear, that means gay rights too. Nothing will be sacred. Overturning the right to privacy is an ultimate goal of the theocrats.

This is really serious stuff. If Roberts opposes the right to privacy, we have to know. After all the missteps, the right-wingers will want to know that he is on their side on this one.

I don't know if it's as baffling to you as it is to me to hear conservatives who claim to want less government and greater individualism, loudly opposing and ridiculing the Right to Privacy, particularly since the fourth amendment, with its prohibition against unlawful search and seizures, and the ninth amendment, with its stipulation that any right or power not expressly identified as a specific right by the proceding shouldn't be interpreted as not existing, would appear to support one. Me thinks this issue takes the cape off of the conservative movement's true character and agenda. Would that we take advantage of this opportunity.

In any event, the right's views on Privacy should alarm you. If it doesn't you aren't paying attention.

Today in Iraq

Juan Cole:

The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq won the provincial elections in Baghdad on Jan. 30, a fact that has been little noted in the Western press. They have now moved to depose the mayor of Baghdad and install their own man. Alaa al-Tamimi left quietly. That SCIRI and the Badr Organization (this militia ran as a political party) won the election in Baghdad province gives them the right to name the mayor. Some US reports are portraying this as a coup by a "Shiite militia", but the "coup" happened on Jan. 30 at the ballot box.

Tamimi's account of the incident is here. He was earlier charged with corruption but the charges appear to have been dropped.

Al-Tamimi was recently the subject of a glowing write up at Slate by Christopher Hitchens, who wondered why US cities were not sending aid and help to such municipal politicians in Iraq. The answer is that a) there is virtually no infrastructure for aid delivery, and any American who showed up from Cincinnati to help Tamimi would just be killed; and b) political instability is so great in Iraq that you never know from day to day whether your aid will go to Tamimi or to the Iran-trained Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (from which the new mayor comes). Hitchens raised the suggestion in the context of whether the American left wants the US effort to succeed in Iraq. But the effort that Hitchens has in mind, of a secular democracy, probably failed on January 30 when SCIRI, Dawa, and a bloc of Sadrists (Shiite fundamentalist parties) jointly won the parliamentary elections. As for the security situation, I'm not sure what we mere mortals can do about it if the whole US army and marine corps are helpless before it.

Helping Conservatism Out of the Closet

I can't help but ponder the connection between the "Democrats must reconnect with socially conservative, morally-driven, values voters" debate going on among leftists and the reintroduction of the debate over the Right to Privacy precipitated by the Roberts nomination.

As for the former, we have TPM Cafe's Michael Lind kickstarting the values-voter debate by saying Democrats need to abandon or at least be prepared to fudge their stands over abortion and gays to lure back lower middle class whites who go to church on Sunday, because the country is essentially conservative and won't ever give their votes to Democrats perceived as morally disinterested. Besides the fact that Lind is the fine author of Up From Conservatism, recent focus group studies by Democratic strategists Stan Greenberg and Karl Agne indicate that cultural reservations keep Democrats from being able to capitalize fully on the Republican Party's economic and international foibles, imply that Lind and likeminded folks deserve a hearing within the Democratic Party.

Although polling data seems to suggest that majorities of the public favor Democratic positions on health care, education and even abortion, the conservative anti-abortionist party has won three straight election cycles, only small a small minority identifies itself as "liberal" and despite the president's poll numbers, Democrats have yet to capitalize or to even convince the public that it offers an alternative acceptable to a wide range of people.

Yet, alongside this debate, and I would argue, intricately intertwined with it, is the unfolding debate regarding Judge Roberts' position on the Right to Privacy, among other stands on Constitutional matters, previously established by the courts but now, and ever since the 1950's, under attack by conservative reactionaries upset over the loss of power liberal court rulings have had on conservative institutions.

Obstensibly advocates of lesser government and greater individualism, conservatives are responding to the Right to Privacy inquiries with bizarre denunctiations, boldly and snarkily denouncing the "myth" of the Right to Privacy. For Democrats, the principle of the Right to Privacy should be a slam dunk. If Republicans want to stand for a form of politics that promises to invade your bedroom and the right to make choices away from the eyes and ears of a prying government or society, a politics that threatens perhaps the most fundamental of political and social aspirations--to be left alone, free to pursue the gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Democrats should "bury them". Make them defend these principles and visions in the broadest possible venues.

Conservatives have succeeded over the last two decades in making the Democrats fight political battles on conservative turf, through such matters as "parental notification", "partial birth abortion", and "family values", forcing Democrats away from broader, underlying principles to divisive issues that are largely favorable to Republicans.

Democrats need to refocus the debate, putting principles such as the Right to Privacy front and center. Fortunately, conservatives also seem to want this debate. Conservatism has been portrayed favorably for far too long. It's time Democrats forced conservative Republicanism out of the closet, where its bile shadow can be put on parade. So long as conservatives seem intent on allowing us to do that, Democrats should oblige them.

Will the Democratic leadership rise to the challenge?

Don't Forget Iran!

Maybe this has come up before, but I happened upon CNN's report last night about the supposed shipment of sophisticated bombs coming over the border from Iran to Iraq.

I'm a bit surprised this didn't get more play in the morning newspapers. Mo Dowd commented on it in her first op-ed in many a moon. But beyond that, it's been underplayed, seemingly even by the administration that reported it.

Given the low but steady drum-beat for war with Iran that Faux Nooz has been showcasing for its neocon sponsors, it would seem to represent another link in the chain for invading the second member of the infamous axis of evil that some on the right want so badly.

Nevertheless, our invasion and occupation of Iraq, combined with the rising insurgency, have put that goal on hold, and have paradoxically, made both the insurgency worse and made the option of confronting Iran over the shipments that may be being used by insurgency problematic (critics argue against the usefulness of a Shiite Iran helping mostly Sunni Iraqi insurgents, but for more on that, please see the article I link to below). This condition, among others, has helped confirm what any middle school world studies student could have predicted, that the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the prolonged, violent occupation of Iraq has only emboldened and strengthened Iran.

In a long but enlightening article on, Michael Schwartz and Tom Engelhardt document the ways: first, our occupation ended Iraq's oil contracts with countries like China, which have as a substitute, made agreements with Iran, for their natural resource needs. This new Iran-China axis also protects Iran in the UN's Security Council against punitive actions related to Tehran's nuclear ambitions, scientific or otherwise, which Tehran's new leader has reinaugurated. Needless to say, the insurgency in Iraq and the substituting of previously Sunni-secularists in Baghdad with more militant, and more importantly for Iran, sympathetic Shiites in the new government have enhanced Iran's security, making it less likely that the new Iraqis would partner with, or allow the U.S. to use it as a base of operations against Iran. There's more and you should read it.

But beyond wringing our hands at the incompetence of it all, Democrats should recognize the dire straits our next President will be mired in due to this quagmire as well as other declining situations. Domestically, he or she will have to deal with a sizeable, vocal, and ferociously hostile conservative "noise machine" and dedicated, religiously motivated opposition groups in the form of the Focus on the Family theocrats. The federal budget deficit will be at record levels. And internationally, he or she will need to find a way out of the mess in Iraq, and attempt to unite with other formerly friendly nations to resecure the volatile Middle East, to minimize if not prevent the proliferation of nuclear arms and to stem the tide of vitriolic anti-Americanism, generated to no small degree, by the current cast of characters representing us and by a pseudo intellectual army of elites that will continue to try exploit world developments to their own hegemonic fantasies.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Road to the White House

I've included a new section of links to the websites of prospective 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls, just below the main links. In most cases, these sites are for the candidate's political action committee (PAC). I am indebted to the good folks at Swing Street Project for information related to Evan Bayh, Russ Feingold and Joe Biden. Obviously this is only a partial list of those who have websites or PACs already established. I don't know whether HRC, Bill Richardson, Mark Warner or Tom Vilsack, to name a few, have formal efforts started but will add them if and when they become available.

John Edwards was C-Span's focus this past weekend, highlighting a recent trip to New Hampshire. Most of the show featured Edwards shaking hands and posing for pictures among Democratic Party activists, so there wasn't a whole lot of focus on the substance of Edwards' message. Edwards did, however, talk about his anti-poverty efforts and the center he founded and heads at UNC Chapel Hill. Edwards stressed the need to make poverty a moral issue.

I'm not sure how his message will play long-term. It has the advantage of giving his campaign an organizing principle, a reason to be. This is not inconsequential given the difficulty Democrats seem to be having deciding on a message and approach. But it remains to be seen where he goes with it. The most relevant angle I think would be making the issue of poverty an issue of fairness and to link the issue with corporate control of government. In other words, Edwards needs to point out the causal agents of poverty, to make visible an enemy, if that is in fact how he understands the problem. I am less optimistic about using poverty as strictly an issue for which greater "opportunity" needs to be provided or one in which greater income transfer programs need to be designed. While the latter strategy may be less controversial, it may prove either too general to attract a following or too easy to be attacked for any tax implications.

MyDD linked to Wes Clark's site and a letter the retired general penned to the Wall Street Journal, taking the conservative paper to task for criticizing him and other Democrats who the paper claimed, had not done their part to offer an alternative to President Bush's Iraq and terrorism policies. Clark wrote a sharp letter in response, defending himself and the Democratic Party. It would be nice if other (DLC) candidates would make it a priority to defend the Democratic Party as well, when it deserves defending. Although not a lifelong Democrat, Clark is showing an early organizational push and a combativeness that I hope rubs off on some of the others.

Several of the sites try to strike the theme of togetherness, we're all in this together, want to unite the country, etc. I understand that candidates feel a need to say these things, and some past presidents have at least paid lip service to this approach, to make it appear they can rise above the partisan divide. But I don't think presidents such as Nixon and Reagan relied on this strategy, so I don't think it's something Democrats should feel a false need to maintain. It's a nice appeal, but I don't think anyone is ever going to unite the country. Better to recognize our country's pluralism and try to appeal to as many people as possible. But setting the campaign's goal as uniting the country, uniting, not dividing, etc, may prove difficult to accomplish and lend itself to criticism later on.

Joe Biden is the only candidate highlighting the issue of individual rights as part of his platform, that and the necessity for an independent judiciary as the means to secure that. I think this is a sleeper issue, a baton that I'd like to see other Democrats carry as well.