Friday, June 30, 2006

New Democratic Leadership needed in Congress

Win or lose in the fall, Democrats need new leadership in Congress.

Nancy Pelosi has been in Congress for almost 20 years and Steny Hoyer has been in Congress for 26 years.

Both Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, and Hoyer, the Democratic Whip were members of Congress "back in the day." Back in the day, that is, when Democrats ran the joint. Old hands can be useful in a parliamentary sense, but as the public faces and obstensibly as the policy and political strategists of the party in Congress, Pelosi and Hoyer have been around too long, in Washington, D.C. too long, to give the party the direction and energy it needs.

One of the key motives driving Newt Gringrich and Tom DeLay back in the 1980's and 1990's was the long drought their party had experienced in Congress. The Republican revolutionaries of 1994 were desperate and driven, "hungry" in the parlance of sports teams. Pelosi and Hoyer probably still think either Democrats are a majority in the House or that replacing a Republican Speaker with a Democratic Speaker wouldn't fundamentally change their performance or purposes.

It's been over ten years since the Republicans regained control of Congress for the first time in forty years. While I recognize arbitary-sounding datelines shouldn't necessarily be locked in stone, it's time for Democratic leadership to start passing to those members who've arrived in Washington after 1994, who realize the implications of being the minority party and possess the ideas and energy needed to change the institution and implement new policies.

Thankfully, relatively new members Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz of Florida have taken assertive speaking and organizational roles in the House. Along with other new and youngish members of Congress, Ryan and Shultz are a part of the Thirty Something Democratic workgroup in the House. Ryan and Shultz in particular often appear on C-Span afterhours, attacking House Republicans for acting as administration "rubber stamps" and for being generally "unable to govern".

Apparently the "Thirty-something" workgroup was a brainchild of Pelosi's and Hoyer has recognized Shultz's abilities by recruiting her as the party's Senior Whip in the House.

But Democrats in the next Congress, win or lose, should act to put the party's best and freshest faces, such as Ryan's, Wasserman Shultz's and Stephanie Hersheth's, forward in leadership positions where they'll have the responsibility and public exposure the party needs to succeed in building a new party with new ideas for a new generation of Americans.

In the meantime, the party should put it's thirty-something members up front, as examples of the type of Democratic leadership voters can expect to see in the next Congress. It goes without saying that Republicans hope to stir up fear, at least among the media elite, of old time members like John Conyers and John Dingell heading committees. Democrats should respond by showcasing it's newest and most articulate members, contrasting them with the corruption-tainted and interest group beholden Republican majority. And when the next Congress opens, showing it's future-oriented approach by elevating its youngest members to important leadership posts.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ranking the Contenders

Ezra is practicing some 2008 transparency today, so I'll try to do the same. Here's my highly qualified, fluid, and conditional ranking of the Democratic field.

1. Evan Bayh
2. Mark Warner
3. Joe Biden

4. Al Gore
5. John Edwards
6. Wes Clark
7. Tom Vilsack
8. Russ Feingold
9. Tom Daschle
10. Bill Richardson
11. Chris Dodd

leaning negative
12. John Kerry
13. Hilary Clinton

Let Me Say This About That

1. Who spiked Richard Cohen's cheerios this morning? Cohen rips, rips the hype over the Miami Seven. And check out this graph:

Does it matter? Yes, it does. It matters because the Bush administration has already lost almost all credibility when it comes to terrorism. It said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and there were none. It said al-Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots and that was not the case. It has so exaggerated its domestic success in arresting or convicting terrorists that it simply cannot be believed on that score. About a year ago, for instance, President Bush (with Gonzales at his side) asserted that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted." The Post looked into that and found that the total number of (broadly defined) "terrorism" convictions was 39.

This compulsion to exaggerate and lie is so much a part of the Bush administration's DNA that it persists even though it has become counterproductive.

Read the whole thing.

2. And what in the world is Rush doing with Viagra? He's not married. Where are the morals police on this one?

Here's a proposal for you. If you're opposed to the Right to Privacy--like so many on the "right" are, including I assume Rush, and his Federalist Society friends, step right up and hand over your checkbook. We want to see it. And your medical records. And a copy of your Internets searches. And for good measure, give us your address and tell us all about your family. Where do your kids go to school? We want to know it all.

And if you're a member of the moral absolutes police--as Rush has been at least rhetorically over the years--and especially if you're among those calling for a Constitutional Convention on gay marriage, and if you've been seen on cable TV complaining about society's embracing of troubling "moral relativism" than step right up and tell us all about your sex life, and if you're married if you're using birth control and if you've ever been divorced; if you're not presently married, tell us whether you've ever been married before, are now or have been divorced and from whom. And if you're not married, are you in possession of and do you in fact make use of sexual enhancements? And assuming your moral absolutism stems from a religious foundation, tell us about your church, how often you go, and how much you contribute to the institution's upkeep. And please provide a reference from your pastor.

It's well past time for critics of the Right to Privacy and the moral absolutes scolds to put up or shut up. Are you living up to the standards you want imposed on everyone else? If you don't favor or believe in a Right to Privacy, be prepared to surrender all of yours.

Oh wait a minute. That's right. The moral absolutists are exempt from their own commandments. Sorry I forgot that.

3. Dear former Secretary of Education, and now "Consultant" Rod Paige:

If you want your views to get a hearing, I'd advise not starting off your op-eds (in the NYT of all places) with "DUMB liberal ideas in education are a dime a dozen..." I would advise before you write any more op-eds, you supplement your "consulting" business with some elementary reading.

4. More of this, please.

5. The man, James Dolan, who owns the NBA's worst team, the New York Knicks, fired coach Larry Brown after only one (very miserable) year, and ordered team president/general manager Isaiah Thomas to assume coaching duties, seeing as how the sad sack of players and malcontents were brought on board--and given lavish contracts--by Thomas. Dolan furthermore gave Thomas, a one-year (two Friedmans) ultimatum: Make significant progress or bu-bye. And by progress, Dolan specified "evident progress" not "debatable progress".

One year deadline..."evident" progress not "debatable" progress. Sounds like this would constitute proper and long overdue oversight by Congress of the Executive branch and its three year Iraq war.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Beinert's Liberal Containment

Just finished reading Peter Beinert's The Good Fight: Why Liberals--and Only Liberals--Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.

As you've probably surmised by reading other websites, there's enough in this book to make everyone mad.

But even though I haven't had much of anything positive to say about Beinert up till now, I think this is a much better book than its critics have claimed.

I won't attempt to summarize it--there are too many strands weaving through it to render a faithful portrait. But I will highlight what I think are the book's key points for liberals and Democrats.

The first point for which Beinert should be given credit is his unabashed promotion of liberalism. The Good Fight must be the first book in two generations to reference "liberals" in a positive light. As Beinert notes, conservatives have turned the word "liberal" into an epithet. This has had a near fatal effect on the causes of Liberalism (greater freedom, equality and human development) in general and on the Democratic Party in particular, which has been reduced to couching its appeals in terms of "effectiveness" and "competency" rather than on a broad, uplifting vision for matters both domestic and international. If for no other reason, I applaud Beinert's book for unapologetically orienting his argument in a proud liberal heritage that many of his "progressive" critics have themselves avoided.

But Beinert isn't just using the word Liberal as a rhetorical device. He traces the word Liberal to the Cold War Liberalism espoused by Harry Truman, George Kennan and later by Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy. This was a Liberalism committed to confronting and containing the totalitarian threat posed by the Soviet Union, by military defending its allies, offering generous economic assistance to its allies and enemies alike, and reforming its democratic institutions at home. This was a Liberalism aware of its fallibility but nevertheless willing to share (and exercise) power abroad through international institutions dedicated to expanding freedom and reducing armed conflict. It's method of opposing Soviet Communism was Containment, based on a philosophy that America and its democratic allies in the West possessed the patience and the strength to defend against and wait out the storms and delays involved in lessening totalitarianism's hold. And Containment worked, not the least because it held that American exemplarism had to be demonstrated, not merely asserted.

Beinert contrasts Cold War Liberalism's Containment philosophy with its conservative alternative--Rollback. In its Cold War manifestation, Rollback was rooted in a philosophy that feared America was too weak to sustain its opposition to its dictatorial foe and its suppressed peoples. Rollback disdained Containment and argued for a more aggressive stance against Soviet Communism around the world, and more repressive, less democratic responses to Americans in America. Rollback was supported by conservatives who believed America was infallible, its motives pure, and morally outside the restraints of foreign nations and international institutions. Like today's manifestation of conservative aggression, Rollback admitted no American fault and arrogantly asserted its right to determine what was good for everyone else.

Beinert calls for Liberals to embrace the Cold War Liberalism of its past, remembering the courage, generosity and action of the post-War World II era. This will entail recognizing the need to at least occasionally use force and that that use of force will have consequences that will threaten Progressivism's traditional demand for moral purity in international engagement. At the same time, a new Containment strategy will call for expanding liberty, in its fullest sense both economic and political, across the Middle East through the use of development aid and support for democratic reforms.

Can Containment work? Beinert admits that he and other Democratic writers, consultants and foreign policy intelegencia doubted whether containment could still work with Iraq and because of that, were willing to support President Bush's call to arms. And with a different type of enemy, typically stateless but having at its disposal the technology and freedom of movement to inflict fatalities and chaos much more easily on America than was true in the days when the deterent of nuclear weapons held enemy countries accountable, how would a doctrine of Containment be applied today? Part of the answer lies in Beinert's call for a Marshall Plan style development aid package for the Middle East. Partly it acknowledges the continued application force can have on terrorism-sponsoring states, and partly it recognizes the expansions of powers law enforcement authorities will need to exercise in the post 911 era.

But whatever its limitation, it is clear that the new Rollback, the doctrine of pre-emptive military attack, the One Percent Doctrine, is also highly limited on a practical basis (we can't after all bomb or threaten to bomb and invade everyone) and cooperatively flawed, weakening America's legitimacy and support throughout the world, the support of which was essential to containing Cold War Communism. At the same time Beinert contends, with considerable justification, that the struggle against global jihad, salafisian totalitarianism, the war on terror (whatever term we apply to it) constitutes a real threat and that Liberals, if they are to preserve ours and the world's freedom, much less the viability of the Democratic Party, will need to offer the country and the world an alternative to the new Rollback.

Democrats, partly because they have lost sight of their Liberal Cold War heritage, have abandoned the war on terror to the Republican Party, with disasterous implications. By reclaiming this Liberal heritage, and the principles of containment abroad, and liberal reform at home, Democrats can again defeat the forces of totalitarianism, domestic and foreign.