NDN Blog

Bush world crashes into the real world, again

From the NYTimes today:

"The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terrorism suspects before military tribunals met stiff resistance Thursday from key Republicans and top military lawyers who said some provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny or do enough to repair the nation’s tarnished reputation internationally."

It happened so fast.  On Wednesday the President launches an aggressive effort to recast the national security/foreign policy conversation.  On Thursday, leaders of his own Party and the Pentagon repudiate his new approach.  From a governing standpoint, we should be pleased with has happened.  From a political standpoint, it shows how extraordinarily out of touch and removed the White House has become from the rest of Washington, and of course, the country.  Their political endgame this fall will be ferocious, hard-fought, well-funded and coordinated.  But it is hard to spin away, and advertize away, the hard reality of a failed foreign policy and an economic policy that has benefited only a tiny few.  The speedy crash of this new initiative should worry Republicans that there is no easy way out of the current mess they've made out of our government. 

One interesting thing to watch next week is that the House Republicans, the most terrified group in Washington today, are standing firm with the President's already dead on arrival package.  Will we have immigration reform redux, where the House R's take a narrow and base-driven position at odds with good governing and the Senate R's, leaving no room from compromise? Or will the President in this case have to bring all parties together, including the Democrats, and work out a deal to get something passed before the fall?

The ABC Movie

I've been following the news about the upcoming ABC movie "Path to 9/11" closely.  I am an ABC alumni, having worked at ABC News in the 1980s.  I still know people who work there, and look back at that time as a lucky and wonderful period of my life. 

From everything I've read it is clear ABC blew it on this one.  I'm not sure how it happened, but the movie is sloppy and inaccurate; the way the network promoted it showed they understood the right would be happy and the Democrats unhappy; reports late last night indicate ABC's partner, Scholastic, the publisher of Harry Potter and other school materials, has pulled their "educational" materials about the film from their web site; and their refusal to allow government officials portrayed to even screen the movie in advance is bizarre and irresponsible, contributing to the sense that there is rightwing conspiracy behind the film.   

Given what has happened, and how important the subject matter is, the film should be pulled.  Instead turn the time over to ABC News to host live roundtable discussions with representatives of all involved to talk about 9/11, Iraq, and the future of American foreign policy.  Given all the controversy, the viewership of these programs would be huge, the public service extraordinary. 

The problem for ABC is that they using public airwaves to promote a private, or partisan, agenda.  If this was HBO, or even a commercial movie, this would not be as much of an issue.  But these are our airwaves not theirs; and they have to be held to a higher standard. 

Kudos to Media Matters, Think Progress, Working Assests, MyDD, NPI fellow Jennifer Nix and the many others who have led this very new style campaign against this unfortunate film. 

Immigration reform and the GOP - the shame of it all

In his Monday column this week Robert Novak hits the GOP hard for failing to pass a meaningful immigration bill:

"Immigration is the most melancholy element of a depressing Republican year. The Iraq intervention and its aftermath have hurt, and Republican inattention to runaway government spending has been deplorable. But immigration is the issue most likely to cause rank-and-file Republican voters to stay home on Election Day, and it may cost the party its congressional majorities."

As I wrote this morning, the failure of the immigration bill is a potent symbol of the failure of these modern Republicans to tackle the important challenges of our time.  From the right to the left all wanted to do something this year.  A good and sensible bi-partisan bill was offered.  The President supported it.  As did all 44 Democrats in the Senate, and most Democrats in the House.  A little bit of work - that thing called governing - could have brought everyone together to solve a vexing national challenge.  But they couldn't do it.  They couldn't find common ground in their own party.  

In the process the Republicans have angered both their own base, and the many immigrants who believed this President and his Party that would be different. 

So, in the great modern Republican tradition, when that governing thing doesn't work, what does one do? Politics.  Blame others.  Use TV ads to demonize your opponent.  Attack them for being with "the other."

Using immigration as a blunt weapon against an opponent is being tried right now in Rhode Island.  The National Republican Party, through its Senate arm, has been running an ad on behalf of Lincoln Chafee accusing his opponent Steve Laffey of accepting a Mexican ID in his town where he has been mayor.  The ad then says that the FBI has said that these IDs could be used by terrorists to get other IDs. 

What's remarkable about this ad full of brown faces and terrorists is that using this ID is common practice across the United States, and is sanctioned by the Treasury Department.  It is not all that unreasonable, as it is a government issued ID by our largest neighbor, and a friendly one to boot. 

Mexicans.  IDs.  FBI.  Terrorists.  I see. 

So Bush promotes sensible immigration reform.  His Party balks.  His Party runs ads equating immigrants to terrorists in a Republican primary.  He stays silent. 

Imagine what they gonna use against Democrats, who actually tried to work with him to pass the good McCain-Kennedy Bill.  Gonna be a difficult and troubling fall. 

Republicans bet the farm on Security

Several pieces over the weekend preview the fall Republican strategy - argue that electing Democrats will weaken the war on terror, making us less safe.  To do that, the Times reports today, they will have to give up a passing the pending immigration bill.  Not a big suprize, given that the House Rs believe attacking Democrats for being soft on immigration - meaning that they support the bill passed by the Senate and supported by President Bush - will be one of their key issues this fall. 

To me the collapse of the immigration bill is a clear and potent sign of why the Rs are in trouble this fall.  An unprecendented bi-partisan bill is created, bringing together labor, business, immigration groups and folks like NDN.  It is supported by Bush.  It passes the Senate.  The President gives his only prime time speech this year promoting it.  It is a good bill, going a long way to solving the vexing immigration problem.  But of course these guys, who have shown themselves to be so good at politics and so bad at governing, can't pass it.  And so today we learn that is won't pass.  No big suprize here. 

But what comes next is millions of dollars of ads saying that Democrats weakness on border issues is creating more terrorists.  We saw it in an NRSC ad for Lincoln Chafee against a fellow Republican two weeks ago.  So it is coming.  But Democrats have nothing to fear.  We have a plan - the Senate bill, supported by McCain and Bush - that solves the immigration problem.  They have "seal the border."  Ours is a plan that will work, there's is a press conference.  We can win this battle this fall, with the American people, on tv ads. 

But this security first and only strategy leaves exposed what is a major Republican weakness this fall - the economy.  The Post has a very good story on this today, and a new CNN poll released last night shows now that the economy is the number one issue of voters today.  From the Post piece:

"At first glance, the economy's role in this year's midterm elections is a puzzle. Economic growth and unemployment are at levels that in past years would have been a clear political asset for the party in power.

But one layer down in the statistics, the answer is more clear. Flat wages and rising debt nationally have converged to leave millions of middle-class households feeling acutely vulnerable to bumps in their financial planning. The most visible of these are rising energy prices and a softening housing market.

A less obvious but powerful variable is the interest paid by people carrying credit card debt or mortgages whose monthly payments vary with interest rates. People buffeted by these trends have given rise to a new and volatile voting block.

"People like this are making a large ripple across the body politic," said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies. When added to the growing opposition to the war in Iraq, he said, worry about this economic crunch "is creating a political environment that is not that friendly to the party in power."

Every election cycle has its own important set of undecided, or swing, voters. In 2000, it was the "soccer moms," targeted by both parties with appeals based on education and quality-of-life concerns. In 2004, it was the security moms, normally Democratic-trending women whose concerns about terrorism helped give Bush his margin of victory.

This year could mark the emergence of what might be called mortgage moms -- voters whose sense of well-being is freighted with anxiety about their families' financial squeeze. Democrats are betting that this factor is strong enough to trump security or cultural values issues."

The rise of the economy as an issue should come as no suprize to NDNers.  Our globalization project has been banging on this theme for 18 months.  And we've been working hard, for over a year, to pass meaningful immigration reform.  No matter how salient the security issues are this fall, for a governing party to ignore the current economic plight of average Americans, and let a good and sensible immigration reform bill collapse, says more about why they may lose power than the epic failure of their foreign policy. 

The lessons of history

Defeating "Islamic Fascism."  This week defeating Islamic Fascists became the primary goal of our foreign policy.  But can this can be our primary goal?  What can history, for example, tell us?

Let's look at the lesson of World War II.  In that era our national strategy was to foster democracy, the rule of law, liberty and free markets around the world.  We defeated the fascists of that era, who were a virulent threat to our vision, through war; and built lasting democracies and peace through institutions like the United Nations, NATO, the IMF, the World Bank and the far-sighted investments of the Marshall Plan.  Defeating the fascists of that time was a tactic, a way of getting to the end goal - global peace and prosperity, and flourishing democracies that cherished liberty, the rule of law and open markets. 

Bush and co seem to have no similar strategy.  They seem only concerned to with defeating those who disagree with us through war; they have no serious strategy for achieving lasting peace and prosperity, or deploying the formula that worked so well after WWII - democracy, the rule of law, liberty and free markets.  

If we are to learn the lessons of history - as this Administration suggests - then we must get much more serious about promoting - in word and deed - our commitment to the formula that worked so well before.  But this means that in bringing peace and prosperity to the Middle East hat there can be no sacrifice of our commitment to liberty through warrantless spying; no sacrifice of our commitment to Geneva conventions; no sacrifice of our commitment to the rule of law by allowing political parties with funded militias to participate in democratic elections; or no "nation building" in Iraq without a serious plan or a serious political commitment to bring it about. 

The Bush Administration has confused means with ends.  The end goal of foreign policy should be to foster a peaceful and prosperous world.  Defeating "Islamic Fascism" is certainly one of the main tactics we should use to achieve our goals, but it cannot be an end in itself.  To me that is the greatest lesson of World War II.  As we re-learning in Iraq today. 

NDN: Finishing Strong

As we prepare for the home stretch, I am proud of the contribution NDN and its family and affiliates have made this cycle.  Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the transformation of NDN over these past few years, from a centrist PAC called the New Democrat Network to the advocacy and strategy center now called NDN.  We may no longer have a federal PAC, and be endorsing candidates as we did, but we are making an important contribution to restoring the promise of our great nation, and giving others the tools to also make themselves more effective at this critical time. 

Expect a great deal of activity from NDN and our affiliates these next two months.  We will be focusing on three distinct campaigns: mas que un partido, tools and wages.  The first, conducted by our affiliates, the NDN political fund, is speaking to the hopes of Hispanics through a sustained national Spanish-language media campaign.  NPI's tools campaign is helping progressives learn and use four new tools - cable, search, blogs and Spanish-language media.  Finally, our wages campaign, begun 18 months ago, is working to put declining wages front and center in the national debate. 

Of course there will be more, as there always is, with NDN.  But these three powerful campaigns is how we are closing in this critical year.  Each of them have already made a significant impact, but there is much more we can and must do together. 

Winds of change are blowing, hard

Respected students of Congress, Thomas Mann and Stu Rothenberg, now predict the House will flip to the Democrats.  Polling data is coming out of 2nd and 3rd tier House races showing Democrats leading.  New polls showing Democrats now very competitive in the VA and TN Senate races, ones needed to gain Democrats the Senate.  No incumbent Democrat is trailing in a race for Governor, Senate or House.   It is increasingly looking like a nationalized election against Republican governance. 

But no one should be that suprized.  As we've been writing in this space for close to three years, the central political development in America today is the utter failure of conservative and Republican governance.  Even without the aid of hundreds of millions of dollars of television ads that are about to be launched, the American people have figured out, on their own, that the guys running Washington today have blown it.  Big time.  Bush bet the house on Iraq and huge tax cuts for those with means, and has lost. 

Washington is about to change.  The corrupt, arrogant, ineffective and partisan era of Bush, Cheney, Frist and DeLay is coming to an end.  New people will rise to power.  New issues will be tackled.  A new agenda will be pursued.  Those on the losing side will suffer as those who have come before them have, as many of us have on the progressive side who have stuck it out in DC these past few years. 

For progressives, we now have two important tasks.  First, as we plan our governing agenda, we should focus on a few important things and get them right - bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East, creating greater fiscal integrity, making efforts to restore broad-based prosperity, passing immigration reform.  We should avoid the temptation to do too much, or punish the losing side to too great a degree. 

Second, we should work hard on attaching the words arrogant, corrupt, ineffective, partisan, etc to the Republican and conservative brand.  While I do not have partisan animus to those that have run the country this past few years, I do have incredible American animus towards them.  They have weakened our country.  They have worried about themselves and their power and not about us.  They have run up trillions of debt.  Hurt our prestige.  Left our people poorer.   Not attended to urgent national challenges.  Left people to die in New Orleans. 

We have an obligation to not let them get away with their time in power.  We need to label their movement and their politics for what it has been, and do what we must to prevent this kind of government from returning.   We need to work on finding the words to capture this time, and invest a great deal of energy in defining it for future generations. 

While NDN no longer has a federal PAC and has not been involved in these elections by supporting candidates, I am proud of all that we have done to help bring a new path for the nation, and end this disapointing era.  We have spoken out, aggressively, about these conservative failures; offered a new agenda for the nation; worked hard on two critical issues, immigration and making globalization work for all Americans; we've helped teach progressives how to use a new set of powerful tools to get our message out; we've studied and discussed the changing demographics of the nation, helping progressives imagine and build a new majority coalition around a New America;  we've run cutting edge media campaigns across the nation in English and Spanish, reaching tens of millions with our modern and optimistic message; we've helped create a new whole new way of investing monies into building a modern progressive infrastructure suited to our day, our media and our challenges. 

No matter what happens this fall this period of American history is drawing to a close.  Let us committ ourselves, as a network and community, to ensuring that the next era, whatever it is, restores the great promise of our extraordinary nation.  I am proud of what we've done here at NDN, but remain humbled by all the work that must be done. 

Spike Lee's Katrina documentary is awfully good

I watched the first half of the new Spike Lee HBO documentary last night.  It is powerful, well done, and very evocative.  You can watch it any time on HBO on demand, and I think it is playing again the next few nights.  

It is hard to find the words to describe my feelings about Katrina.  I've spent time in New Orleans.  I know Senators Landrieu and Breaux well, and my wife and even got a little tour of the French Quarter late one night from Senator Landrieu, whose father of course was once mayor of New Orleans.  When Katrina struck I was home, on paternity leave, with our new daughter Kate, so I was watching a lot more TV than I usually do.  And our whole family watched the incredible drama of Katrina unfold. 

The movie reminds all of us, without being clubbing one over the head, that what caused the destruction of New Orleans was not the hurricane itself, but the breaching of the levees sometime after the storm passed.  There is an extraordinary scene where a man is running through downtown New Orleans - which is relatively calm at this point - and says to the camera crew that a levee has broken and water is pouring in.  They seemed suprised, and said they would look into it. 

And then the inaction.  The deaths.  The suffering.  The suffering. 

I wrote at the time that Chertoff should have been fired, and I still can't believe he is in the job.  His inaction killed people.  There is no question,  Killed people.  And all told there are now 4500 dead and missing, a city destroyed, billions spent and not a whole lot to show for it.  It is a shameful and terrible thing, what has happened to New Orleans and her people, and I hope that it haunts Bush and his crew for the rest of their lives. 

At the time all this unfolded NDN was very active.  One of the better pieces we published you can find here.  And we will be having more to say about Katrina and New Orleans in the days ahead. 

On Iraq, Democrats are offering a clear and unified message

A front page Post piece offers a lot to chew on:

"Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict.

Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns.

The large number of Democrats opposed to a strict timeline for ending the military operations runs contrary to the assertion by President Bush and top Republicans that Democrats want to "cut and run" amid mounting casualties and signs of civil war. At the same time, the decision by many Democrats to refrain from advocating a specific plan for withdrawal complicates their leaders' efforts to convince voters that they offer a clear new direction for the increasingly unpopular war."

Lets look at that last graph.  I agree with the first sentence.  Given how unpopular the war has become, the only strategy Republicans now have is 1) change their position on the war as Chris Shays just did; 2) argue that Democrats would make it worse.  I still believe both from a governing and public opinion standpoint a timetable for withdrawal is not the best option on the table.  So I think those Democrats who are rejecting "strategic redeployment" will be well served this fall, and will make it much harder for the GOP to succeed at their "cut and run" campaign. 

But I do not in any way agree with the 2nd part of the graph.  Democrats have presented a united front - we are unhappy with what is happening in Iraq, and want a new course.  Some want strategic redeployment.  Others don't.  There is no simple solution to what's happening in the Middle East, and we are doing the right thing by forcing a public and spirited debate.  Only from that debate will we settle on the best course.

While we may not agree on the details, the Democratic message is clear and simple - we want a new path in the Middle East, and once in power, will be sitting down with the President to find a new American strategy for success in the troubled region.  This position is both the responsible one, and the clear winner in terms of public opinion. 

For more, see my recent appearance on Fox News Sunday. 

Waking up from their long slumber

There is mounting evidence that the Bush team is waking up to the economic and fiscal reality of our day.  Recently Secretrary Paulson acknowledged that declining wages was an issue, a reversal from his Senate testimony a few months before.  And now, as James writes below, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke makes a very compelling case that the current wave of globalization is making it much tougher to create broad-based prosperity here and around the world. 

This slow awakening is a first step to creating a national conversation about what to do about it.  But as they wake to this critical reality, they will also have to wake to the other things that have gone on on their watch - reduced revenue for the federal government coupled with radical increase in spending, no strategy for dealing with the fiscal realities of the retirement of the baby boom, a declining dollar and a soaring current account deficit, the overleveraging of the American consumer, rising health care, energy, pension and college costs, and a rise in poverty. 

The fiscal and economic challenges facing America are significant.  Until recently the governing party's response was in essence "stay the course" - more tax breaks for the wealthiest among us.  It is a politically and morally bankrupt course, and one for the good of the nation must be ended.  The waking of Paulson and Bernanke is a good sign we are headed, eventually, towards a better path. 

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