Monday, December 10, 2007


What Can Be Done With Democrats That Refuse To Lead?

Mon Dec 10, 2007 at 12:14:57 PM PST

From the Washington Post, Saturday, we learned that that the House is once again working on a deal to fund the ongoing Iraq war with no timelines, deadlines, or other oversight. The source for the story? None other than the Democratic House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer.

House Democratic leaders could complete work as soon as Monday on a half-trillion-dollar spending package that will include billions of dollars for the war effort in Iraq without the timelines for the withdrawal of combat forces that President Bush has refused to accept, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday. [...]

Democratic leadership aides expressed confidence that Boehner and Blunt will not be able to keep enough Republicans away from a bill that funds the war, popular domestic programs and their own pet projects, known as earmarks. With a long holiday break beckoning, few lawmakers will be in the mood for a protracted standoff. [...]
Hoyer struck a pragmatic tone, pushing for Congress to adjourn for the year by the end of next week. He suggested that Democrats need to divorce their goal of ending the war from the battle over funding.

The long and short of it is that Hoyer is shepherding a bill that trades $11 billion in desired domestic spending in exchange for continued funding of the war, and that Reid has indicated that the end deal will be acceptable to the Senate as well.

Markos noted on Saturday of the dealing Democrats:

  1. They are happy to prolong this war as long as some of their pet projects are funded; and
  1. Given that another year of war means another 500-1,000 dead G.I.s, the price Democrats put on a life of each of our soldiers is about $10 million.

That is a good (and blunt) way of looking at it. Far from demanding an exit strategy or even a token timetable for the now excruciatingly unpopular war, the Democrats have now devolved into using it as a bargaining chip for other projects. Give the Democrats a little cash, give the Republicans a little cash, and everyone will have something to vote for. After all, there is a long holiday break beckoning, and getting home to the family on time is far more important than having to spend a few more days haggling over something as unpleasant as determining how many more Americans should die in an ongoing, neverending clusterfuck. If only the soldiers could schedule their own breaks as reliably.

It is crystal clear that the Congressional Democrats are divided and incapable at best, and incompetent at worst. We have been through month after month of similar "showdowns", followed by similar collapses. This time, it at least has a financial price attached: if the Democrats are willing to sell out on the one overriding issue that brought them back into power, in the 2006 elections, at least we know they are able to use it as bargaining chip for other issues. Somehow, that is the exact opposite of comforting.

How do we work for them, in the next election, knowing that on the central issue the last election, they are unapologetically uninterested? Nationwide, Democrats were thrust into power in an overwhelming tide due to voter anger over the course of the war, and over the governance of the nation in general. What is there, in 2008, to vote for? What possible credibility do Democrats have over Republicans in ending the war, after time after time after time of abandoning all responsibility for it?

I don't know. We can support them, and vote for them, and we can do what we can do where our goals align, but more and more it seems the answer is Better Democrats, not necessarily More Democrats, and that organizing and providing support for more and more primary challenges should be one of our long-term goals. If we have to be an increasingly hostile thorn in their sides to force party leaders into leadership, then maybe that is the better course of action. The Presidency itself is vitally important to us, in order to block the nastiest of conservative plots from happening, but apparently the much heralded House and Senate aren't worth a bucket of ebola-laced monkey spit.

In battle after battle the House and Senate Dems have made it crystal clear that they do not give a flying shit about their base. They wish we'd just curl up and die. They're happy to have the free help spreading their points, but that help does not reciprocate in any way. There's not a damn thing they'll do on our behalf, or on behalf of the voters who made their regained power possible -- not one thing. They'll even sell out Move On by name -- and all in fear of this mythical overwhelming conservative tide of voters who will wag their fingers sternly and supposedly dangerously at the slightest provocation. They spend a hell of a lot more time worrying about what the racists think about brown people, and the religious extremists think about non-extremists, and the corporate lobbyists think about corporate needs, than they've ever once worried about any of us. Their strategy is all about placating, of all fucking things, the Republican base. That's who they're absolutely obsessed with: making sure the Republicans aren't mad at them, that thirty percent of voters who would rather join militias and drift off into the countryside than vote against hardcore Republicanism anyway.

They really have learned nothing, in their decade-plus of being out of power. Not a damn thing. They're still obsessed with strategic, plodding, inoffensive timidity as the answer to all possible situations and questions. We can only be glad that the civil rights battles are largely over for black Americans, because these people would sell out absolutely anyone and anything in order to continue their consultant-honed strategy of taking absolutely no stand on anything the slightest bit difficult.

It seems hard to come to any other conclusion but that a large part of the party, people like Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer foremost in that group, wants to cripple and kill us every bit as much as the Republicans do, all for the lazy-assed sake of avoiding hard fights on hard issues and being able to go back to the milquetoast, visionless blandfest that the party is at this point rightfully famous for. And the majority of the rest are more interested in their goddamn strategists than their goddamn consciences.

What can we possibly do, in order to move America towards a more forward-thinking path? It is the same story as always: the Democrats do not care about their base because they know full well we've got nowhere to go. But still, they push too far -- I am hardly a leftist, and am more to the point usually a painstaking pragmatist, willing to accept small victories over no victories at all, but they have at this point got even me thinking it's a waste of time to work with them.

Perhaps the answer is to excise the worst, surgically. And I don't mean individual conservative Democrats or Blue Dogs, but the sabotaging powerbrokers, the people strategizing out these absurd passion plays of pre-planned cowardice, in the name of not pissing off the mythical "center" of the country that demands complicity in all Republican agendas, whether it be scapegoating immigrants or continuing to look for a magical Iraqi pony that would finally make the entire bungled war worth it. Perhaps our only option is to go after those individuals full-force. Markos' stated goal a year or two ago was to destroy the DLC and their mushy, corporate and conservative-placating agenda, but they largely destroyed their own relevancy themselves. Maybe it's time to revise that plan and find more specific targets -- the party "leaders" who insist, time and time again, on not leading.

And yet, we are handcuffed. We cannot do anything that will too badly screw the Democratic chances for the presidency itself, because we really do urgently need that. The Supreme Court hinges on it, as well as the simple opportunity to prevent the at this point entirely insane Republican "foreign policy" fiascos that have so badly damaged America's leadership role in the world.

What strikes me at the moment is just how devoid of true, inspirational leaders the current party is. We've got nobody, at least not that is a household name. Kennedy? A longtime liberal and a fine speaker, but hasn't been able to accomplish a whole lot. Byrd made some fine speeches a few years ago, but between those speeches he's always been erratic at best. Reid seems like he's so miserable in the majority that he wants to just crawl under a rock, and I can't tell if Pelosi is being screwed by her subordinates, is screwing them, both, neither, is being screwed by the conservative Dems, or is suffering from something entirely different that I can't even grasp, but in her role as Democratic leader she is about as inspirational as a bowl of room temperature soup.

Hillary Clinton seems to studiously avoid even the shadow of a hint of a larger vision, and Edwards could not get the press to like him if he personally had sex with every one of them. Obama is indeed a fine speaker, but is at his best in well-crafted speeches in service to no particularly concrete or substantive goals -- and those goals he does most passionately espouse, like chastising fellow Democrats for not more emphatically embracing religion, are the stuff of uninspiring Broderesque conventionality. We have faced the most incompetent, corrupt, scandal prone, and indictment-laden administration in recent history, and yet we still must from all corners hear paeans to working together with the worst of the worst, and compromising with the bigoted, and bridging the gap between our moderate party and the one that has been purged of nearly all but the most single-minded of extremists.

Even if elected, it seems improbable that we could hope for more than moderate Dem caretaker status, in the presidency -- a partial rollback of Bush-era abuses, but not a full rollback, a healthcare plan cobbled together in some fashion as to make sure the insurance companies are well taken care of, and only moderate screwing of unions instead of full-bore screwing of unions. It will be a hell of a lot better than being shipped to Abu Ghraib in a duffle bag, but it is not really something to get giddy over.

The blogs are one of the few sources of fire in the entire party. We've got no political generals like the Republican Party's Rove/DeLay/Hastert axis of brutal enforcement and lacerating strategic competence, and we've got no agenda-setting ideologues like Norquist, Dobson, or the other increasingly far-right activists that can and do play the Republican party like a fiddle. The Republican Party has been remade in service to their most conservative, most bigoted, most aggressive, and most extreme members: we, on the other hand, have yet to figure out how to get the Democratic party to give the time of day to the vast majority of their supporters -- even though their supporters hold the majority positions, according to the polls, on nearly every one of the most important issues.

We've only got the blogs and other not-terribly-powerful activists. That is the only source of unapologetic ideology, of long-term vision, or of passion for a common good. We have no leaders except ourselves.

I do not have an answer, here. But once again the Democratic leadership insists on trading away all responsibilities for the Iraq War, presumably because they would rather abandon that responsibility than be forced to make any of the most urgently required decisions. Once again, each battle is willingly lost upon even the slightest hint of Republican obstruction. Once again, we have people like Rahm Emanuel urging the party into accepting far-right frames on immigration rather than stand up for a Democratic vision of what immigration should be, and how immigrants should be treated. We have people like Steny Hoyer using the Iraq War as bargaining chip for other agendas. We have Harry Reid signaling where the fight will end before the first round bell ever rings. We have our own presidential candidates praising the utterly invisible wisdom of people like Colin Powell.

Rather than making the case to the American people as to what the future should be, we have strategists, consultants and leaders looking at the polls and attempting to manuever themselves through a sea of Republican-manufactured arguments, agendas, hot button issues, and supposed public offenses. We've got a Republican party that was thrown out on its collective ear for corruption and incompetence, nationwide, and yet still there are no Democratic leaders willing to seize the reins of the future themselves, and bring a Democratic vision of the future to the public.

We do not have a party, at least not one with an agenda that can make it past even the smallest of Republican-planted obstructions. What we do about that at this point, I have no idea. But I am not about to sit back and pretend at cheerleading for a party that considers me no more than an annoyance to getting back to business as usual, and I am not about to pretend that the ongoing deaths of the Iraq war will be, come November, only the fault of the Republicans.

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