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1/22/2005

The Chamber of Commerce, Mehlman & Vogel

It is no surprise that the Chamber is deep in bed with the GOP, but the depth of the penetration is remarkable nonetheless. For instance, the Chamber of Commerce and the ILR hired the lobbying firm Mehlman & Vogel to work on limiting corporate legal liability. Firm co-founder Bruce Mehlman is the brother of RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, who we recently saw trumpeting limiting corporate legal liability as a way to reach out to Latino voters. Bruce Mehlman spent the last week partying it up around town, "spending more time as a brother than as a lobbyist, looking to celebrate with friends with whom I served in the administration, and worry about pushing policy the week after." [NYT] Co-founder Alex Vogel, meanwhile, "helped write the [Class Action Fairness Act] legislation, participated in negotiations on it and knows many of the key players, credentials that led the Chamber of Commerce to hire him for strategic advice to help 'drag it across the finish line.'" [NYT]

The Chamber spent $30 million on lobbying in 2004 and $34 million in 2003. The smaller 2004 figure should be augmented by the $3 million the Chamber spent on the November Fund to attack trial lawyers and the huge organizing effort the Chamber put together to oust Tom Daschle.

Washington business lobbyists made an extraordinary effort to usher Dashcle from power because they said they were frustrated with his role in blocking tax cuts, energy legislation and liability limits.

"It was Tom Daschle the obstructionist who motivated us to stand up publicly and form Team Thune," a coalition of two dozen trade associations and lobbying firms, Van Dongen recalled.

The group was modeled after efforts used in Georgia and Minnesota Senate races in recent years. "We recognized we can take the mechanism of a Washington legislative coalition and reposition it for political purposes," Van Dongen said.

In short order, the coalition raised half a million dollars for Thune from corporate contacts. By election day, it had funneled 200 volunteer lobbyists and lawyers from Washington to South Dakota, matching the labor organizers and Democratic lobbyists supporting Daschle. Similar business teams were organized to support the successful GOP Senate candidates in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Troop Armor

Via PDB, Eric Umansky quotes Inside the Pentagon. Up-armored humvees are falling to powerful insurgent rocket propelled grenades and roadside bombs. Ideological head-in-assism delayed administration recognition of the need to improve armor, if it has actually been recognized.

Institute for Legal Reform

The Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), "which is financed by large contributions from the most-often-sued corporations in America," [WP] has been very active of late. Its main agenda item has been limitation of corporate legal liability, which it has been pushing both at the federal and state level.

Jim VendeHei and John Harris of the Post mapped much of the terrain over which corporate liability issues will be fought. The ILR's strategy has three prongs: extorting state legislatures to limit liability, promoting apocryphal anecdotes in the media to skew the perception of the issue, and focusing on specific areas of liability rather than a single sweeping stroke.

The ILR has recently been active in Georgia, where corporations are extorting the state into protecting them from their wrongs. It is a classic example of the power corporations exert over state government finances. Lisa Rickard, president of the ILR, made the argument more explicitly in the Cincinnati Post:

As a state that ranked in the lower half (32 of 50) of this year's U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform/Harris State Liability System Rankings, legal reform in Ohio was long overdue. Employers are afraid to locate in states with abusive legal climates, and litigation forces the average Ohio family of four to pay an extra $3,200 a year in higher prices, higher insurance rates and skyrocketing health care costs.

Thanks to the recent action taken by the Ohio legislature, the scales of justice will be more balanced -- and less inclined to tip in favor of the select group of wealthy plaintiffs' attorneys who staunchly opposed these reforms. In conjunction with recent asbestos litigation reforms enacted last year, Ohioans can take heart that these changes will help the state enjoy the same level of success we've seen in the two other states -- Texas and Mississippi -- that recently have passed comprehensive legal reform legislation.
The economic dynamism of Texas and Mississippi - there's something for Ohio to aspire to. The ILR has also prominently attacked Madison County, Illinois.

The ILR is effusive in its praise for George W. Bush's efforts, through the "Class Action Fairness Act," to protect corporate wrongdoers against class action lawsuits. The same for his efforts to limit corporate liability for asbestos harms. The ILR is also working on "global forum shopping," medical malpractice, toxic mold, and obesity litigation, according to it's Legal Reform Now site. If you get a chance, browse through some of the Legal Reform Now newsrooms, to see how deeply the Chamber has burrowed into the heart of the peudo-conservative beast. Also note the prominence of pseudo-conservative WSJ editorialist John Fund on the ILR's home page.

AP Supreme Court Kremlinology

Potential Supreme Court Nominees:
* James Harvie Wilkinson III, appointed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., by President Reagan in 1984. He has built a solidly conservative record.

* Larry Thompson, deputy attorney general and the Bush administration's highest-ranking black law-enforcement official until he quit in 2003. He is general counsel at PepsiCo.

* John Roberts, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 2003 and former Rehnquist clerk.

* Michael McConnell, a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A respected conservative legal scholar, he enjoys bipartisan support in the academic community.

* J. Michael Luttig, a Texas native who worked in the Justice Department during the first Bush administration. He was named to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1991.

* Samuel Alito Jr., a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. He is nicknamed "Scalito" because he has views like Scalia.

* Edith Jones, a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and former general counsel for the Texas Republican Party.

* Emilio Miller Garza, a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. President Bush's father considered the Hispanic judge a Supreme Court prospect.

* Theodore B. Olson, Bush's solicitor general until last summer. He represented Bush in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case at the Supreme Court.
McConnell may be the best of these. Liberal academics that have worked with him note his intellectual integrity. Is a nutjob with integrity better than the alternative?

1/21/2005

Conservative Organizations working on Judicial Nominations

There are tons of pseudo-conservative groups that pay close attention to judicial nominations, but there are only a few that are involved in nitty-gritty strategizing. As far as I can tell, the three specialist groups are Kay Daly's Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, Sean Rushton's Committee for Justice, and Jay Sekulow's American Center for Law and Justice. C. Boyden Gray's network of interlocking organizations works on the issue, as does wildcard Manny Miranda. And then, of course, there is the Federalist Society, in all its illuminati glory.

They use right wing media to test out their talking points, notably Human Events and the Washington Times. Such a small universe is not hard to get a grasp on, and there's gold in them there gutters.

Tapped on the Nuclear Option

Sam Rosenfeld at Tapped reflects on The Hill's warnings about Senate Majority Leader Frists' scheme to destroy Senate traditions. Ted Goldman a reporter for Legal Times, has a long piece on the controversy, Handicapping Bush's Judicial Nominations, Legal Times, 1/20/05.

Sam links to: Alexander Bolton, Frist aims nuke at the Dems, The Hill; Editorial, The Senate's Cold War, The Hill; Charles Babington, GOP Moderates Wary of Filibuster Curb, The Washington Post.

For a sampling of pseudo-conservative rhetoric on the nuclear option, see:

David Limbaugh, 'Nuclear Option' Not Really Nuclear, Washington Times 1/2/05; reprinted from Human Events, 12/28/04; Robert Bluey, Frist Fingers 'Nuclear' Trigger, Human Events 1/7/05; Editorial, Ending filibuster abuse: Show some guts, Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, 1/13/05; Terence Jeffrey, The Undemocratic Party, The Washington Times, 1/4/05; Sen. John Cornyn, Senatorial Resolutions, National Review, 1/4/05; .

Paperwight & Anti-Federalism

I want to take a second to highlight Paperwight's Fairshot - he and Digby come about as close to representing my views as anyone in the blog-universe. Paperwight's most recent post is a column by Philip Freneau in the National Gazette, an early anti-Federalist newspaper. We have much to learn from this era (roughly 1790-1802 - the rise of the partisan political press), rhetorically, substantively, and strategically. Freneau, Benjamin Franklin Bache, James Callendor, William Duane - these are names that have fallen from progressive memory, though they shaped, even created, Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party. We remember, occasionally, Thomas Paine, and less often, the anti-Federalist papers, but we forget the context in which those conflicts arose and those arguments made.

The anti-Federalists, heavily influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment, were fighting a resurgent class structure in American society, best represented by the scoundrel Adams. They favored the French, who had just aided us in our war for independence. They favored expansion of the franchise to all free men, weak in retrospect, but radical for the time. They opposed corruption in government, particularly self-dealing on the part of the governing class. They took their fight to the common man and to the streets. For this, they were met with private arms and public laws. Who thinks of Scottish dissidents when discussing the Alien & Sedition Acts? That history wasn't in my law school classes. Adams tried to crush the anti-federalist presses, but succeeded only in dispersing and strengthening them. Major newspapers fled Pennsylvania, moving westward to near present day Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and north into the Federalist base. Major anti-federalist presses worked out of Frankfort Kentucky, wielding frontier values against entrenched power in Philadelphia and Boston.

That heritage is ours, not theirs. The Federalist Society isn't a reference to the Federalist Papers, but to the Federalist Party. The American Constitution Society, formerly known as the Madison Society, was explicitly founded on the prudent democratic values of the anti-Federalists. It's counterintuitive, that the anti-Federalists should have inspired modern Democrats, and the Federalists the pseudo-conservatives, but the geneaology is clear. The tension is eased by the recognition that pseudo-conservatives want to own the state, not limit it; exploit class tension and anxiety, not reduce it.

For more, please read Richard Rosenfeld's American Aurora and Jeff Pasley's The Tyranny of the Printers. Pasley used to blog at the History News Network, but he's gone silent (despite my emails). I have been flogging these books in comments at places like Left2Right and Delong's place, but to no avail. Inspiration lies within - in less than half a decade, the anti-Federalists revolutionized politics, built a party, and won the presidency. (I also think we should use the word "calumny" more often.)

Update: Paul Glastris, invoking the era at Washington Monthly.

Wellstone Action in Kentucky

I am working on getting Wellstone Action to hold a training program in Kentucky this Summer. As maybe one of a half dozen Kentuckians that worked on one of Senator Wellstone's campaigns, I can't stress how important it is that we Kentuckians learn to organize like Paul did.

Kentucky's tradition of progressive, decent, moderate politics is slipping, snared in the creeping Reedification of Midwestern politics. If Kentucky, always a border state, falls, Ralph Reed's pernicious politics will stand on the door step of the industrial Midwest. It's time to take our stand - indeed, it's time to push back. Kentucky can do it - Louisville is still solidly blue, and Lexington has actually grown increasingly blue in the last several cycles. The mountain counties of Eastern Kentucky shine blue, though a lack of organization and demographic shifts have reduced their electoral clout. It is the culturally deep South areas of Western Kentucky and the anomalous conservative Catholic areas of Northern Kentucky that weigh down the state, producing overwhelming margins for the GOP. Nonetheless, we won a special election in early 2004, and we almost won a Senate seat we had no business competing in. We still have a chance to hold the state.

Unfortunately, we won't have the party to help us. I don't want to be too down on the KYDP, but they are in organizational shambles. Digging themselves deeper, they recently elected a new chair, Jerry Lundergan, who is driving liberals out of the party:

Democratic State Representatives Kathy Stein of Lexington and Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville say there's a chance they could be registered Independents by the 2006 elections. Marzian and Stein are two of the more liberal state Reps. Both cite the reelection of Democratic House leaders, Democrats pushing the ban on gay marriage and the selection of Jerry Lundergan as state party chairman as proof the Democratic party is leaving its roots, becoming too conservative:

“We will continue to try to out-Republican the Republicans? I don’t think it can be done,” said Stein.
It's not that Lundergan is too conservative, or that he's a bad organizer (though to my knowledge he's never demonstrated any acumen), but that he has a ton of "ethics" baggage, including an illegal "$153,000 no-bid state contract for catering work" in the late 80s. Nonetheless, he received the tacit endorsement of House Democratic leaders, who still hold a sizable majority, and waltzed into the chairmanship.

The major selling point for Kentucky progressives is that the GOP are corrupt, power-hungry rogues. [See Bluegrassroots for more]. Lundergan will not be able to effectively make that case, and the fact that party leaders didn't oppose him demonstrates that they still don't see reality. Unpleasant as it may be, we must now work with the party when we can, without it when we can't, and against it when we must.

The first step is identifying, training, and energizing our activist base. We are there, even in Northern and Western Kentucky. We need to develop a plan forward. Wellstone Action can help us move forward. Leave a message or drop me an email if you are interested in helping make this happen.

Lincoln Chafee Vulnerable

Reports the Providence Journal:

A public opinion survey commissioned by U.S. Senate Democrats shows Republican incumbent Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee to be vulnerable to a Democratic challenge in 2006, especially if the candidate is U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin, of Warwick.

The poll numbers released yesterday by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee show Langevin with 52 percent, Chafee at 32 percent and 17 percent undecided, said Cara Morris, spokeswoman for the committee.

The survey was done by Mark Mellman, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic pollster who is familiar with Rhode Island politics. The poll of 500 registered voters was done from Jan. 11-13, Morris said. (The numbers do not equal 100 because of arithmetic rounding.)

Mellman asked this question: "If the November 2006 election were held today and the candidates were James Langevin and Lincoln Chafee, who would you vote for?"
An email to Jim Langevin, urging him to run, seems in order. 2004@jimlangevin.com

Fort Wayne Indiana, Victim of Liberal Conspiracy

Movement fellow traveler Men's Health magazine declared Fort Wayne, Indiana "the dumbest town in all the land." Fort Wayne News-Sentinel columnist Kevin Leininger responded that the "'F' was basically 'an evil liberal media conspiracy.' He threw out the fact that 8 of the 10 smartest cities were in blue states, and eight of the dumbest were in red states. He doesn't think it's a coincidence that 'a certain amount of cultural elitism was at work here.'"

Inauguration Coverage

I kept my head in the sand yesterday. I'll update this post with inauguration coverage worth reading. To start things off, people should check out Business Week's offering: Bush Sticks to His Guns:

You have to hand it to George W. Bush: He sticks to his guns, both literally and figuratively. In delivering his second inaugural address to thousands of loyalists, lawmakers, and dignitaries on Jan. 20, the 43rd President didn't reach out to defeated Democrats or alienated international allies.

The President expressed not a whit of regret at any decision he has ever made. Instead, he laid out his fundamentally dichotomous view of the world. Right vs. wrong. Good vs. evil. Us against them. In Bush's worldview, the U.S., through the force of its ideals and its military, is the anointed global defender of freedom and liberty. Whether you agree with him or not, there were no surprises.


Update, 9:52 PM 1/22/05:
Michael Berube: There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment and expose the pretensions of tyrants. And that is the force of human torture.
Ezra @ Pandagon: I don't think Bush, at this point, much cares what he says in public nor how closely it tracks to his agenda ("I'm a conservationist"). I've found he's never worth listening to but always requires watching (I'm a uniter, not a divider"). And that's why I had no interest in viewing his inaugural and Peggy Noonan was disgusted by it, we both know what the man is like -- though our attitudes towards him could hardly be more divergent -- and we both know yesterday's address had no relation to how he'll govern.
Matt Yglesias: Bush is more-or-less the reverse, a faux liberal. If you listen to his speeches, you would believe that his agenda consists of making the tax code fairer to people of modest means, improving the environment, expanding access to affordable health care, strenghtening New Deal/Great Society entitlement programs, and ending poverty. The fact that he isn't doing those things does, of course, matter. But the fact that he feels a need to pretend to be doing those things also matters. It shows that, roughly speaking, Bill Clinton succeeded in rehabilitating liberalism, even if he left office with the Democratic Party 100 percent out of power. The GOP has only been able to succeed by consistently adopting a pose of liberalism. This is a significant achievement, in and of itself, even if it would also be nice to win elections.
Marty Sieff, UPI, Analysis: Chasing liberty. Sieff is undoubtedly part of the reality based community, though conservative. He disagrees with the wisdom of Bush's course rather than his honesty.

Misleading Headlines

The Cleveland Plain Dealer apparently has a copy-editor that doesn't read the articles. Take a look at the Plain Dealer's article on the inaurgural speech, titled "Empower Americans with an Ownership Society," which includes the following text:

Bush only briefly mentioned his goal to 'build an ownership society,' an allusion to his desire to give citizens more responsibility while lessening the government's role. Critics fear he will leave the needy without the necessary money or services.

He barely hinted at private Social Security accounts and other domestic priorities of his second term, saying, 'We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance, preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society.'

Bush acknowledged the racial divisions in the United States, saying, 'Our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.'

But these were asides in a speech dedicated chiefly to the spread of freedom. With the nation still at war in Iraq, Bush did not threaten force against other nations' 'tyranny' - another oft-repeated word in his address. He specified, in fact, that spreading freedom 'is not primarily the task of arms.'

1/20/2005

GOP Targets

As usual, the LATimes article "GOP Sees Outreach Potential in Agenda" is about 90% garbage GOP spin, but about 10% noteworthy information. As we move forward, we need to improve our ability to monitor and track conservative political strategy, including which demographic groups they are actually targeting (as opposed to who they merely wish they could target). Knowing this, we need to preserve our base by countering their message. Jesse over at Pandagon has already dissected Ken Mehlman's LAT comments, but there's more in there:

President Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security and enact other sweeping policy changes are making some Republican lawmakers uneasy about the political risks. But the party's new chairman said Wednesday that the White House agenda actually could 'broaden and deepen' the GOP's dominance by attracting new voters, including young people and African Americans.

The comments by new Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman on the eve of Bush's second inauguration marked a rare acknowledgment that the president's objectives came with a political goal: GOP control in Washington for years after Bush leaves.

'When we push to save Social Security, we have an historic opportunity to bring more young Americans into our party,' Mehlman said, referring to Bush's proposal to let workers put some payroll taxes into private accounts. 'If you're 30 years old or younger and you care about a secure retirement, the Republican Party has a plan for you.'

Mehlman also told party leaders that debates over nominating judges, funding faith-based groups, offering school choice and limiting lawsuits added up to potential gains for GOP candidates in the future.

'When we debate who should sit on the judiciary, we have an opportunity to deepen the GOP by registering to vote men and women who attend church every week but aren't yet registered voters,' he said. 'We can bring new African American faces and voices into our party when we debate whether faith-based organizations should have a seat at the table and whether public schools need to be more accountable and parents need more choices.'

"We can deepen the GOP by identifying and turning out Americans who vote for president but miss off-year elections and agree with our work for a culture of life, promotion of marriage, and belief in our 2nd Amendment heritage.

"And," he concluded, "we can bring new Latino doctors, accountants and teachers tired of frivolous lawsuits into our party as we debate lawsuit reform.
Abolition of social security is apparently targeted toward young voters; base issues are aimed at sporadic voters; the "faith" claptrap is also a bas reduction strategy, aimed at African American Democrats; and tort reform will be part of a bizarre outreach campaign targeting Latinos. None of this makes any sense, but if the GOP sends its message into a vacuum, it will fill the void.

1/19/2005

Nuclear Option

From The Hill's January 20 Tipsheet:

Expect Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to trigger the much anticipated and much feared nuclear option next month. The procedural tactic will strip Democrats of the ability to filibuster judicial nominees through a ruling of the Senate chair, upheld by a majority vote of the chamber. Some observers thought that Frist would reserve the controversial tactic for a Supreme Court nomination fight. But Frist indicated otherwise earlier this month when he said: “Next month we will have the opportunity to restore Senate tradition. I will bring one of the president’s very capable, qualified, and experienced judicial nominees to the floor.” Conservative advocates interpreted those remarks as a solid indication that Frist will go nuclear in February.

Pletka on Rice

Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, 1/19/05: Danielle Pletka, foreign policy expert at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, said Ms Rice had in effect presented the president's views. Ms Pletka said the Bush administration shared the vision and goals of the neoconservatives, but that it would be wrong to portray Ms Rice as having been "hijacked" by them.
Pletka is right. There is no reason for optimism about Rice's tenure at state. Rice may have the President's ear, but more importantly, he has hers. She will reflect his views, not vice versa. Steve Clemons is similarly realistic:
A lot of people will be giving Bush a new honeymoon on foreign policy issues -- but all I can say is that all of those pundits who thought that Iraq had been so disastrous that the neocons would be out and the realists back in, were amazingly off target.

I argued that I saw no empirical evidence of neocon decline -- and I think that we need to be careful of giving Bush too much room to run right now.

1/17/2005

Daily News

Andy Card

The Boston Globe has an AP piece on Andy Card's "tight ship." In many ways, Card embodies the loyalty fetish typical of Bushism. The Washington Post published a personal look at Card back on January 5th, focusing on his memory devices and his organizational tactics.

Kennedy and Gonzales

Ted Kennedy, remaining true to his comments of a week ago, is "leaning against" confirming Al Gonzales. Said Kennedy: "This nominee is the principal architect, it appears, for the development of the changes in the Geneva Convention, and torture. And he has an opportunity in response to these questions to explain it. I don't think he did."

Rice

The Post manages to use Rice's failures to show that she is "really charming," in Brent Scowcroft's words. I heard, from some "bigs" at Steve Clemons' event a couple of weeks ago, the opposite, to say the least. The news of Zoellick's ascension had just broken, and people were wondering how State would work with two "rude" people at the helm. Many of their friends would probably agree that both Rice and Zoellick have brusque, abrasive personalities. In the midst of another fairly hagiographic piece, the NYT reports that Rice intends to restore "diplomacy" to the center of the Bush international agenda. All the evidence, though, points to Rice embracing public relations, rather than diplomacy, as her job - she wants to "restore America's reputation;" Bush wants her to "explain our motives and explains our intentions," "to do a better job of explaining what America is all about." The world doesn't want to be explained to, though - it wants to be listened to.

Private Military

Employees at some of the private contractors in Iraq don't fare so well, as shown in the story of Allen Petty, former KBR truckdriver. The stress and risk was great, the reward minimal. I would have liked to know what Mr. Petty thought about George W. Bush. His wife thinks KBR is to blame, he thinks the military is - but who really decided to invade with inadequate troop levels and an unrealistic strategic assessment, only to fill the gaps with private military forces?

Jim Wallis

Wallis, of Sojourners, met with Congressional and Senate Democrats to talk about faith. It would be nice if he could fill a Michael Gerson-like role, enabling Democrats to make clear that their positions are compatible with, or animated, by faith. We do not need someone to repeat the tired, ridiculous tripe that Democrats are hostile to religion. "Moral values" are a public relations issue, not a substantive issue: we are already the party of moral values. The most interesting part of the NYT's reporting, though, is the commnetary by Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention, who "argued that Mr. Wallis misunderstood conservative evangelical voters because he conflated the moral issue of alleviating poverty with the practical issue of whether Democratic policies are the way to do it," claiming "that the debate is over, based on the 30-year experiment, about whether big government or free markets work better at producing wealth for everybody." Land is wrong as a matter of policy, but he shows the extent of interpenetration between free-market ideology and evangelicalism, the bizarre epistemological underpinnings of pseudo-conservatism.

Nick Confessore and Grover Norquist

That interpenetration, reflected in pseudo-conservative economics, is the central topic of Confessore's NYT article on Grover Nroquist and Bush's reactionary tax agenda. Pseudo-conservatives ardently believe in the inefficiency of taxing wealth, with no rationale but their moral sentiments.

1/16/2005

Change Agent

I spent Friday and Saturday night at the Emerging Progressives Forum, an event about which I will have a lot to say over the next couple of days. It has been an incredibly thought provoking event, a chance to revive old friendships, meet fellow activists, and talk with some big shots that don't usually mingle with the ground.

One of the big shots was Rahm Emanuel, the late Congressman Matsui's replacement as chair of the DCCC. Emanuel spoke, at some length, about the central failing of the Kerry 2004 message: Kerry failed to establish himself as an agent of change. Emanuel's explanation is that, since 1992 when he was a staffer in the Clinton campaign, each election has been won by the party more able to articulate a message of change. In 1992, Clinton was the party of change. In 1994, the GOP insurgency was far more dynamic. In 1996, Clinton, despite being the incumbent, was able to run as the agent of change ("building a bridge to the 21st century") against Bob Dole, who was still driving his horse and buggy across the bridge to the 20th century. In 1998, the Democrats were again the change agents, the party that wanted to "moveon" from the impeachment. In 2000, the Bush campaign was able to brand itself as change - the only time Gore experienced a bump in the polls was when he broke from the past, declaring himself "his own man." 2002 was muddled by 9/11, but there was certainly a dynamism that underlay the GOP.

That brings us to 2004. I haven't seen the figures Emanuel cited, but he claimed that over a quarter of the electorate identified Bush as the agent of change in the 2004 election. That's depressing, but not particularly shocking - the revolutionary aspect of pseudo-conservatism makes it look dynamic, and Kerry wasn't able to break through the initial credibility barrier to effectively lay out his vision for the future. People didn't trust him, both because of what his campaign let become the focus of the election and the effective viciousness of the Bush operation. Despite the Bush campaign's constant invocation of "steadfastness," "resolve," and "not changing horses in the middle of a stream," people thought of those as character traits and "moral values," not an endorsement of Bush's particular policy agenda.

Emanuel's hypothesis isn't a mantra, a key that opens the electoral lockbox. But there is no doubt that we need to reclaim the mantle of dynamism. About twelve hours after listening to Emanuel's explanation, I read Jim VandeHei and Michael Fletcher in the Washington Post, Bush Says Election Ratified Iraq Policy. Bush claims that his re-election was an endorsement of his policy agenda, particularly in Iraq:

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."
How's that for change? This information needs to be force fed to people that think Bush is a change agent. When John Kerry said a vote for Bush was a vote for four more years of the same, Bush silently nodded in agreement. It's a shame he didn't tell his voters that.

Emanuel's hypothesis also has interesting implications for the social security debate. We are basically the party of stasis on social security, the conservative party that realizes the program works well and wants to preserve it, while every Bush invocation of "crisis" makes him a change agent. We shouldn't run away from that, but we need to make clear that preserving social security is the dynamic position. I'll try to throw out some ideas on the matter later today.

Nation Building as Special Operations

I don't really have a strong feeling one way or the other on whether Civil Affairs troops should be part of the Army's special operations command or its "regular" army - if there was reason to grant Rumsfeld the benefit of the doubt, it could be a viewed as a relatively benign restructuring. The problem, of course, is that there is no reason to grant Rumsfeld such a benefit, and in fact, it would be foolish to do so. Everytime you see a glimmer of attachment to reality from him, it turns out to be a mirage.

Civil affairs offices oppose the change, and now is not the time to be upsetting morale. They are struggling to reconstruct Iraq in the face of a woefully deficient strategy, insufficient troops, and a determined insurgency. Now might not be the best time for a 'huge change' that would do nothing to resolve the short term challenges facing Civil Affairs.

What's really shocking in the Post's report on this issue, though, is Civil Affairs' very thinly veiled hostility and suspicion toward Rumsfeld. It's clear that they don't grant him the benefit of the doubt, and justifiably so.

The proposed reorganization is the latest issue over which the strong-minded defense secretary has tangled with the Army, which is the largest of the services, the one most enmeshed in Iraq, and the one that most consistently feels misunderstood. Over the last two years, the Army saw its chief of staff publicly rebuked by civilian leaders over the number of troops that would be required to occupy Iraq, and then, after the spring 2003 invasion, saw the firing of the Army secretary.
The Post doesn't flesh this out, but it's referring to the General Shinseki, whose troop level assessments were likely far closer to what we actually needed, and General White, who pushed for more development of a post-invasion plan, only to be rebuffed by Rumsfeld. In both cases, Rumsfeld spat on the far more informed estimates of the uniformed military.

The article also makes clear Rumsfeld's continuing inability to recognize that his military transformation strategy is misguided. He wants to emphasize the video-game aspect of war fighting, assassinations and snatches, to the exclusion of the more pedestrian, but more important aspects of war fighting. Just two months ago, Rumsfeld petulantly asked why his ill-conceived diktat wasn't being followed - despite what should have been the lesson learned from Iraq. The military can not make us safer if it's used the way Rumsfeld initially conceived it. We will continute to produce failed states and breeding ground for terrorists, rather than "drying up the swamps," or whatever the current metaphorical justification for our invasion is.

An overview of an indictment of Rumsfeld:

1. Rumsfeld has catastrophically mismanaged the Iraq war effort.

A. Not Enough Troops.

Secretary Rumsfeld "insisted on micromanaging the [Iraq] war’s operational details" from the outset, and insisted that the war would require minimal troop commitments. [The New Yorker, 4/7/03; Bob Novak, 5/1/03] Former U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer said troop shortages were what allowed the insurgency to get off the ground. [CNN, 10/5/04] Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recently claimed that three times the current troop levels are required to produce a reasonably stable Iraqi government. [Los Angeles Times, 1/7/05] Senator John McCain "estimated that 80,000 more Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq," and noted that he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld's ability to do the job. [MSNBC 12/15/04]

B. No Post-War Plans.

Rather than plan for the worst and hope for the best, Secretary Rumsfeld "planned for the best and some of the worst has happened - they just don't seem to be capable of learning from that," said Senator Evan Bayh. [Indianapolis Star, 12/17/04] His war plan assumed that "Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops with open arms and Washington could install a favored Iraqi exile leader as the country's leader," so there was no need to plan for the post-war period. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/03] The "high-level failure" to produce a postwar plan has undercut the entire US mission in Iraq, according to Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, official Army historian of the Iraq campaign. [Washington Post, 12/25/04]

2. Rumsfeld distorted intelligence in the leadup to war.

The Department of Defense provided unreliable and false intelligence on Iraq's WMD capabilities and connections to terrorism to the White House. The Department of Defense consistently undermined the more sober and accurate analyses of the intelligence community while providing inflammatory arguments to the administration and sympathetic journalists. [Knight Ridder, 10/21/04; Levin Report (PDF)]

3. Rumsfeld tolerates torture.

A. Torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Secretary Rumsfeld explicitly authorized many of the abusive tactics employed at Guantanamo Bay, including stripping prisoners for humiliation and threatening them with dogs. [Washington Post, 6/23/04] New Guantanamo Bay abuse allegations surface regularly. [Washington Post, 12/21/04] Guantanamo Bay tactics migrated to Abu Ghraib, when the Department of Defense sent Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to "Gitmoize" the prison. [Washington Post, 5/10/04; New Yorker, 5/15/04]. Torture allegations have greatly undermined America's international credibility and the global war on terrorism. [The Atlantic, July/August 2004]

B. Ghosting Prisoners.

Secretary Rumsfeld personally authorized at least one case of "ghosting," or hiding a prisoner from authorities and human rights organizations, ordering that a prisoner be held "off the books". [MSNBC, 6/16/04] Ghosting is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [MSNBC, 6/17/04]. The ghosted detainee did not produce any high value intelligence.

4. Rumsfeld mistreats the troops.

A. Not Enough Armor.

Secretary Rumsfeld was asked by a soldier why his unit didn't have adequate vehicle armor. Rumsfeld responded, "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." [New York Times, 12/9/04] Years after the decision to invade was made, troops still lacked adequate vehicle and body armor, despite its ready availability to the Pentagon. [Washington Post, 10/18/04; Newsweek, 12/20/04, Newsweek, 5/3/04]. Senator Susan Collins noted that "the Department of Defense still has been unable to ensure that our troops have the equipment they need to perform their mission as safely as possible." [CNN, 12/16/04] Up to 20% of American troop fatalities are attributable to poorly armored vehicles. [Newsweek, 5/3/04]

B. Auto-Pen.

Secretary Rumsfeld didn't bother to personally sign condolence letters sent to the families of dead soldiers, "the least that we could expect out of the secretary of defense," according to Sen. Chuck Hagel. [NY Daily News, 12/20/04].

 

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