Sunday, November 27, 2005

The "Misunderestimation" of Post War Iraq

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."

On March 20th, 2003, American missiles hit Baghdad signaling the start of the Iraq war. Since then we have all seen 2100 US forces and 100 UK forces killed. We have seen 15,000 US troops injured, maimed, and in some cases seriously and permanently disfigured. The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from between 20,000 and 30,000.

Whether you supported or were against the Iraq War, on many levels you should hate what it entails. Beyond the sentimentality of victory and the fear of defeat... beyond the idealism of our quest to install a system of democracy... beyond our hope that the resulting ripples of freedom and liberty might spread throughout the region... the reality of what we have lost demands an earnest and honest appraisal of what we have truly earned.

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By any assessment, the operation to topple Saddam from power was one of the most expedient and bloodless military actions in the history of human warfare. Precision bombing and a massive ground troop invasion exposed the Republican Guard and Saddam's precarious grip on power. The expected WMD onslaught was nowhere to be seen. But, what now seems clear is that beneath the veil of the Pentagon's devastating and effective invasion strategy was a pitifully naive assessment of what the reconstruction of Iraq would actually entail:

From the Financial Times: "Undersecretary of Defense, Douglas Feith led a group in the Pentagon who all along felt that this was going to be not just a cakewalk, it was going to be 60–90 days, a flip-over and hand-off, a lateral or whatever to . . . the Iraqi National Congress. The Department of Defense could then wash its hands of the whole affair and depart quickly, smoothly and swiftly. And there would be a democratic Iraq that was amenable to our wishes and desires left in its wake. And that’s all there was to it."

From Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: "Here's what the plan was: The plan devised principally in Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith's office, and I have to believe, if Rumsfeld is the controller, the leader he says he is, that he was fully cognizant of this, and I don't think he would have been cognizant of it without the blessings of the vice president either. The plan was to put Jay Garner, General Jay Garner, in his organization, called ORHA, on the ground in Iraq for maybe 90 to 120 days, install Ahmed Chalabi and his INC colleagues, or some other look-alike, in control, and then leave, withdrawing most of the major military force in the process, if not all of it, in a very short period of time. This is ineptitude and incompetence of the first order."

In a post 9/11 world, it is astonishing to think that there was virtually no recognition of the political consequences of a United States occupation in the Middle East. They did not think that there would be a prolonged, sophisticated insurgency. They did not think that the Iraqi population would broadly resent US forces, in turn facilitating and strengthening militants interested in undermining the path to Democracy. When, in the lead up to war, General Shinseki stated that several hundred thousand troops would be required to guarantee stability in Iraq Paul Wolfowitz branded him "wildly off the mark." Such was the Administration's fervent belief in the power of freedom that they dogmatically construed US forces would be greeted as liberators. Upon that flawed premise they took everything else for granted.

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On September 19th, 2003, US Chief Administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer enacted Order 39 which announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatized and that foreign firms could retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories. It also allowed these firms to move 100% of their profits outside of Iraq.

By any measure of free market reforms these are some of the most instantaneously dramatic in the history of the civilized world. At a time when the stability of a divided nation emerging chaotically from the violent order of a brutal dictator was most prescient, and upon that stability rested the lives of US soldiers, UK soldiers, and innocent Iraqi civilians... a dramatic restructuring of Iraqi society was undertaken.

Even putting all altruistic notions to one side... even if all the Administration cared about was US corporations reaping billions and billions of dollars, how could they not have recognized that the security of Iraq was an essential prerequisite to its ability to function, let alone prosper?

The result of these reforms was a devastating 70% level of unemployment sparked by public sector layoffs and an Iraqi labor force in disarray, transitioning to an entirely new set of alien circumstances in which nothing, not even their most basic necessities, were guaranteed. In addition, Iraq's borders were suddenly opened for trade, putting even more pressure on the way in which Iraqi's had previously attempted to make money, acquire goods, and feed their families. In an effort to win hearts and minds, is it really the most sensible course of action to undertake reforms that make 70% of the population unemployed?

Contrary to popular belief, Iraq is not Afghanistan, it is a comparatively developed society. Do you think an unemployed factory worker would have wanted his nation's industries privatized to companies who can take all of the profits they reap elsewhere? Do we restructure Iraqi society on his behalf because we know better? Is that the democracy we seek? Will the government that is elected in December retain the power to kick out US companies, re-nationalize its industries, or invite investment from nations that the US has shut out like France and Germany? If not, what kind of credibility do we think that a picture like this...

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...sends to an unemployed Iraqi flirting with the insurgency, or a citizen in Iran, or Syria, from whom with admiring eyes democracy is supposed to spread.

The point is not whether these reforms work, the point is isolating exactly what our mandate in post war Iraq is. John Murtha accurately identified that US forces have become the primary focus of the insurgency. While insurgents seek to blow up civilians, and undermine the Democratic process, it all serves their primary political purpose of attacking their enemy - their "Imperial occupiers, masquerading as liberators." And while this pretense may be nothing more than clever political posturing, it still underpins their ability to flourish and strengthen with the wider support of the Iraqi people.

A secret poll undertaken for the British Ministry of Defense showed that 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks against Allied Forces and fewer than one per cent think Allied involvement is helping to improve security in their country. Just like the I.R.A. in N. Ireland, or Basque separatists in Spain, or Hamas in Palestine, perceived political oppression facilitates the notion of a political war... and unadulterated fascists like Zarqawi can emerge as freedom fighters and heroes to millions in Iraq and across the Arab world.

When we condone torture, when we laud democracy but reshape Iraqi society ourselves, when we put too few troops on the ground, and disband Iraq's only security infrastructure, the Republican National Guard... when we appoint an incompetent, politically inappropriate Chief Administrator, Jay Garner, and then need to replace him after only two months (Brown as head of FEMA and Miers as the most qualified SCOTUS nominee aren't isolated mistakes)... when we've planned to attack civilian journalists working for Al Jazeera in an indiscriminate bombing campaign... when we do these things we arm the insurgency with its most potent weapon... the widely held perception of US imperialism, and the abdication of our greatest strength... the nobility of our cause.

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Considering all the money that we have spent, and all the money that has been invested, it is difficult to comprehend that the conditions in Iraq were considered worse than under Saddam in a detailed survey conducted by the United Nations. When stability and security are at a premium, and our war against the insurgency is a battle for the hearts and minds of individual Iraqi's, I cannot believe the accessibility to basic provisions like water and electricity are still at such low levels (chart above).

We currently have a U.S. Administration that has no concept of accountability. Troubles at home or abroad are invariably a political calculation from which they must emerge... not troubles for individual Americans, or Iraqi's for which they must atone. They've decimated tax receipts with ineffectual tax cuts while allowing spending to grow at a faster pace than under any President since Lyndon Johnson. The deficit is out of control and the national debt is currently at 8 trillion dollars while still growing. The Administration has neither the stern, unwavering inclination to address this, nor a sincere concern for its after effects: The national debt will compromise future generations ability to pay back their loans and mortgages, it will hinder their ability to pay for social security or to weather the cost of another war or a disaster like Katrina... or even, god forbid, another terrorist attack.

And, yet the White House barely seems to possess the understanding, let alone the requisite backbone to adjust its course and correct its calamitous, singular and simplistic domestic agenda.

But, it is in Iraq, via military and civilian casualties, and vacuous preparation and planning failures that its incompetence has been most costly. The prosaic sentiments of President Bush and his "strategy for victory," and the notion that troop morale is harmed by public scrutiny, neither levels with the American people, nor demonstrates the capacity to meet this exacerbated challenge.

Alleged "lies" about WMD's remain conspiratorial speculation. Personally, I forgive George Bush's motives for emphasizing the worst case scenario in the build up to war. I still continue to believe Saddam Hussein had sophisticated weapons programs, and would never, under any circumstances, have fully co-operated with U.N. Inspectors. I also don't think you can call this an illegal war, and not say the same about the war in Kosovo undertaken by President Clinton when Russia performed the exact same obstructionist role on the UN security council as France, refusing, under any circumstances to sanction military action.

But, the decision to remove Saddam required a comprehensive plan to win the peace. In my opinion it is this Administration's incompetence, and not their malicious intent, and certainly not the scrutiny of the Main Stream Media or Democrats in Congress, that has really put the armed forces of the United States in harms way, in addition to thousands of UK forces too, deserving of mention that they rarely receive. Unfortunately, for the next three years, unless there are sizemic electoral shifts in the 2006 mid-terms next November I don't forsee things significantly changing. For now we must place our faith in the Iraqi people, and the power of Democracy as an ideal. Beyond the sluggish training of Iraqi forces that seems to be the extent of the Administration's post war reconstruction policy in Iraq.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Assassination

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John Murtha's recent comments on the Iraq war, and his subsequent emergence as a sincere and earnest voice adeptly diagnosing the costs of our military misjudgments has reminded me how far behind we have fallen from the prestige and self-sacrifice of past generations. Where politicians in the 1950's had invariably met the greatest challenge, fighting in real wars, fighting against fascism and totalitarianism, risking their lives and limbs and sons and daughters for the future of the nation... by contrast our small minded, self-serving political representatives today can't sacrifice a tax cut or a pork barrel project to not leave our children in trillions of dollars of debt.

Where John Murtha's generation was consumed by war, our generation is consumed by rhetorical warfare, too busy branding each other extreme in the constant hope of retaining power or regaining it, to be invested in the truth, or humble enough to recognize mistakes like the post war planning, or lack of it, in Iraq.

John F. Kennedy was the man who brought the world back from the brink of self-destruction a year before he was assassinated. When all of his advisors called for the invasion of Cuba, after Soviet missiles were discovered hidden there via Satellite photographs, Kennedy reached out to Soviet Premier Khrushchev and found a different solution, publicly agreeing never to invade Cuba while secretly agreeing to remove ballistic missiles from Turkey within a six month time frame. As a result, the missiles were removed from Cuba by the Soviet Union and a war that would have resulted in a ground battle for Berlin, possibly escalating into nuclear exchanges throughout the world was prevented.

Domestically, John F. Kennedy was the man who transformed civil rights, personally enforcing the 1954 SCOTUS ruling outlawing racial segregation, while proposing the civil rights act that was implemented after he died. He also proposed one of the biggest, and most successful tax cuts in US history, while investing heavily in schools, hospitals, and care for the elderly under the banner of the "New Frontier." One of his first acts as President was to create the Peace Corps to help spread freedom around the world via non-military means.

But, for me what made John F. Kennedy a great President was the eloquence, precision, and timeless, everlasting truth of his words. His Presidency challenged the world to focus upon what we shared when we were at our most divided and fearful:

"For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal."

So much of what he said is applicable to the world today. To Israel and Palestine, to N. Ireland, to Kashmir and tensions between India and Pakistan, to the growing threat of terrorism around the world and the ever expanding divide between the West and Arab world.... perhaps we should try and always remember this:

"Too many of us think (peace) is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings... World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever."

The World, not just the United States, lost a great leader on November 22nd, 1963, and the Democratic Party lost the man whose spirit will continue on in perpetuity defining what its Presidential hopefuls should aspire to.

R.I.P. J.F.K.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Bush falls off the "Laffer Curve"

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Treasury Secretary John Snow: "Millions of Americans have benefited from these important tax policies either directly through lower taxes or indirectly through new and better jobs and greater economic security for families."

The Laffer Curve is the theory most frequently used to explain how supply side economics benefits government spending. It says that if tax rates rise beyond a certain level they actually discourage economic growth, thereby reducing government revenues. By contrast, as can be seen in Continental Europe, excessive taxation and regulation stagnates economic growth, reduces revenues, undermining government's ability to meet its citizen's needs.

So what is the ideal amount of federal taxation as a percentage of GDP in the US? 25%, 20%, 15%? Under the Bush tax cuts we have gone from 20.09% to 16.3%, a dramatic tax cut. As a result, we were told that government revenues would exponentially grow, just like under Ronald Reagan...

Frequently these days, you will hear Bill O'Reilly say something like this: "President Bush then came in and cut taxes for everyone. And guess what? Federal tax revenues will be more this year (2005) than at any time during the Clinton administration."

This is a completely disingenuous statement. It's like saying economic growth in the 1990's was faster than the 1980's simply because GDP was higher each year. You have to make an adjustment for inflation. Somebody please explain this to O'Reilly if you get the chance.

Inflation adjusted tax receipts during the Clinton Administration and Bush Administration can be seen here:

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The key is not just that government revenue is well below the relative levels that the Clinton Administration had impressively built towards. It's not just that government revenue growth isn't sustained. The key is that in spite of this, in a Republican controlled Congress, Federal Spending continues to grow unabated. In 1992 Russ Perot ran one of the most successful Independent Presidential campaigns in US history on a platform of paying down the national debt. In 1992 the national debt was around $4 trillion. Since Bush came to power the national debt has sky-rocketed from $5.5 trillion to $8 trillion with predictions that the debt will reach $10 trillion by the end of his Presidency.

A five year old can cut taxes, raise spending and get the economy to grow rapidly in spits and spurts. But the risk is inflation, high interest rates, and a recession, all of which loom large over the next three years. The challenge is to create secure, stable, lasting economic growth which guarantees prosperity and opportunity, and also the fiscal integrity of government spending. This economy might grow at 4% in the next quarter and create 500,000 jobs, but in the next employment might be down, and after that we could be facing a recession... things are that unpredictable. In the interim, growing deficits and the national debt compromises everything from our ability to fight wars, guarantee social security, cope with national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or recover from a terrorist attack.

To respond to Treasury Secretary John Snow, economic security is exactly what families do not have right now.

Related Links:
Tax Policy Center: Historical Federal Receipt and Outlay Summary.
Previous Article: Lyndon Dubya Bush.
Hat Tip: Talking Points Memo.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Alito and Anti-Abortion Judicial Activism?

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Update from The Washington Times: Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., wrote that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion" in a 1985 document obtained by The Washington Times... "I personally believe very strongly" in this legal position, Mr. Alito wrote on his application to become deputy assistant to Attorney General Edwin I. Meese III. The document is among many that the White House will release today from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito voted with the majority on the third circuit court in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey to uphold restrictive abortion related measures passed by the Pennsylvania state legislature... measures that included a 24 hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. But, controversially, he dissented that the majority were wrong to strike down a statute effectively requiring women to obtain consent from their spouses before terminating their pregnancy. In this matter he was the lone dissenting member of the court. The reality for women of this interpretation is expounded upon powerfully here by Kate Michelman in the LA Times.

Alito wrote that forcing a woman to notify and effectively require her husband's consent for an abortion did not constitute an "undue burden," and could be justified as a "legitimate state interest," which is the only basis, set out by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, by which the state can legislate abortion restrictions. If a law does place an "undue burden" then it can only be justified by a "compelling state interest," which Alito conceded was not justified by Spousal Notification.

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To prove that Spousal notification did not place an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion Alito used Sandra Day O'Connor's written opinions to emphasize how extremely restrictive a law must be, in his opinion, to place an undue burden on a pregnant woman. Read a summary of the quotes he used from O'Connor here. Alito's interpretation of Sandra Day O'Connor's writings was that anything short of the most severe restrictions on abortion was constitutional, which flagrantly undermined the letter and spirit of Roe vs. Wade.

To me this indicates an activist intent to frame the argument and serve an already predetermined conclusion. Originalism, textualism, and literal interpretations of the law are nothing more than a conceit if you apply Samuel Alito's writing in this opinion. Sandra Day O'Connor did not agree with Alito's assessment of her rulings... and if a circuit court judge claims to adhere rigorously to the letter of the law, and the intent of the law..... reading history books like Antonin Scalia to identify the original intent of the founders in the writing of the constitution... then doesn't it matter that he accurately reflects the intent, spirit, and meaning of the rulings that he refers to in his opinions. If you are a circuit court judge, following and CITING a Supreme Court Justice, and you claim to be a rigid textualist, then doesn't it matter that you accurately reflect that Judge's opinion? Sandra Day O’Connor thought that Samuel Alito was dead wrong. Can someone explain to me why this doesn't qualify as judicial activism?

I am convinced it would be just as easy to craft from O'Connor's writings an opposing point of view about what constitutes an undue burden. If I was a Senator on the Judiciary Committee that is exactly what I would do... from the opinions of O'Connor that Alito used I would write a summation of her intent, substantiated by alternative quotes, that by contrast created a lesser "undue burden" standard. I would read it out to Alito in the hearings and ask him to explain how he thinks his claim to strictly interpret the law is manifest in his conclusions about Justice O'Connor's rulings... the implication being that his references were a selective distortion.

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To establish that Spousal notification was a legitimate state interest Alito argued in his opinion that the state has a justified commitment to further a husband's interest in the fetus, citing Skinner vs. Oklahoma.

Skinner vs. Oklahoma was about whether states could sterilize men after they had committed three crimes or more in the 1940's. Now I'm not a lawyer… I never went to law school… and I know absolutely nothing about the law... but how does a man's right to preserve his fertility relate to his rights in an individual pregnancy that he is partly responsible for? Aren’t they two completely separate things? Last time I checked, women having abortions without the expressed consent of their husbands does not leave those men permanently sterile, incapable of ever having children. Please tell me if I'm wrong.

Alito then referenced Michael H. vs. Gerald, to justify a husband's interest in the fetus, which states that a father who is willing to participate in raising his child has fundamental rights in the child's welfare. But, the law as it stood then and stands now does not consider the fetus a child or a human being. Samuel Alito may think that a fetus is a child, but the letter of the law that he proclaims to strictly adhere to disagrees. An abortion is not murder... a fetus is not a child under the law. How exactly is an argument legally justifying a husband's interest in a fetus, or in his wife's pregnancy, by comparing it to his established legal interest in his children not judicial activism?????

Planned Parenthood vs. Casey was not simply a question of minor abortion restrictions. The case went to the Supreme Court and the arguments put forward by Ken Starr, which identically echoed Alito's dissent, did explicitly seek to undermine Roe vs. Wade, and distort Sandra Day O'Connor's undue burden test. So much so that Sandra Day O'Connor, along with four other justices re-affirmed Roe vs. Wade in three parts:

Guaranteeing the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability.
Allowing the State to restrict abortions only after fetal viability and only if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the woman’s health.
Recognizing that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.

As a result the Pennsylvania measures were ruled unconstitutional.

I supported John Roberts. George Bush won the 2004 election and earned his right to nominate a Conservative judge. I criticized Democratic minority leader, Harry Reid, for voting against Roberts' confirmation, while praising Senator Feingold for voting for it. But, while my interpretation of Alito's opinion in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey is obviously elementary... it does seem that anything short of putting a gun to a woman's head for the duration of her pregnancy would have failed to meet Alito's undue burden standard. Is this what we want from a Supreme Court Justice? Is such a mistaken interpretation of Sandra Day O'Connor's intentions and rulings not a form of judicial activism considering this?

If Samuel Alito intends to overturn Roe vs. Wade the American people think he shouldn't be confirmed by 53% to 37%. I'm still undecided but maybe the time has come for the Democrats to make a stand.

Related Links:
PP vs. Casey: Alito's dissenting opinion in full.
Previous Article: Implications for Roe vs. Wade.
LA Times: This time it's personal.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

UK Terror Vote: Politics or Principle?

Yesterday Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the House of Commons since he became Prime Minister in 1997. By a margin of 31 votes MP's voted not to grant the UK police the authority they requested to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge... a measure which Blair had aggressively lobbied for before watching his 66 seat majority dramatically disintegrate with a final vote tally of 322 to 291.

The notion that this heralds doom for the Prime Minister is completely untrue... there is widespread support for this proposal in the wake of the July 7th attacks, Blair's popularity is likely to sharply rise amongst the British electorate for the first time in four years, and MP's voting against the measure have already been publicly decried as treasonous in the tabloid press. The latest You Gov poll says 72% of the British people support the 90 day law.

But the most notable facet of this defeat, at least to me, is that the largest proportion of those who voted against 90 days were members of the Conservative Party, including both aspiring Tory leaders, David Davis and David Cameron, who remain locked in a narrowing leadership election. Current Conservative leader Michael Howard remarked upon it as an illiberal law which threatened to exacerbate malcontent amongst British Muslim’s, potentially creating more terrorism... certainly not the type of argument you'd expect to hear from a right wing party.

While Tony Blair has successfully negated the vile and debilitating tabloid campaigns against the Labour party in the 80's and early 90's by governing as an authoritarian on crime, and a hawk on foreign policy, this step towards a more libertarian brand of Conservatism from the Tory party is something new... indicative of David Cameron's proposed brand of "Compassionate Conservatism." But, is it sincere? If the Conservative Party was in power would they really have taken this position on 28 days instead of 90? Would the self described law and order party have refused the requests of police because they were illiberal? I don't think so. Instead, on an issue that directly affects our ability to fight terrorism in the UK, a political calculation from the right was made to inflict upon Tony Blair his first parliamentary defeat. To me, at least the Labour rebels were voting on a point of principle. The Tories, by comparison, just wanted the opportunity to create a plethora of news headlines like these.

I support the 90 day law. Unlike using torture to interrogate terrorists, currently a big issue in the states, which I incidentally oppose, I don't think this law is an inhuman practice. I don't think we hurt our fundamental values by its implementation. As a stipulation every seven days a suspect is taken back to court to justify his or hers continued detention to a Judge. In all likelihood there would have to be substantial evidence suggesting they were planning to assist with or commit a mass atrocity against innocent people.

Personally, if the police say it takes 90 days to sift through information and computers, while tracking a suspect's connections abroad, and their links to religious institutions that are notoriously insular and difficult to penetrate... if the ability of the police to disrupt terrorist activities will be improved and the streets of London will be safer... I don't see how we can refuse to grant them these powers... at least for a predetermined time period pending review in something like twelve months.

If after that time there was an abundance of egregious incarcerations I could understand a vote like the one that took place yesterday. But, as things stand, I can't help but feel the "principled stand" we saw taken by Labour, Conservative, and Liberal MP's was in fact nothing more than petty party politics in disguise, directed at Tony Blair. To me, considering what's at stake, that's a pretty sad state of affairs.

Related Links:
BBC: Vote disappoints police.
BBC: Howard calls for Blair to resign.
Andrew Sullivan: Blair's case.
Times: Blair suffers wounding loss.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Do Democrats have traction?

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10.50 PST: Kaine brings it home in VA 52% - 46%, which indicates that most of the polls leading up to the election underestimated his margin of victory. Perhaps undecideds broke for Kaine, or Republican turnout fell sharply... although I'm not sure what could have been the cause. Good news also in California, my home away from home, with parental notification for a minor's abortion being voted down (the state shouldn't legislate to safeguard family rights when there are so many abusive familial pressures potentially placed on a child in that predicament), along with all of the Governator's initiatives. I like Arnie and feel bad because I sincerely believe he's trying to bring about change. Voting for Democrats in the state legislature in California is invariably like voting for Jimmy Hoffa.

5.14 PST: We find out tonight if the Democratic Party has gained traction since 2004. Politics might be local, but local politics has exhibited national trends leaning in the direction of the Republican Party for the past three years. Inspite of Doug Forrester's brutal last minute attack advertisements I believe Jon Corzine will win by at least 5 points in New Jersey. The race in Virginia will be a far more insightful indiciator about what is currently possible for Democrats looking ahead to the 2006 midterms.

You can prejudge tonight's result from two perspectives. Democratic candidate, Tim Kaine is against the death penalty, Virginia is a red State, only second to Texas in the number of executions it has carried out, and Jerry Kilgore, former VA Attorney General should be winning comfortably. By the same token, Tim Kaine is riding the coat tails of popular Democratic Governor, Mark Warner, and his impressive platform has negated the political impact of his personal feelings on the Death Penalty. Kaine: "I'm Catholic - I'm against the Death Penalty and I'm against Abortion."

Having watched their debate a couple of weeks ago on C-Span when Kilgore enjoyed a small lead it was obvious that Kaine had the capacity to close the gap, regardless of changing national trends. To me at least (and I am certainly not a typical Virginian voter) Kaine is smiling, warm, direct and authentic, plus perfectly placed in terms of his experience. Kilgore, by contrast, isn't an impressive candidate.

The White House have gambled that their last minute support of Kilgore will be the final boost his campaign required. Either that or internal tracking polls showed a solid Republican swing that allowed the President to tip his hand. Regardless, because of his decision to get involved this race really will be a measure of where the President currently stands with the American electorate. The key question: Will Republican turnout be strong, the consistent factor in all of their recent, closely fought election victories?

Prediction: Corzine 5%, Kaine 1%.

N.B. Nothing is more important right now to the Democratic Party than winning in 2006.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Democrats need to start speaking from their hearts

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In the space of three short months the political landscape has dramatically shifted. The Republican Party and specifically members of the Bush Administration have been fundamentally re-branded as weak, incompetent, corrupt, or divided. And yet, nobody should be in any doubt that this wasn’t achieved as a result of a re-invigorated Democratic voice. This second term slump, punctuated by historically high disapproval ratings for the President and Republican controlled Congress has transpired via the President’s poor leadership during the Katrina crisis, the speculation leading up to the indictment of VP Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, and the continued post war violence in Iraq. As Democrats we still have a long way to go.

We have to find our voice and do it fast. But, not within the context of the partisan battle in Congress, or critiquing this Administration, or exposing the hypocrisy of Republicans as so many do well online… but within a new context...the context of our values, talking about what we stand for and why this offers hope in the possibility change. Hope that can’t be reduced to a two dimensional Republican smear campaign, or mischaracterized by attacks branding us extreme.

Democrats are fighting with their heads, and doing it well, analyzing, exposing, and contradicting the mistakes of their opponents. But a vote cast in any election is rarely a rational calculation... it isn’t a process of reasoning or logical deduction... It’s something you feel, an instinctive proclivity, a resonance of values… that’s what won elections for Bill Clinton in 1992, and Jimmy Carter in 1976, and a lack of emotional resonance is why Al Gore and John Kerry lost in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

What really unites us as Democrats isn’t our hatred of Republicans... it’s our love of liberty, and belief in social justice. It's our desire for fairness for everyone, and an aspiration for dignity as well as strength in the way that we deal with the rest of the world. What unites us as Democrats isn’t outmoded social models of massive government spending, or 80% levels of taxation for the successful, or passivity in the face of growing threats from abroad. What unites us as Democrats is that we’re not afraid to boldly believe and dream for the betterment of our society and the human race as our most prized principle. Poverty at home or abroad isn’t a necessary fact of life for us, the ills of society are our challenges to confront.

This desire can easily be characterized as unrealistic, and individual responsibility at home or African gov't corruption or UN bureaucracy abroad can easily be proffered as an excuse to justify our inaction… but in spite of what the right says about our unrealistic promises, our goal as Democrats isn't to eradicate poverty or hardship or war singing to John Lennon's "Imagine," smoking dope around the camp fire. It is merely to be better today than we were yesterday… to progress... to be cogniscent, always, that free-markets and the American dream alone don’t equate to ubiquitous opportunity for all miraculously by themselves. As Democrats we believe that the deficiencies of the market, and our failings as people, are our responsibility, and that's what engenders us with meaning, day in and day out, informed by a sense of all of us in this together, not competing with each other like a pack of animals for what scraps fall from on high from the very richest, and most successful.

Yeah, we want a more peaceful world.
Yeah, we want a more just society.
Yeah, we want less discrimination and even more opportunity for everybody, and then, after that, even more opportunity, and even more and even more.
Yeah, we want all of our schools to be wonderful conduits for the growth of our children’s minds... and yeah we want to pay our teachers really well.
Yeah, we don’t think it’s ok that 40 million people don’t have health insurance.
Yeah, we think it's unacceptable that a child born into illness is punished by the failures of his or her parents or the failures of society.
And yeah, just like Roosevelt said during WW2, we hate war. We don’t feel prideful about killing, even when it’s necessary. But we’ll fight harder and longer for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world because what we understand is that freedom isn’t an abstract ideal. We love freedom because we're willing to do something about it, not just grant a tax cut and wait for our economic theory to work miracles. We understand freedom because we recognize it isn’t a blanket that covers fortunate nations in perpetuity, guaranteed by military might… it is the imperfect reality of free individuals, their rights protected by law, working together so all of us can be better.

These are our values. We’re not progressives because we believe in a specific policy. We’re progressives because we don’t settle for the status quo, or conserving the past like the Republican Party. We're progressives because we strive to be better today than we were yesterday.

And while the right argues that our values are flighty and don’t correlate into good governance because we want to spend too much money and threaten the fiscal stability of the nation, by contrast what are they doing with their historic monopoly on power? Massive growth in non-defence discretionary spending not seen since the days that Lyndon Johnson was President... turning a surplus into record deficits... taking the national debt to 7.9 trillion dollars. What exact measure of responsible governance do they apply to our values when they burden our future with debt, and throw the surplus away like another lies just around the corner if only we keep cutting taxes over and over again, no matter the cost of the war on terror, or the Iraq war, or the cost of their irresponsible spending.

Its okay Democrats... it really is. We needn’t run away from what we believe in anymore. We don't have to hide from our ideals or ambitions. Clinton’s legacy is that we prize fiscal discipline, we are credible and taken seriously in the matters of economic governance because we earned that right in the 1990's and the Republican's have driven it home via their incompetence since the turn of 2001.

As 2006 looms, and 2008 after that, we need to start expressing our values to the American people. That's what they're searching for right now as an alternative to this Administration, and the dire mess Republicans have created in Congress. And while we shouldn't go around making unrealistic promises, we shouldn't give up on the notion of promise. Because promise and progress and hope is what defines our party.

Democrats need to start speaking from the heart.

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