I'm glad that MoveOn is getting positive coverage
for its "virtual town hall" on Iraq. It's a great moment for the progressive movement. But something funny came out of the results, which I think reflect the dynamic of this campaign on the progressive left.
If you look at the poll numbers from MoveOn members on who had the best position on Iraq at the forum, you get these results:
Sen. Barack Obama 28%
Sen. John Edwards 25%
Rep. Dennis Kucinich 17%
Gov. Bill Richardson 12%
Sen. Hillary Clinton 11%
Sen. Joe Biden 6%
Sen. Chris Dodd 1%
But when the results are filtered for those MoveOn members who actually attended the virtual town hall, you get these numbers:
Sen. John Edwards 25%
Gov. Bill Richardson 21%
Sen. Barack Obama 19%
Rep. Dennis Kucinich 15%
Sen. Joe Biden 10%
Sen. Hillary Clinton 7%
Sen. Chris Dodd 4%
I don't know if I'm the only one, but I find that to be a very emblematic shift.
Let me say that I have a lot of respect for Sen. Obama's pre-political work as a community organizer, his liberal advocacy in the Illinois state Senate, and his unique gifts to bring new people who never cared about politics into the system and to get them energized and activated. These are very good qualities. What worries me is that these talents are being put to the uses of establishment Broderism
, and his attempt to castigate "the smallness of our politics" hasn't led to being small about politics himself. His statement on the emergency supplemental that the President will eventually get what he wants because we cannot be seen as playing chicken
with our soldiers had a significance that I don't even think he realized. It's now been picked up by war apologists
who use it to support their position that the President should get whatever he wants.
“When the President vetoes, as he should, the bill that refuses to support General Petraeus’ new plan, I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for President, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country.”
While Obama rightly slammed McCain for his remarks
, the truth is that McCain had every right to turn those words against him. Obama essentially was throwing up his hands, saying that despite the overwhelming support of Americans to do the unthinkable, he cannot conjure it. It's symptomatic of a theme I see in the Obama campaign - the idea that you cannot really fight the establishment, that you have to noodle within the system and cannot make any transformational change. When you actually listen to Obama instead of just feed off the energy his campaign has created, this is what you find. It's not surprising from the campaign that has brought Tom Daschle back into the fold
The best articulation of this worry about Obama came from Ezra Klein's blog
last weekend, and I'll reprint an excerpt:
Twice in the last week, when people were hoping Barack Obama would stake out an aggressive position on important issues, he instead gave a third-person analysis of the situation that didn't seem to acknowledge his role as a potential agent of change. First, there was the Iraq War supplemental, on which Obama speculated that Bush would get the bill he wanted if he vetoed the Democratic plan [...]
Then at his town hall meeting to discuss health care in Portsmouth, NH, he declined to commit himself to anything beyond the banal, and offered the observation that "I think [health reform] can be done, but we've got to build a movement in this country behind that during this election cycle so that there's a mandate for that to take place, for the next president." As Ezra notes, the time to build that mandate is now, and to date, Obama hasn't expended any effort to build it.
...what all his Senate policy successes have in common is that they don't express any clear ideological stance. And that gets us to the core of why I'm not supporting Obama. Is he willing to descend from the ether of cautious bipartisanship and highflown rhetoric, and push with all his might for the progressive reforms America needs? So far, he's steered suspiciously wide of making any substantial progressive commitments. I'm happy to have a guy like him in the Senate, where he can work with Republicans to get some low-key but important bills passed. But 2008 is likely to deliver us a solid Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, and we need the kind of president who will make the most of our opportunities [...]
At the ebb of the Republicans' power, what would Obama do? I know perfectly well what Edwards would do -- he'd pass an amazing health care plan, take major steps to reduce our dependence on oil, and make an unprecedented effort to fight global poverty. He's made major policy commitments on all these issues. But what is it that has stopped Obama from actually presenting any plans to meet these challenges? A failure of leadership? The smallness of his politics?
Obama appears to make a lot of excuses and promise little more than vagaries when he explains how he would be different. On the other hand, John Edwards is staking his entire candidacy on bold and transformational change
Unraveling Edwards' subtext does not require a Derrida-spouting graduate student. Hillary Clinton is the obvious apostle of these "cautious, incremental steps," while Barack Obama is the undeniable master of feel-good rhetoric. What is most intriguing about the Edwards 2.0 campaign is how a once carefully calibrated, pro-war, mainstream Democrat has fashioned himself into the candidate of "big, bold transformational change."
...the 53-year-old former trial lawyer, who was mentioned as a presidential possibility from the moment he entered the Senate in 1999, added, "I think it's also combined with me being more seasoned and more comfortable with taking stronger, bolder positions." Edwards returned to this theme in response to an interview question about what he had learned from voting for authorization for the Iraq war. "Making a mistake, which I did, about something that important gives you enormous strength going forward," he said, trying to make a virtue out of necessity. "Because now I have absolutely no hesitation standing behind my independent judgment about what needs to be done. I don't care if it's popular or unpopular. Or what the political considerations are. You probably see some element of that in everything I'm doing."
I already have seen that in what he's doing. He is practically the only candidate talking about global warming
, calling on people to sacrifice and organizing events to educate and engage on the issue. A few days ago he worked at a nursing home
as part of an SEIU-sponsored campaign, and his advocacy for labor issues like the Employee Free Choice Act is without peer. His health care plan is at this point the most detailed of any of the candidates. On Iraq he has showed a commitment to end our occupation, and while not the ideal of a Richardson plan, he has rightly pinned the repsonsibility
for this disaster where it deserves to be, and proving to have the right strategic take as well.
"McCain and Bush are brazenly trying to claim that Congress is failing to provide our soldiers the resources they need. Nothing could be further from the truth. Congress funded the troops. If the President vetoes that funding, he's the only one responsible for blocking funding for the troops. And John McCain knows that.
"I have urged Congress to stand up to the President's veto threat, rather than back down in a false game of chicken. If he does veto funding for our troops, Congress should send the same bill right back to him. And they should do this again and again, until the President finally understands that he cannot reject the will of the overwhelming majority American people.
"We must end the conflict in Iraq, and force the Iraqis and their neighbors to find a political solution to the conflict. The plan I announced months ago would cap funding at 100,000 troops to stop the McCain Doctrine of escalation and force an immediate withdrawal of 40-50,000 troops followed by a complete withdrawal in 12-18 months. Under my plan, complete withdrawal is not just a goal, it is a requirement backed by Congress' funding power."
This is someone who can think about what to do today to bring about change, as well as look toward the future, and unlike Obama he is not hemmed in by perceptions of inadequate strength or smallness of politics. Politics can be big and bold if the leadership required to move mountains is there. Right now, John Edwards is the only figure in the top tier providing that leadership. And my belief is that the GOP is so worried about 2008
because they can see the leadership deficit on their side.
I was pretty cool to John Edwards' first campaign for President. While I admired his attempt to bring the topic of poverty into a political race, which is almost unheard-of, he was in the Obama mold back then, a little too careful, a little too cautious, unable to really step up and stand for something. He is not perfect, but he has certainly changed that aspect, and for the better. And I feel like if people would actually tune in and listen instead of believing the hype, they would reach the same conclusion. I am not fully endorsing Edwards, but right now my Instant Runoff ballot looks like Edwards-Richardson-Dodd-Obama. I'll discuss Hillary in a later post.
UPDATE: Edwards on Iraq:
When we say complete withdrawal we mean it. No more war. No combat troops in the country. Period. But we're also being honest. If John Edwards is president, we're not going to leave the American Embassy in Iraq as the only undefended embassy in the world, for example. There will be Marine guards there, just like there are at our embassies in London, Riyadh, and Tokyo. And just the same, if American civilians are providing humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, we're going to protect them. How in good conscience could we refuse to protect them and then allow humanitarian workers to be at risk for their lives or the work not to happen at all? Finally, it's also Senator Edwards' position that we will have troops in the region to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq from spilling over into other countries, for counter-terrorism, or to prevent a genocide. But in the region means in the region - for example, existing bases like Kuwait, naval presence in the Persian Gulf, and so forth. I hope this helps explain Senator Edwards' position.
I don't think anyone's talking about not defending the Embassy when they ask for removing all combat troops. And troops in the region is not troops in Iraq. This is detailed, and I appreciate it, but it doesn't have to be this hard. Richardson easily stated "no residual force" and that's all that you have to say. Generally, however, I would say that I'm somewhat comfortable with this approach.
Labels: Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Employee Free Choice Act, global warming, health care, Iraq, John Edwards, labor, MoveOn, poverty, progressive movement