Accountability and the Presidential Election

by: Mike Lux

Thu Jun 26, 2008 at 17:16

Warning: this is one of those brutally frank posts that may well piss you off. Sorry about that

Having been trained by an associate of Saul Alinsky when I was still in high school, I have always had strong views about what it means to hold politicians accountable (I've written about holding Presidents accountable in the past here). I have a very different perspective on the matter than Matt Stoller and many of my friends in the netroots. (I hope we'll still be friends after I put this post up.)

Mike Lux :: Accountability and the Presidential Election

For me, being able to hold a politician accountable is having the real power to actually have a negative impact on something they really care about, namely getting elected and passing legislation they want to pass (although there might be a few other smaller things some politicians might care about). Unless you have the ability and willingness to mess with a politician in a serious way on either of those things, I don't think you can hold them accountable. I don't think saying bad things about them holds them accountable, I don't think holding a protest holds them accountable, I don't think starting a petition holds them accountable- unless it is affecting their ability to win an election or pass legislation.

I'm not saying you shouldn't say bad things, hold protests, start petitions- those are all fine things to do, especially if they help you build a long-term movement. But we should be very honest with ourselves about what we are doing and why, and we should understand when we actually are doing something related to holding politicians accountable and when we aren't. It all relates to how much power you have, how much you can build, how much you can leverage.

I say all this to bring me to my main point: in all my years of organizing and working to build progressive power, I have come to the conclusion that there is literally no acceptable way of holding a Democratic Presidential candidate accountable in the last few months before a general election. Perhaps it's because I'm just not a creative enough person, but I can't see how to do it.

Progressives hold a potential Presidential candidate accountable in the years before they decide to run because those candidates know they might need progressive support in a primary fight. We can hold them accountable all through the primary process because there's always another candidate that can be helped, or you can hurt their general standing with the Democratic voters they need. We can hold Senators and House members running for re-election accountable because there are tons of other races you can give your money and talent and other resources toward. You can sometimes hold the Democratic leadership accountable by throwing roadblocks in their way while they are trying to push legislation through.

But the only way to hold a Presidential candidate in the general election accountable once the general election season comes around is to work for their defeat or otherwise endanger their victory. For most of us, given the alternative of four more years of deadlocked government and a stubborn, hyper-aggressive President McCain, that is not an acceptable option. I see occasional commenters writing about not lifting a finger to help Obama now that he's screwed us on FISA or other issues, but I don't think very many of us in the progressive movement are there. Am I bummed, am I pissed that Obama and most of our Democratic leaders caved in on FISA? Absolutely, and there's nothing wrong with saying so. But am I going to "hold Obama accountable" for this action? Well, no, frankly. I don't think there's a way to do that without doing something far worse. It's the nature of the American political system: winner take all, no instant runoffs, no fusion voting (except in a few states). In the months before a Presidential general election, I can't think of another alternative re the Presidential race other than doing everything I can do to help Obama win.

I will admit right now that this is a place where the old-school politico in me takes over: I see no choice other than to be totally, thoroughly in the tank for the Democratic Presidential nominee in the five months before the election. I'm happy to join with Matt and Chris and the progressive netroots on many things- progressive primary challenges like Lamont and Donna Edwards; exposing the Bush Dogs; taking on Democrats when they screw up on issues in general; hammering away at Dems to do the right thing when tough votes come down. All of those tactics are ones I'm down for. But in the last five months of a Presidential general, I get totally focused on one thing: winning the damn election. The stakes are simply too high. Winning the election won't solve all our problems, or give us a suddenly progressive America, but it at least gives us a chance to make progress. If I have to swallow my anger on an issue I care about, well, to be blunt, I'm down for that, too.

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The way to hold Obama accountable: (4.00 / 17)
Work to elect angry progressive backbenchers to Congress.  The only way to get what we want out of Obama is to get a Congress that is going to force him to reach out to the left as much as he is reaching out to the right.  

Oh, and next time a primary comes along, collectively not fawning over how awesome the candidates are.  

Totally agree! (4.00 / 7)
Obama may not push progressive legislation, but I don't see him vetoing it if it gets to his desk. If you want to push Obama to left then you need to push Congress to the left. If we get some good popular bills passed, then maybe he'll run more to the left in 2012.

[ Parent ]
Some, not all (4.00 / 5)
I still believe Obama will push some progressive legislation.  I don't have any reason to believe, for example, he'll back down on the minimum wage and tying it to inflation.

[ Parent ]
Absolutely right (0.00 / 0)
History shows us that great Presidents are pushed to be great.

[ Parent ]
And they know it. n.t (4.00 / 1)

Accountability (4.00 / 3)
Frankly I think this is one of the inherent problems with our democratic system, which is that there are extremely limited means for holding elected officials accountable. And the sad truth is that this is exactly the way our founders wanted it.

I'd be interested in hearing peoples' thoughts on popular accountability mechanisms in our democratic system.

This is why primaries are so important.  

Well (4.00 / 1)
I'm kinda glad the religious right have trouble holding their leaders accountable.  Abortion is still legal.

Still, point taken.

[ Parent ]
When did we get (0.00 / 0)
a democratic system? How come nobody told me?

[ Parent ]
Viable Alternative Parties (0.00 / 0)
and some kind of IRV system that promotes split-tickets.

It makes the GE more like a primary dynamic.  If there were a VIABLE alternative to the left of Obama, or the right of McCain the vote could be leveraged, or at least, one could assume that they were not being pandered to.

Mike's analysis is correct, given the system in place right now.  Either you are OK with that system and work to become/control one of the two parties in the duopoly, or you work to break the two party tyranny.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
I've been thinking about this. (4.00 / 6)
And, I completely agree. Obama cannot do anything to lose my vote. He could do things to lose my active support, and we are getting there, but the prospect of a McCain presidency is totally unacceptable. People can bitch about the "lesser of two evils" stuff, but in my mind stopping a McCain administration from ever existing is a noble and worthwhile goal in and of itself. Obama can be best pushed in our direction by electing Senators and Representatives who will support a progressive agenda. Obama won't veto progressive legislation that comes to his desk, so we just have to make sure it gets there.

Beyond that you could think about a primary challenge in 2012, but I don't think that is very constructive at this point.

I also agree. (4.00 / 2)
Obama cannot do anything to lose my vote.

Exactly.  As long as John Paul Stevens is breathing, I'll see to it that no Republican gets to name his successor.  

But that doesn't make me happy that more courageous candidates like Dodd and Kucinich were passed over by progressives who sold out principles for "electability" and are now carping over the fact that Obama just did the same thing.

[ Parent ]
Well some of us supported (4.00 / 4)
a candidate who was eminently electable and did not sell out progressive principles. His name was John Edwards. But that ship's sailed so now we move on to the next person on the list. Not my first choice, but I'll fight for him like he was for all the reason you and others have stated. Too much at stake.  

[ Parent ]
Actually, I'd argue there was only one: Kucinich (4.00 / 2)
Only Kucinich actually voted against the war when he had the chance to stop it in 2003, pushed for gay marriage, for single-payer, etc.

But I guess that's moot now.

[ Parent ]
Yeah but I also made the point (0.00 / 0)
that Edwards could get elected in this country whereas Dennis could not. I love(d) Dennis. I voted for him in 2004, but there's no chance in hell he'd get elected.  

[ Parent ]
Plus impeachment... (4.00 / 1)
Not to mention the fact that Kucinich has had the massive courage to speak out, nearly alone, on the crimes of the Bush administration and hold him . . . accountable.

Which takes us back to the theme of this diary.

[ Parent ]
Holding a politician accountable (0.00 / 0)
is not exclusively limited to throwing them in jail. That's why we have elections.

[ Parent ]
depends where you live, no? (4.00 / 1)
i see no reason to vote for obama instead of a 3rd party candidate in new york, in illinois, in alaska, in any number of other places in which the chances of it backfiring on you are unlikely.  and voting for whoever the most progresive altenratives are downticket as suggested above.  it would take a lot to get me to vote on a new york ballot for a democratic party presidential candidate.

i'm not a huge fan of overemphasizing the impact of a single vote, but given that it's available, why not use it to the best of your ability?

[ Parent ]
Alaska is in play my friend. nt (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
so what? (4.00 / 1)
he can't win the election without alaska?  if he's going to play these strategy games, so am i!

[ Parent ]
Disagreement? (4.00 / 4)
I'm not sure this is a disagreement.

I refuse to give Obama money this week in the hopes they notice the down-tick in donations when he screws the base.  But more donations are coming, regardless.  Clearly, we have to sin.  And the larger the margin of victory, the more likely we'll get what we want out of Obama.

Clearly, we have to sin (0.00 / 0)
I know you meant "win", but man, you said "sin".

[ Parent ]
not even (4.00 / 4)
I have a very different perspective on the matter than Matt Stoller and many of my friends in the netroots.

I don't see a lot of disagreement, but I do see a lot of straw man arguments that are not backed by quotes or evidence.  No one claimed Obama would be held accountable by the general election, or that getting him elected is something that isn't worth doing.  

Critical to the mentality of the Village insiders in DC is to portray critics of the system as irrational children incapable of holding multiple thoughts in their head.  It is both possible to push for Obama's election and to criticize his campaign to make it better on a policy and political level.  I don't know why it's important Mike for you to distance yourself from people like me and Chris, but it's obvious that you are making up differences to do so.

Good point. (0.00 / 0)
I posted my agreement to most of the substance because it seems fairly obvious. I don't really get where the major disagreement or difference is between this and a lot of what has been posted here recently. The consensus here has been that Obama is flawed, but we need to elect him anyway.

I would be interested to see what specific points Mike believes he is disagreeing with.

[ Parent ]
The disagreement (4.00 / 1)
is over whether we should be spending time right now trying to hold Obama accountable. My point is that doing that, at this moment in time, is wasted energy.

[ Parent ]
Interesting connotation (0.00 / 0)
" I don't know why it's important Mike for you to distance yourself from people like me and Chris"


[ Parent ]
agreed (4.00 / 1)
I don't see anything at all objectionable in the post, and looking at the undertones from Matt here it seems like there is some behind the scenes wrangling going on.

As a student activist planning to be extremely engaged in non-Obama approved efforts such as the Strange Bedfellows campaign and the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, I can honestly say that I am not willing to strategize at the risk Obama losing. However, I believe that trying to begin a discourse over what Obama's real attitudes are on these issues could be an extremely healthy endeavor, both for his campaign and for the nation at large.

Beyond Iraq: A Time to Break Silence

[ Parent ]
distancing (4.00 / 3)
When I agree with you strongly, as I do many times, I say so and sing your praises, and can site numerous examples of that. I've defended you when you were attacked, and can site examples of that as well. But there are times when I see things differently, and feel like I ought to be able to openly do that as well.
I was responding to a post you had written entitled "The Obama Accountability Movement Begins" where you quoted yourself attacking Obama in the WSJ. That prompted me to write about my perspective on holding Obama accountable, and why I was not where you were on doing that kind of attack. I feel like it was pretty obvious that we disagreed tactically, and wanted to share my thoughts.
I don't get why you think disagreeing with you is distancing myself. I disagree with just about everybody- close friends, political allies, my family, my wife, candidates I support- but I don't distance myself from them, and don't understand how I am distancing myself from you either.

[ Parent ]
Mike, something I'm not sure about in terms of your position (0.00 / 0)
Sorry for coming in late here ...

Are you saying that any effort devoted to trying to get Obama to act more assertively on FISA is wasted?

Or are your objections more specifically to thinking of it in terms of "accountability" (e.g., the timing's wrong, and that's not the priority now anyhow)?

[ Parent ]
I think he means... (4.00 / 1)
right now its generally not helpful to repeated post attacks and our dislikes with our current Presidential nominee. All the talk of "kool-aid drinkers" and post about how "finally we can hold Obama accountable now that all of his enthusiastic and/or original supporters realize he is not infallible."

I think he's just saying to focus our energy on these type of attacks is generally not helpful. Personally I take issue with the whole "kool-aid drinkers" label entirely, as if Obama supporters are some monolithic group of obedient worshipers or something.  

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]
Accountabilty (0.00 / 0)
I wouldn't say that expressing disappointment in the FISA is a complete waste of time, but I don't think we should fool ourselves that doing that is holding him accountable. And I am strongly opposed to attacking him strongly right now.

[ Parent ]
Got it, thanks (0.00 / 0)
How do you feel about ongoing attempts to change his, and other Senators', positions before the votes in July?  

It seems to me that if this is done in a way that builds the progressive movement and provides a base for longer-term accountability without dropping into attacks on Obama, it's a good thing.  

The tone of the comments in the Senator Obama - Please Vote Against FISA group is very much like its title implies: wesupport you, but disagree strongly with you on this issue.  Please reconsider.

I completely agree that attacks are unproductive at this point.

[ Parent ]
So we have to be more creative? (4.00 / 2)
there is literally no acceptable way of holding a Democratic Presidential candidate accountable in the last few months before a general election. Perhaps it's because I'm just not a creative enough person, but I can't see how to do it.

I consider the progressive netroots to be an extraordinarily creative force.  

Accepting the premise that immediately before an election, we can't (shouldn't) monkey with the election mechanism itself, there are definitely other possibilities.

1.  For example, we can game the allocation of congressional committee assignments in a way that concentrates progressive power and dilutes the power of the Bush Dogs, so that even if John Barrow (say) were re-elected, his ability to enact his own agenda would be compromised.  Are we at the point we can do this already?  Not yet.

2.  We can influence how the media covers upcoming votes.  We're making tiny inroads here---by making Countdown a legitimate ratings competitor to the O'Reilly Fucktard (for example), we're changing where traditional advertisers are spending their money, and that in turn influences what stories make it to air.  If we can win the battle for the public conscience before a vote is called, we can hold eager-to-protect-their-jobs politicians accountable in the weeks before an election.  On FISA, I think we had the public convinced that immunity was a bad idea, but we failed to persuade the public that it was a big deal; better news coverage would have helped with this.

3.  Better federal judges!  If we can get the Senate to stop confirming right-wing hacks, we have a better chance of holding politicians accountable after a vote like this, because we'll have judges that actually uphold the constitution and block the enactment of bad laws.  A failure of our checks-and-balances system is that the Senate gets to approve or disapprove of the very judges that review their laws.  (If I got to pick my supervisor, I'd probably be lazy, too!)


I think you've assumed there's one best way to win. (4.00 / 2)
What if there are multiple ways to win a general election, and there isn't one that is substantially more likely to succeed than the others.  So, there's the "tack center, get good establishment press, win swing voters" way, and also the "tack to your base, boost turnout, motivate activists, enlist new voters on your margin" way (think BC-04).  And so by threatening to destroy Obama with the left flank of his electorate, progressives could force Obama to choose the "tack left" route to victory, rather than the "tack center" route.  

The best example of this is probably trade; much of the netroots fervently wishes we could force our nominees to run left on trade and pick up voters that way, rather than run center on trade and pick up establishment support that way.  Theoretically, either one of those would be a credible route to victory.

So it should be possible to pressure a Democratic candidate for president, even after the primaries have ended, and force him to 1) run the way we want, 2) make promises to govern the way we want, 3) campaign heavily on those issues and promises, and 4) still win, with just as big a margin as if we didn't do those things.

In which case, we would have made the president be who we want him to be, without hurting him or the odds of his victory.  And we would have won legislation and a popular mandate on our issues in the process.

As long as you're not wrong about the electoral viability of the path you're pushing for, and as long as the candidate is clever enough to adjust to your pressure and respond properly, rather than dig his heels in, watch his left flank destroyed, and refuse to budge anyway, then I can't see the problem with this approach.  Those are two pretty serious preconditions, but they're not unachievable.

Tacking left. (0.00 / 0)
I'm not assuming the best way to win is tack to the center, have in fact written several pieces encouraging Obama to be more bold and progressive, but the question comes when Obama does go to the center.

[ Parent ]
If the "left" is already in the "tank" (0.00 / 0)
and cannot hold Obama (or any other candidate) accountable because they lack leverage, why should he make any move to the left?  The incentive is to move to the right/center because those voters are not "in the tank" and still have a viable option for their vote.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Mike ... (4.00 / 3)
So why are Democrats in DC afraid of being called Democrats or liberals(except for people like Feingold)? .. Why do they have to "tack to the center"? .. Did Bush ever "tack to the center"?  And if he did .. obviously it was only talk .. why are Republicans scared of CfG .. or other such organizations .. but Democrats in DC are gleeful to throw Democrats and related organizations( for one) under the bus so easily? .. Is there no way whatsoever that Pelosi and Reid can bring their caucus to heel on important issues(like FISA)?

Bush definitely tacked center. (4.00 / 3)
That was the core of his "compassionate conservative" BS. He also accept global warming back in 1999 if I'm not mistaken. He was also against nation building before he was for it.

I think a lot of Democrats still run from "liberal" because it's been poisoned by the right for a couple of decades now. "Conservative" just doesn't have that same baggage. Also, plenty of Republicans are refusing to label themselves Republicans this cycle. I think their at least at parity with Democrats there.

Some Republicans are scared of CfG because they've run successful primaries in the past. If we rack up more primary wins we'll be more of a force on the left as well.

[ Parent ]
It's enraging (4.00 / 4)
Especially since some of our most progressive senators, people like Feingold, Sherrod Brown, and Tom Harkin ain't exactly coming from Rhode Island and Oregon, y'know?

If Russ freakin' Feingold is able to find the messaging to get elected from Joe McCarthy's home state (though it's obvioulsy not THAT conservative anymore), then we should be able to find a nominee that doesnt' have to go all mushmouthed to get to 271.

[ Parent ]
I agree with your overall point, but... (4.00 / 1)
I think you are missing something about Wisconsin and Feingold.  As Paul and Chris have pointed out before, Wisconsin is a reform-oriented state.  A lot of Wisconsinites like Feingold because he is principled and reform-oriented, not necessarily because they agree with him ideologically.  This dynamic would not be as possible in machine-dominated states, or states in which voters are less concerned with government reform.  

Sherrod Brown, on the other hand, is senator in an (increasingly post-)industrial state with an electorate that generally responds well to economic populism.

I'm not saying the population is fundamentally conservative or anything like that, just that each state presents certain constraints and opportunities for progressive candidates.  

[ Parent ]
It's not the state (4.00 / 3)
It's the politician. Most voters value integrity and the ability to explain what their representatives are doing, and why. Feingold might not make it in a deep red state, but most states are blue or purple. And in most of them the Dems don't even try.

[ Parent ]
The end point, however, is that it's about culture (4.00 / 3)
far more than it's about ideology.  Which is why Republicans can get away without caving on their ideology.  How you hold yourself, how you present yourself, and how much you are willing to stand up for yourself are far more important than the exact policy options you are espousing.  

Yet Democrats insist caving on their ideology over and over and over and over.  And the Democratic base falls for the same old game played by the new centrist snake oil salesman every time, and all the while there are numerous counterexamples of extremely solid progressives getting elected from states with PVIs less than 5.  

[ Parent ]
Complicated subject. (4.00 / 1)
Part of it is the culture of caution, part of it is the money dynamics, part of it is big media's influence. Some of it, as Matt has rightly pointed out many times, is that many Dems simply aren't progressives.

[ Parent ]
Isn't an over-whelming majority of the country fed up with Bush/Cheney? (0.00 / 0)
Wouldn't this significant part of the electorate want to see  accountability for Bush/Cheney's crimes?  At least to have the possibility of knowing who Bush/Cheney was spying on domestically from 2001 - 2007?

So, I don't buy it that pressing against telco immunity is bad for Obama as a candidate.

The dark truth is probably much closer to Mimikatz's post the other day.  The truth is probably that the Democratic leadership was thoroughly complicit with the surveillance program.  If, as President, Obama pressed for the public release of information implicating key Congressional Democratic leaders, the resulting turmoil would destroy his legislative apparatus.

The pragmatic course of action, the one that keeps the baby while tossing the fetid bathwater, is sweeping the whole business under the rug until elected.  Then, make nice with that significant part of the intelligence/defense/security community that found Bush/Cheney abhorrent, and use their knowledge to identify and purge the Democratic party of the weak links that allowed for the putrification of constitutional principles since 2000.

USA: 1950 to 2010

[ Parent ]
fixed it for you (0.00 / 0)
purge the Democratic party of the weak links that allowed for complain about the putrefaction of constitutional principles since 2000.

[ Parent ]
Sigh. I'm afraid you're right. (4.00 / 2)
People might be pissed, but it's anger at the fact that our hands are tied at this stage in the electoral process.

I argue that right now we need to be taking notes about Obama's politics so as to strategize around how to agitate effectively once he's in office.

And, like Matt and Chris and others have said, Obama's move center really shouldn't be that surprising. It's only those who drank the kool-aid that were completely shocked and appalled.

Is it because he's black that we expect him to be more progressive? Seriously, I wonder.

your hands are never tied (0.00 / 0)
if you don't think you can accomplish anything productive int eh presidential race, then do something else.  there are two reasons to work on something - because it's important, and because you have a chance of influencing it.  If one goes, then work on something else.

It's not like there aren't a million problems in the world that need progressive minds' and hearts' attention.  One good example would be stopping the war before it expands to Iran and Pakistan.

[ Parent ]
Bla bla bla (4.00 / 1)
"Winning the election won't solve all our problems, or give us a suddenly progressive America, but it at least gives us a chance to make progress. If I have to swallow my anger on an issue I care about, well, to be blunt, I'm down for that, too."

How many more decades do I have to hear this impotent whiny bullshit? If you're right, we're all morons for bothering with elections because the only thing that could possibly matter is to overthrow the electoral system completely.

No not really... (4.00 / 1)
What matters is getting the person you want in the primary. If Obama was that person and people are pissed at what he's doing, well then they should have looked a little more deeply into his views during that primary. But now is not the time to start bitching about him when it's been plain as day since about 2006 that he's a pretty centrist guy.

[ Parent ]
"Centrist" \ (4.00 / 2)
is a word without any meaning at all. We're talking about a specific issue. Obama outright lied to us on FISA. So I don't know how we'd have "looked more deeply" into his view on this.

[ Parent ]
Centrist (4.00 / 1)
means someone who is in the middle of the accepted political spectrum. So yes it's amorphous. I guess if you look at it traditionally where fascist is as far right as you go and communist is as far left you go, then Obama is probably exactly in the center. Anyway, that's beside the point. My point is that I was completely unsurprised by Obama's FISA cave. He's shown he's willing to be buddy-buddy with corporations for a long time. He couldn't even propose a truly freakin' universal health care plan. We don't need to have these arguments again, but I'll just say that it was clear to me that given Obama's history, his writings, and his affinity for conservative phrases, ideology, people (e.g. his FISA statement, his thinking that the market is the greatest invention ever, his comments praising Reagan and the GOP as the party of ideas), that this cave should not have come as a surprise to people. It's very very disappointing, but not surprising.  

[ Parent ]
Both are right (4.00 / 1)
All signs were there during the primary that he really, really, really, really is not a progressive, yet by and large progressives much too easily and much too enthusiastically jumped on the bus and in doing so help to enable all of this business as usual crap from a guy who claimed he was about a "new politics"...this is the crucially important piece of Mike's "brutally frank" post that is missing.  What did Pogo say about "we've met the enemy...?"

However, DaveW, I'm with you too: he lied.  Big time. This is "impotant whiny bullshit" and there's been much too much written like this today.

[ Parent ]
Progressives jumped on the Obama wagon .. (4.00 / 1)
I think because a lot of them were tired of the Clintons(and DLC) .. and once Edwards dropped out .. Obama was the only one left .. also .. because Obama was considered "electable" .. where as someone like Kucinich(sp?) isn't

[ Parent ]
Plenty of progressives were very, very pro-Obama even before (4.00 / 2)
Edwards dropped, out, though.  

[ Parent ]
The answer is to change the climate (4.00 / 1)
I basically agree with the diary and first several comments.

To put it a little differently, though, I'd say the way to lead Obama to a more progressive place is simply to make it more apparent to his colleagues in Congress that it is in their interest to go there too.

For example, one reason I've been less critical of Obama in the FISA imbroglio is that I suspect he would have had some serious problems with the Dems in the House had he led a filibuster, which seems like a very hard position when the general election is several months away.  This may well not excuse his conduct, but I think it may have been a factor in his calculation.

desired outcome achieved (0.00 / 0)
I'm beginning to think the desired outcome for the majority of Congress is close to being achieved. The current bill is flawed--it doesn't even met the objectives of its supporters. Thus, having it die in the Senate is the best outcome for all (that's what Pelosi signalled when she said more debate in the Senate is good).

The House has now been able to vote in favor of FISA changes, removing it as a campaign issue for those who needed cover.

Now if the Senate does its deliberative body routine, they'll be able to postpone consideration long enough--bounce back to a committee for substantive changes and/or do just enough to require a Senate/House conference committee. The key is to keep buying time so it get bumped past the election and, eventually, to the next President/Congress.

All the while, there has been at least one version of FISA reform (including immunity) that everyone who wanted to get a "yes" vote in on, has now gotten that vote. Each Congressperson can individually run on their vote even if Congress doesn't actually get the bill passed.

As a bonus point, everyone can run on bills like this not getting passed, too. Republicans can point to it as ineffective Democratic congressional leadership and Democrats can say they just more Dems to get around obstructionist Republicans.

They call me Clem, Clem Guttata. Come visit wild, wonderful West Virginia Blue

[ Parent ]
I keep hoping (0.00 / 0)
that something like this is the sub-plot. What I don't get though, is why Dems think it's necessary. Where is the vast outcry in the country for telco immunity? Not among any potential Dem voters.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I don't really see who this gives cover to (0.00 / 0)
It's too arcane to run attack ads on--there are a million other issues you can pick a Congressional record to get your 30 second spot.  I really just don't see it.

[ Parent ]
Attack ads (0.00 / 0)
would likely cast it as "weak on national security". Its not an issue that stands on its own, it would be one in a list.

Of course, the principled stand that was called for and not implemented could have significantly undercut that arguement.  It seemed pretty typical election year jitters, Democrats looking for "cover" by supporting Republican bills so that they don't look "weak" on the international stage.  

All the while failing to realize that standing up for their principles makes them look "strong".

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Great post (4.00 / 4)
I've been trying to say this (and getting beaten up on various blogs for it) - that we need to put aside basically everything and get Obama elected.  I like the suggestion of pushing hard to elect a progressive majority in congress, though we shouldn't do that at the expense of getting Obama elected.  (Ideally, our work, such as voter registration, will serve both purposes.)

Also, Obama's never been a Kucinich-like legislator, and I'm not sure where anyone got that impression.  He's a progressive technocrat, not a traditional ultra-liberal.  All evidence indicates that.

Also, remember that Obama's in a pressure chamber right now, and there are getting elected pressures to worry about.  If we get him elected in a sizeable Democratic sweep, the pressures on him will change significantly (and also will allow him a chance to take a step back).

No matter what, I will not let folks start thinking of this as an anti-McCain presidential election rather than a pro-Obama election.  That's what happened with too many folks in 2000, thinking Gore was wishy washy and "basically the same" as Bush.

It doesn't take an "ultra-liberal" (4.00 / 3)
to take a stand on the plain violation of the Constitution. Why are you trying to spin this as if this is something only the fringe left could care about?

[ Parent ]
Is everything in the world about FISA? (0.00 / 0)
I've been hearing almost your exact comment (from many people) every time I post about anything for the last week: "why are you trying to spin for Obama.  FISA matters to everyone".

[ Parent ]
If it's any consolation (4.00 / 1)
I've been getting hammered too, when I make the same points.

Makes me kind of curious about the scope of the viewpoints in Democratic-leaning blogs across the internet, when it comes to this issue.  I rely so much on this blog (and DailyKos and a couple of others) that I'm probably not getting a representative view of the diversity of opinions.

[ Parent ]
Yeah (0.00 / 0)
This was a really, really shitty thing that happened, and Obama deserves all the criticism he's gotten.  But my favorite thing about Obama has always been his ability to inspire my fellow countrymen to actually give a crap about what happens to this country and believe that it can be better.

That massive civic engagement - which I still believe is possible - won't happen if it's all about "McCain sucks."

Modern progressivism is still in its infancy.  Will it take a generation before we can run someone who inspires like Obama but has balls like Russ Feingold?  It might.

[ Parent ]
I don't think he'll be doing a whole lot (4.00 / 2)
of inspiring anymore. That's kind of my point: his success was built on his ability to inspire, to earn trust. With that gone, he's set himself up to collapse like a leaky balloon. He wasn't nominated on policy, he was nominated on "change" and "a different kind of politics" and simply the belief that he might really be something new. Will the screaming crowds and small donations still be there after this pointless betrayal of the very people who put him where he is? And if not, what will replace the "hope"? "Better than Bush at least"?  

[ Parent ]
Um, I voted for him on policy (0.00 / 0)
among other things.  Specifically, his technology, government reform, and transparency policies are far and away better than anything anyone else proposed, and in my view that's the real, lasting change that Obama can and will deliver.

The overly dramatic commentary is really not helping.

[ Parent ]
Let's see... (4.00 / 2)
Warantless wiretapping with out a warrant, with impunity for the good folks spying on Americans, says nothing about "technology, government reform, and transparency", evidently. I guess the twinkly little stars are still in some eyes.

[ Parent ]
forget it (4.00 / 1)
It seems that to you everyone who thinks the sky hasn't fallen because of FISA is naive and has stars in their eyes.

As I've posted elsewhere, I trust Al Giordano's take on this issue more than yours, Feingold's, or Obama's, because he's one of those rare people who's in the crosshairs:

As for FISA, you do understand that it is aimed precisely at people like me, right? A US citizen and journalist that spends most of his time in foreign lands, reports on controversies and social movements and narco-trafficking and money laundering and such, and FISA is specifically aimed at giving the US government and telecom companies permission to tap international calls and emails. So, on paper, I ought to be more concerned than people that don't have much or any international contact, who would not be personally affected by its provisions, but are are evidently very upset whereas I kind of shrug my shoulders.

That's because all the things that people fear FISA will allow are being allowed already. There are many loopholes that already allow the US government to surveil upon international communications simply by doing it through surrogates, be they governments or foreign telecom companies. So why should I be upset about something that only puts a legal imprimatur on what they're already doing anyway?

[ Parent ]
No comfort, sorry. (4.00 / 1)
So why should I be upset about something that only puts a legal imprimatur on what they're already doing anyway?

um, because it makes the bad stuff legal?  

[ Parent ]
actually, telco immunity is only civil immunity (4.00 / 1)
so it's still criminally prosecutable, given a White House willing to prosecute it.  And given everyone's suggestion that Obama pick Edwards for AG, it seems that would happen.

[ Parent ]
still no sale (4.00 / 1)
So he doesn't support suing them because that might jeopardize national security, but putting them in prison, hey no problem!
This really doesn't make much sense, especially since it is the executive branch with the expanded power.  How on earth could President Obama justify criminally prosecuting companies (functioning as vessels for the Justice Dept) that candidate Obama believes shouldn't even be sued?

Only thing we have to go on is what Obama said, essentially that national security overrides telecom immunity.  

[ Parent ]
really, that's what Obama said, huh? (0.00 / 0)
I love reading the FISA rants these days...saying Obama sold folks out when the bill hasn't come to vote, that he supports telco immunity when the closest, and most accurate description of his statement is that he is against telco immunity and will support the bill without it and has left unspecified what he will do if the bill still has immunity when it comes up to vote.

[ Parent ]
Quote (4.00 / 2)
"The bill has changed. So I don't think the security threats have changed, I think the security threats are similar. My view on FISA has always been that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people."  

And you're right.  No vote yet.  We don't know what ultimately happen.  We only can go on trying to figure out what he said and what it means (which I have done) and then, of course, what he does.  But please don't overlook the fact that just above you were willing to surmise what an Obama administration will do when it comes to criminal prosecution of telecoms before he is elected president, in the absence of anything out of his mouth to support your statement, and in spite of the fact that it really doesn't seem to make much sense.  End of "rant."

[ Parent ]
Not really (4.00 / 2)
But please don't overlook the fact that just above you were willing to surmise what an Obama administration will do when it comes to criminal prosecution of telecoms before he is elected president, in the absence of anything out of his mouth to support your statement, and in spite of the fact that it really doesn't seem to make much sense.

Actually no.  Let's look at this:

it's still criminally prosecutable, given a White House willing to prosecute it.  And given everyone's suggestion that Obama pick Edwards for AG, it seems that would happen.

So, I said a) if the White House is willing to crimially prosecute it, it's possible, and b) it seems that would happen with Edwards as AG (you'd think that given the fanboydom for Edwards around these parts, most would like to believe that, right?).

[ Parent ]
You have a point (0.00 / 0)
It will be very difficult for me to be inspired, now that I harbor distrust.

But, at least in my personal experience among my peers, Obama's supporters by and large aren't aware of this issue and are still fired up to make a difference.

And, c'mon, admit it.  You'll be really, really happy when he wins.

[ Parent ]
Relieved, yes. (0.00 / 0)
Really really happy, not so much. I guess I should be happy we get better than Bush, better than McCain, but the happiness part of my brain was holding out for better than Clinton.

[ Parent ]
wait, so now Obama == Clinton (0.00 / 0)
wow, I wish understood this new math...

[ Parent ]
One word: (4.00 / 2)

[ Parent ]
obama IS Bill Clinton (4.00 / 1)
substantively, they are very, very, very close.  Look up any of Clinton's speeches from 1992, eliminate outdated references, and imagine Obama saying them.  It totally works.  Start with Clinton's first inagural address.  

[ Parent ]
Don't know how this all turns out (4.00 / 7)
but you're right about the pointlessness of this.  Bush at 23% approval.  Dems set for Congressional landslide.  Republicans reeling.   Absolutely no calls for more govt surveillance of Americans and telco immunity on the people's lips.  Mucho dinero in the coffers.  The change, new politics thing working for him...

Given all this, shouldn't we expect our ultra-inspiring, former- constitutional law professor/community organizer candidate be able to actually take a stand in favor of the Constitution?  

[ Parent ]
I think Feingold could win now ... (0.00 / 0)
it's just that he would have been overshadowed in an Obama-Clinton race(Edwards was after all) ... not to mention Feingold's reluctance due to his personal baggage(religion and divorce)

[ Parent ]
Which is to say (0.00 / 0)
That he can't win now.

[ Parent ]
Not exactly ... (4.00 / 1)
what it means is that his political stances wouldn't stop him from being elected now .. it is other factors

[ Parent ]
you can only control what you can control (4.00 / 2)
No matter what, I will not let folks start thinking of this as an anti-McCain presidential election rather than a pro-Obama election.  That's what happened with too many folks in 2000, thinking Gore was wishy washy and "basically the same" as Bush.

For me it already is rapidly becoming an anti-McCain election, and there's not much that you can do to stop that from happening.  More to the point, I don't understand why you should try - let people feel how they feel - that's the whole point of having a broad tent.  There are so many alternatives though - why not run issue-based campaigns on the environment and other issues that will focus attention on something else but will benefit obama?  At the end of the day, there are a lot of things that you can do and I think we all understand quite clearly the difference between a Democratic Administration and a Republican Administration at this point in time.

[ Parent ]
Spot on Mike (0.00 / 0)
If I was anywhere close to as articulate as you are I would have said the exact same thing.

Spot on.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

I wonder (4.00 / 1)
after four years or eight years of Obama, how much this country will really have changed.  I also wonder when it wasn't (or won't be) "too dangerous" to actively hurt one's candidate of choice chances because the other guy is that much worse.

It seems to me to be a matter of degree.  Stage one is stop contributing and/or actively supporting Obama.  Stage two is to threaten to vote for a third party candidate unless Obama changes.  Stage three is actually voting for a third party candidate.  It seems that the people in these various stages are differentiated by the extent of their frustration with the  candidate in question, and also the time frame of thier horizons.  The more long-term one is in one's approach, the less one worries about short-term consequences.

IRV (instant runoff voting) seems in some respects counterintuitive to me because the more money one has, the more successful one will be in today's electoral arena.  IRV essentially gives up the leverage one has as a voter.  In Australia, they have IRV but actually do the equivalent of threatening to or actually ranking Republicans above Democrats.

Hasn't the progressive movement been trying to primary people for the last 50 years?  What makes us think we can succeed where others have not with this strategy?  (Honest question.)

So, speaking of accountability... (0.00 / 0)
...and I'm not saying this is a good strategy, but just off the top of my head...

What if a few dozen or so superdelegates came forth and said something like, "I pledged my support to Barack Obama at a time when he promised to support any filibuster of a bill that included telecom immunity.  Now that he has broken that promise, I'm reconsidering my pledge"?

I don't want to see chaos in Denver, but it might give Obama an excuse to repair some of the damage he's done if superdelegates start wavering.

It would only make sense (0.00 / 0)
if those super delegates could put their support behind a candidate that DID oppose FISA and had a chance of replacing Obama as nominee.

There isn't a viable alternative on that issue.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Not necessarily. (0.00 / 0)
Again, I'm just speculating here, not advocating that we actually do this --

-- but it makes sense, at least, to say that one candidate pledged to support a filibuster and broke that pledge, whereas this other candidate made no pledge at all.  By switching allegiances, we're not getting anyone more progressive, but we're at least getting more of a straight-shooter on the issue.  The devil you know...

[ Parent ]
Given who many of the delegates are, (4.00 / 1)
and the wounds that still haven't healed, I think Denver could bring some big surprises, and not the good kind.

Perhaps it would be better to hold McCain accountable (0.00 / 0)
But the issue with fisa was that Obama is not going to be the lone senator filibustering stuff.  It makes for great television, but he is more likely to work behind the scenes with the people involved by trying to influence them.

The point is if you wanted Obama to lead on this issue you would have had to get 30 senators filibustering and expect him to finish it off.  Not 3 senators.  You have to do the heavy lifting and if you failed to do so then you are in no position to complain.  

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Send an email to

He took an oath (0.00 / 0)
Like all the other Senators, he took an oath to defend the Constitution. He broke it.

How much heavy lifting are we supposed to have to do to get our legislators to honor the very ****ing same set of laws that gives them the right to make laws in the first place?

[ Parent ]
Most of it (0.00 / 0)
Or you can just keep on waiting and see if someone else does it.  That does occasionally work

The liberal wiki
Send an email to

[ Parent ]
? (4.00 / 1)
In the months before a Presidential general election, I can't think of another alternative re the Presidential race other than doing everything I can do to help Obama win.

How about not doing that?

That risks McCain. (4.00 / 1)
With McCain, there is no hope for change, and the likelihood that many things could get significantly worse. With Obama, we at least open the door to the hope of good things happening.

[ Parent ]
but you're talking about this as if it's a collective decision by a single entity (0.00 / 0)
there are millions upon millions of people who are making individual choices, and thinking about this.  i don't have a lot of power, so it's probably easier for me, but there is always a risk of getting something worse if you pursue something you want.  But there are also usually clever ways of pursuing a strategy that allows you to not just feel ambivalent, but to articulate both aspects of your feelings (your disappointment with obama, your desire to see him get elected).

So maybe you try to raise turnout among lgbt voters (not just for obama, but in general) because neither candidate is accountable enough to that community?  Just a suggestion - i'm sure if you go through this thread and look at other brainstorms, you can find all kinds of solutions to what is really not a dilemma - it's a problem of finding a personal solution to the gap between ideals and practice.

[ Parent ]
In the months before the general election, (4.00 / 3)
since 1968, I've worked to elect whatever Democrat was left standing and a plethora of attractive and unattractive local candidates.

But I have also worked in those months, fruitfully I think, to remind the folks on the campaign trail that once in office, whoever we were putting in this time would be exactly as good as "we the people" made them be.

I don't think I disagree with Lux. I do think the function of this site and some others needs to be to prepare folks to do the work we'll have to do after the victory so that we get some progress out of our hard work.

Can it happen here?

So there can be no public pressure to hold elected officials (0.00 / 0)
accountable. We either do it every 4 years or it never happens. Well- that's certainly one view of politics and accountability.  

Every 2 years (0.00 / 0)
but, basically, you are right.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Yes, we can. (0.00 / 0)
(To quote a phrase.) Go back and re-read the post. I think there are plenty of ways, and much of the time, that electeds can and should be held accountable. I just don't think it's the right thing to do for a Presidential candidate right before the general election.

[ Parent ]
Politics is about dancing with the one what brung ya (0.00 / 0)
That's what a friend who worked for Ann Richards used to say to me. Waiting until after the general means you don't get a say afterwards because they will assume the relationship you have is the one that you have. Or, if you want to put it in pop psych terms- why would Obama bother to buy the progressive cow if we are so willing to give away the mllk for free? He needs to know- even now, that we aren't someone he gets to ignore. That's how you get them to pander to you. Not afterwards, but by building a relationship that says "pander to us and fear us." If he has nothing to fear from us now, he certainly isn't going to do it once in office. Once in office ther eare other techniques but there is a pattern of behavior that needs to happen a long the way that increases the chances of their effectiveness. If the Conservatives hadn't already put the fear of god into the GOP , there is no way that Meiers would not have been put on the S Ct. I can't imagine a Democratic President being scared of you or other progressives in the same way. Maybe if progressives understood that you wouldn't lose quite so much.

[ Parent ]

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