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Progressives and the Democratic Security Plan

       Tell me what you see. . .

I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to people here and elsewhere in the blogosphere to learn what people think, not only about the newly unveiled Democratic plan for Real Security, but of the party’s campaign strategy going into the midterm elections.  Here’s what I’ve learned.  At the end, I offer my own summary of conclusions for progressives.

First, the good news:

  • To an extent, the party is finally playing some offense.  Okay, it’s not smashmouth offense, but it’s a start.  That at least should be applauded and encouraged.  Democratic leaders believe that, in a midterm election, results will be a referendum on Bush, and no extra effort is required to bring out the Democratic base.  Accordingly, they do not seek to present an aggressive agenda of sharp contrasts to the national electorate.  Instead, they want to pass a minimal threshhold of credibility while presenting an alternate agenda.  They believe this plan accomplishes that.  So, the good news is, this is a beginning at playing offense and presenting Democratic ideas in a unified way. Since Democratic ideas are always better, that’s a good thing.

  • The plan has several good elements we can all likely support as progressives.  These include full implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations (pdf warning), allocation of greater resources to combat terrorists and al Qaeda, real port security, targets to achieve energy independence and at least a nod toward the importance of redeployment from Iraq.  The policy experts on our side can quibble over the details, but from a political perspective, the priorities are mostly right and the policy details don’t matter much (more on that later).

  • For a sample of positive reaction in the blogopshere to this plan, check out this post from Sean-Paul Kelley at  The Agonist, and this one from georgia10.

Now, the unwelcome news, from the progressive perspective:

  • The plan is fuzzy at best on redeployment, since it was developed in concert with people like Joe Lieberman.  As a consensus document, it unites the current party establishment, but that also means it mollifies interventionist Democrats.  Atrios remarked on this earlier today.  The plan is unrealistic on Iraq, in the sense that it assumes the U. S. has any control over the direction of events there at all.  I did not expect mea culpas from our leaders for their past Iraq positions, but the bottom line is the plan still fails to deal with reality.  My hunch is we’ll be pushed out as the country spirals into a Middle East version of Rwanda with better weaponry.  We won’t be able to keep order without essentially taking sides, so we’ll eventually be forced to bug out.  That could all happen before November.  Waiting for matters to deteriorate to that degree puts our soldiers in greater danger.

  • No matter what the merits of the plan itself, it has no chance to be enacted in full given current executive branch leadership.  Matt Stoller and Josh Marshall have two well argued, thematically related takes on this idea.

  • From the progressive point of view, the plan not only ducks out on backing the majority-supported Murtha redeployment plan, it fails to issue a clarion call to the activist base of the party to get out the vote.  That means the party is setting itself up once again to overestimate its advantages going into another election.  Those of us in touch with the activist base in the blogosphere believe, as Chris Bowers argued yesterday, that the independent vote is already ours and we need to turn out the base.  The party establishment believes base turnout is assured as long as the focus remains on Bush and his failures.  They point to record cumulative small dollar donations to the DSCC and the DCCC as proof.  Why should you believe Bowers?  Well, more than a year ago he was derided for saying Democrats should field candidates for every Congressional seat.  Now that view is conventional wisdom.  No apologies from the establishment have yet been forthcoming.

  • I see and hear very little of a coordinated push by the party to show unity on this initiative.  No one signs on to agree with it, putting their names on the line.  I see no comprehensive strategy to propel it through a hostile media environment controlled by Republicans.  The party establishment unveiled the security plan today at Union Station in DC, 1:00 PM EST.  The president preemptively scheduled a 12:50 PM speech on Iraq and sucked up all the coverage.  That’s why you have not heard much about this plan today.  Incredibly, Democrats still have no recognition that they need to run aggressively and vocally against the conservative establishment media.  Therfore, no matter the merits of the plan, any politcal advantage for having developed it could be nil. . . unless we in the netroots and grassroots try once again to pick up for the party’s failures. 

Here are my conclusions for progressives.  These are just my conclusions so far, so please don’t say I’m telling you what to think.  I’m just telling you what I think:

  • The plan is better than nothing.  Support it.  We need to play offense and encourage the party to play offense.

  • Don’t get caught up in debating the policy details contained inside the plan.  For all the reasons outlined above, they don’t matter because we can’t enact all of them, even if we take over both the Senate and the House.  Focus on the fact that Bush is a failure and Republicans are weak, and Democrats represent a change for the better.  As TeddySanFran says, "Had enough?"

  • Save your donations for worthy, individual candidates like Francine Busby (CA-50, special election April 11!!) and Ned Lamont, for Russ Feingold’s Progressive Patriots and for the DNC under Howard Dean, working to build grass roots organizations in every state.  If the DCCC and the DSCC don’t feel they need you, act accordingly.  Work together to promote progressive candidates and the kind of institutions that will support future progressive majorities.  Crashing the Gate describes the kind of infrastructure we need.

  • Democratic leadership does want very much to gain a majority on either or both sides of the Hill.  That will give Democrats the power to launch investigations and to call witnesses to testify under oath.  That ain’t nothin’.  Will they follow through and go for the jugular, to restore sanity and constitutional balance to the government?  Who knows.  They’ve done little so far to inspire confidence, having left both Murtha and Feingold out on their own.  On the other hand, the alternative, with Republicans still in charge, is intolerable.  In the end, it’s up to each activist to determine how much to work during this election cycle to get out the vote, but whatever you do, be sure to devote your energy on behalf of real, fighting progressives.  Supporting the wider party and supporting true progressives don’t have to be mutually exclusive courses of action.  As liberals/progressives, we’re in this thing for the long haul.

One more thing, just before I hit "publish:"  Based on his review of the cumulative polling data, Chris Bowers just now argues that failure to support the Murtha redeployment plan is politically incomprehensible.  His overall take on the security plan seems similar to mine, but I’ll be interested to see what everyone has to say in the comments about all this stuff.

UPDATE:  The conservative establishment media weighs in on today’s announcement, far, far away from the front page.

UPDATE II:  The media did not cover the announcement today, but here are some video clips, in windows media and quicktime.

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Pachacutec did not, as is commonly believed, die in 1471. To escape the tragic sight of his successors screwing up the Inca Empire he’d built, he fled east into the Amazon rain forest, where he began chewing lots of funky roots to get higher than Hunter Thompson ever dared. Oddly, these roots gave him not only a killer buzz, but also prolonged his life beyond what any other mortal has known, excluding Novakula. Whatever his doubts of the utility of living long enough to see old friends pop up in museums as mummies, or witness the bizarrely compelling spectacle of Katherine Harris, he’s learned a thing or two along the way. For one thing, he’s learned the importance of not letting morons run a country, having watched the Inca Empire suffer many civil wars requiring the eventual ruler to gain support from the priests and the national military. He now works during fleeting sober moments to build a vibrant progressive movement sufficiently strong and sustainable to drive a pointed stake through the heart of American “conservatism” forever. He enjoys a gay marriage, classic jazz and roots for the New York Mets.