Rumor has it the conference committee will take out the House language about the deadline to leave Iraq. Kagro X points out that if the Congress passes a weakened bill, and the president doesn't veto it, the Democrats then co-own the war in a much more significant way than thay already have or do. All this when the administration has clearly lost the support of the public on, well, just about anything. I ask, if now is not the time to stomp the right wing down with prejudice, then, in the name of all that is holy. . . when?
I'm in the midst of some email discussion about all this with some other people I respect involved in progressive politics. I'd like to share with you some things I've written today, out of context, but I'll let you put the pieces together on your own:
I have not researched this, though I'm going to assume Kagro has the facts right.
I among others covered Pelosi's back when the supplemental was up for grabs. If the leadership cuts the spine out of the final bill, and I mean this very pointedly, I don't want to hear . .. no, I don't want to fucking hear . . . any more sermons from the serious coalition building let's trust the party people to be nice. I'm sure I won't be alone.
That got some replies, both in support and in respectful dissent. Here's what I wrote next (edited for typos and confidentiality limits):
I'm saying if the law you can pass gives the president and the occupation too much of a pass, such that the bill is toothless entirely, you should pass the bill you want to pass and make the president veto it. The public would support such a measure. It should at least include the provisions in the [House] supplemental.
And I'm also saying it's better to fail to pass the version of the bill with the supplemental language in it and then put it back on the calendar than to compromise for marginal votes when the resulting bill will say to the public that we're being reasonable, when it will really just mean we caved in.
Fuck the votes. Make a real confrontation and take it to the public. Public pressure could support a conference committee bill with real limits on the president. The polls say they trust Democrats in congress to run the "war" more than they trust the president.
Bill Clinton was great at this: going right to the public to bypass and pressure Congress. We could do it again, even without a strong individual presence and talent like Clinton. It could even be done without the presidential bully pulpit. Put every Dem member of Congress on the Capitol steps, have Reid, Pelosi, Emanuel, Schumer, Levin, Van Hollen, Barbara Lee and a couple of others offer remarks, put it right on Youtube, then virtually every Dem goes home to their district to talk to their constituents about it and talk to their local news and newspapers. That's a legislative-cum-political strategy, and it would work.
I teach [executive level] level negotiation. Compromise is appropriate when the underlying issues are not that important and when both sides are making collaborative concessions. Neither circumstance is met here. When you can involve a third party audience to enhance your leverage, do so. That's what going right to the public would mean. All of that would presuppose that members of Congress indeed want to fight to exercise oversight and bring the troops home, as our leading presidential candidates keep telling us they want to do.
John Edwards could really break out by recommending this, if he wanted to. It's a freebie for him: he's out of the Senate. He could call for a party that governs, government that works for the people again.
One subsequent response included a longer set of reasons to go along with a less confrontational strategy, including the sentence, "But I think the real fight will start after the veto." This elides the danger Kagro X outlined, that Bush could in fact assent to a bill that gave him all the authority he wanted while sending someone to bullshit the Congress on occupation updates, as everyone from the executive branch obviously bullshits the Congress already. But I responded (edited for typos):
All the more reason to make him veto the bill that places more curbs on him, including the House supplemental language. Then the subsequent debate happens on terms of our own choosing.
Notice the process you're advocating: after watering down a bill for the Blue Dogs before a vote in either chamber, we water it down again in return for. . . nothing.
In my class, every group begins with some accommodating or conflict avoidant types (by nature, personality) who give and give and give in the beginning of our negotiation exercises when pitted against competitive, non-yielding sharks, and they get eaten alive. They have a hard time learning how and when to play on a collaborative or compromise rewarding ground, but it takes reciprocity from both sides to be successful at that.
You can't make your counterpart operate from that framework, and if your counterpart refuses to bargain in good faith, then look to your leverage: what's your best alternative to a negotiated agreement? In this case, we could go right to the public sooner than the process you outline, and we'd win. You say the process will come around because of the public climate, but it's not the public that's the logjam here: that source of leverage and power is available to us, in full force, now.
Meanwhile, when you concede in exchange for nothing with a competitive shark, the shark does not process this data as a cue to be reasonable in return. The shark processes this data as weakness and as a signal to play even more hardball. The strategy you outline will actually prolong the intransigence of the other side and the failure of an accountability strategy in concert with the publc will, rather than bring us closer to a better resolution.
So, dear readers, what side are you on? Would you like to work to fight together to keep the House version intact, which includes a date for withdrawal from Iraq, or do you support more concessions to the
president Blue Dogs in return for nothing? If you think my conceptualization of the situation is full of shit, please feel free to say so in the comments.
Out of respect for people's confidentiality, I have not published any counterarguments to my own point of view, but feel free to include your own for community discussion in the comments if you like. It's quite healthy for us to discuss these things, all my passion and conviction notwithstanding. Keep the conversation respectful: this is too important a subject for us to fuck up by entering a stupid fragging flame war. (Moderators are on the job: you've all been warned!)
We'll be paying attention to our readers' responses, and if necessary, taking action based on your feedback.
I confess this is not the ideal Saturday night subject (I prefer to post lighter stuff in this time slot), but I'm a little. . . animated about this tonight.
Oh, and many deeply felt thanks for your birthday wishes last night. It's hard to process, to integrate into my brain, all the well wishes from people I've never met. I'm actually a rather sentimental sort and so rather than blather and make a fool of myself, I'll just leave it at that. I'm quite the blessed and fortunate man.