Antiwar Groups Use New Clout to Influence Democrats on Iraq
WASHINGTON, May 4 — Every morning, representatives from a cluster of antiwar groups gather for a conference call with Democratic leadership staff members in the House and the Senate.
Shortly after, in a cramped meeting room here, they convene for a call with organizers across the country. They hash out plans for rallies. They sketch out talking points for “rapid response” news conferences. They discuss polls they have conducted in several dozen crucial Congressional districts and states across the country.
Over the last four months, the Iraq deliberations in Congress have lurched from a purely symbolic resolution rebuking the president’s strategy to timetables for the withdrawal of American troops. Behind the scenes, an elaborate political operation, organized by a coalition of antiwar groups and fine-tuned to wrestle members of Congress into place one by one, has helped nudge the debate forward.
On Thursday, leaders of the liberal group MoveOn.org, including Tom Matzzie, the group’s Washington director who also serves as the campaign manager for the coalition, sent a harshly worded warning to the Democratic leadership.
“In the past few days, we have seen what appear to be trial balloons signaling a significant weakening of the Democratic position,” the letter read. “On this, we want to be perfectly clear: if Democrats appear to capitulate to Bush — passing a bill without measures to end the war — the unity Democrats have enjoyed and Democratic leadership has so expertly built, will immediately disappear.”
The letter went on to say that if Democrats passed a bill “without a timeline and with all five months of funding,” they would essentially be endorsing a “war without end.” MoveOn, it said, “will move to a position of opposition.”
The antiwar coalition combines the online mobilization capabilities of MoveOn with the old-school political muscle of organized labor. They have been working in tandem with Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate on a systematic strategy to unify Democrats, divide Republicans and isolate the president.
For the past six years we've been playing defense and moving to an affirmative position is painful. The sausage making, the compromises, the nudging and shoving of individuals and coalitions into place is a wholly different game than just saying "Bush sucks and here's why" as you stand by powerless to do much about it. It's impressive that many groups not accustomed to collaboration are coming together to lend their collective strengths to ending the war and pushing the Democrats into holding their position on withdrawal.
Last week Steny Hoyer's plan to collaborate with Republicans and save Dubya's ass by calling for timetables for the Iraqi government seemed to be gaining ground. I have no idea where that stands as of this moment, but very much appreciate everyone who took the time to call Hoyer's office and express their opinon on the matter. It looks like contra Hoyer, Murtha's plan for short-term funding may be coming to the fore:
“The latest word from them is they are talking more and more about a short-leash option,” [Tara McGuinness, the coalition’s deputy campaign manager] said, referring to a plan in the House that would finance the war for only about three more months and require the administration to report back on progress being made by the Iraqi government. Congress would then vote again on the rest of the money requested by Mr. Bush.
Members of the Senate appear to be cool to the idea, but it has currency among some liberal advocates and members of the coalition.
Mr. Matzzie, of MoveOn, was clear about the stakes in the coming weeks, saying his group was only getting started. He emphasized that the next emergency spending bill must be one “to end the war.”
“This is act one of a three-act play,” he said. “Act two will be the summer. During the summer, our job is to create a firestorm of opposition.”
A similar coalition of groups got together to fight Alito and it did not go smoothly. It is to the credit of everyone involved that they are working together, evidently with some success, to enourage Democrats to hang together and oppose Bush and bring the war to an end in a fundamental way.
Count us in as part of the firestorm.
(photo from New Haven Independent)