Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bad faith and bitterness

It's been clear for a long time now that the Pentagon supplemental funding bill would be a tough call for almost everyone involved. Unfortunately, as too often happens when there are genuine policy and strategy disagreements, the leadership is trying to paper over them instead of allowing an honest discussion, and that ends up just deepening the division.

There's a perfectly respectable case to be made for the leadership proposal; Thomas Nephew makes it well. But to be able to settle for the half-loaf that the Pelosi bill represents, genuinely anti-occupation members need to get a shot at the whole loaf. Barbara Lee's fully funded withdrawal bill is the alternative.

If the Dem leadership were to allow a vote on that actual withdrawal bill (which is also 'clean' in the sense of not containing a bunch of domestic spending lures that no Pentagon supplemental should have), it would probably get close to 100 votes. If Pelosi and co. had enough guts/integrity to allow that vote before the vote on the leadership version, they'd probably end up getting all but three or so of those votes on the leadership bill, too.

As it is, the leadership is forcing antiwar Dems to take their bill or nothing (unless the Rules Committee chooses this moment to defy the Speaker; I'm not holding my breath). That could cost them as many as 15 Out of Iraq votes. Whether it does or not, that approach is definitely costing goodwill both within the caucus and at the grassroots. And the bitterness will only be escalated by the kind of strong-arming and threats Pelosi is using.

Meanwhile, conservative Dems and Republicans are being lured with honey: every compromise made has been in their direction. This double standard is what's made the Out of Iraq caucus members resentful to begin with; if the sweet talk doesn't attract enough votes to give the Pelosi proposal a chance, then things are only going to get uglier.

Speaking of dishonest, manipulative treatment of "the grassroots", MoveOn's email member poll on Sunday is infuriating on several grounds. If there'd been any intent to be transparent and actually express the will of their members, they'd have:
  • mentioned the existence of the Lee 'fund withdrawal' bill,
  • let members know the deadline for having poll votes counted, and
  • committed to reporting back as soon as possible after that with a vote count.

    Instead, just over 24 hours after putting out the poll, Tom Matzzie told reporters that MoveOn is backing the leadership proposal, and that it got over 80 percent support in the poll -- while declining to quote any numbers. A Daily Kos poll on Sunday, which only allowed a 'support' vs.'oppose' choice, came in at 51%-48% (7500 votes). MoveOn's report-back to its members hours after they talked to the press gave percentages, but no information on how many votes were received. Reviews ranged from harsh to balanced and sympathetic.

    Update: 21 March, 4:30 pm - John Stauber got MoveOn to admit that only 126,000 members voted in the poll, and has more harsh words for the organization's tactics. One of his points should be added to my criticisms above: In addition to there being no deadline given for voting, the subject line of the email, 'Important decision on Iraq', gave no hint that the reader's participation was urgently required.
    End update

    TrueMajority's poll of its members included the Lee bill as a choice, and resulted in their urging a 'no' vote on the leadership proposal. Potentially awkward, since TM is one of the sponsors of StandUpCongress, but that just increases my respect for them. The site, first announced by Tom Andrews at the United for Peace and Justice lobby day in late January, was clearly intended from the get-go to organize support for Murtha's original proposal, but that got off on the wrong foot.

    To put it mildly. That snake John Harris (closet Republican operative, former Washington Post editor, now co-founder of the Albritton-owned Politico, filling the Fox News niche for Capitol Hill) inserted the phrase 'slow bleed' as a characterization of the Murtha proposal in the first paragraph of his reporter's story on Feb. 15. The RNC picked it up and ran with it within an hour of the story appearing (grim details via ThinkProgress). Pelosi and company backed off immediately, and it's been all acrimony all the time ever since.

    Last week's charade in the Senate did nothing to curb suspicions that Democrats want to distinguish themselves from Republicans far more than they want to end the occupation of Iraq.

    Harry Reid's H.J.Res.9, a binding resolution to start troop withdrawal within 120 days and complete it by March 2008, was only announced late the week before. But it unexpectedly came to the floor on Wednesday, March 14, after a deal between the Majority and Minority leaders late Tuesday night. Evidence of bad faith:
  • Majority Leader Reid agreed to rules requiring 60 votes for passage.
  • There was no effort to involve grassroots antiwar organizations in pressuring possible swing Republican senators. Two Senate offices and an antiwar lobbyist were as surprised as I was by the sudden floor action. All assured me on Wednesday when I called that the debate would go on for a while, and there'd be no vote until sometime this week.
  • Yet the final vote on the resolution came just over 24 hours from the beginning of debate. Had there been any intention to gather the votes of any Republicans wavering on the issue, it would have been delayed until after the events marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion, filled with news and editorial coverage of antiwar activities and reflections on the issues surrounding the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
  • Democratic leaders expressed great satisfaction with the outcome, failing 48-50 on a vote almost completely along party lines. It couldn't be clearer that they didn't want more Republican votes, and that they were relieved not to be in danger of actually ending the occupation.

    Democratic leaders have failed to treat antiwar members of Congress and activists with respect by backing off of agreements immediately in the face of conservative opposition, not enlisting the help of grassroots organizations early in the process to move swingable Republicans and conservative Democrats, and not offering anything but threats to bring antiwar members back onside. Then they're going to blame us when the vote fails.

    It didn't have to happen this way.

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    At 2:11 PM, March 21, 2007, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

    Thanks for posting this, it's an excellent, informative summary of the down side of the current House supplemental funding bill and the political choices its backers are making. I quite agree with the proposition that people need a shot at the whole loaf before it's right to suggest they settle for half.

    I plan to recommend that my representative, Chris Van Hollen, read this so that your message maybe gets received by at least one well-placed representative who'd give it some thought.

    At 2:36 PM, March 21, 2007, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    At 5:52 PM, March 21, 2007, Blogger Nell said...

    He might not be in the mood:

    Peace activists armed with poetry occupied the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Tuesday to protest Democrats’ support for a bill funding the Iraq war. They camped out in his office for nearly eight hours, reading verse and reciting the names and biographies of soldiers killed in Iraq, punctuating each by banging on a gong they had brought with them.

    The protesters also taped pictures of soldiers onto the walls of Van Hollen’s office. They were finally led out of the office at 11:35 p.m. by Capitol Police...

    At 12:49 AM, March 22, 2007, Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

    With all that, he might not have even been in front of his computer. Maybe tomorrow. I wonder if anyone I know has an actual personal e-mail address for Van Hollen (if he has one in the first place).

    At 7:36 PM, March 22, 2007, Blogger Gary Farber said...

    "But to be able to settle for the half-loaf that the Pelosi bill represents, genuinely anti-occupation members need to get a shot at the whole loaf."

    There's something I'm not getting here, which is the above.

    Please forgive me: I'm entirely prepared to believe I'm just being thick-headed and stupid, and missing the obvious.

    And I certainly have no problem with bringing up a bill doomed to not pass to a vote; fine by me.

    But I'm not understanding what you find too obvious to mention: why, exactly, is this desired?

    I'm not following what the goal or point is, I'm afraid. As I said, I'm probably just being thick.

    Is it that if representatives don't vote positively on the bill, they'll be punished by voters, or better able to be so punished? Or that peace groups will have a list of who failed them? Or what?

    At 10:50 AM, March 23, 2007, Blogger Nell said...

    People, in and out of Congress, who don't feel that voting for a supplemental funding bill is compatible with ending the occupation, would prefer for there to be an opportunity to vote for a bill that does do so.

    Two primary reasons to want a vote on a bill that it's known will not pass:
    To put members on the record, so that constituents and other members can see who needs persuasion. Many members will point to their vote on this supplemental as a vote for withdrawal, but its withdrawal provisions are so weak that more is needed to separate the sheep from the goats.

    To allow genuinely pro-withdrawal Congress members to cast a vote that demonstrates that, before they cast a vote for the supplemental (due to pressure from the party and threats from leadership) that puts them in the position of "owning the war".

    At 12:35 AM, March 24, 2007, Blogger Gary Farber said...

    Thanks for your response, Nell. Your first reason makes perfect sense to me (I'd generally say that there are two reasons to call a vote: to win it, or to put one's opponents on record, if there's a reason to think that will be advantageous); I'm still a bit unclear about your second, though.

    That is, as regards "To allow genuinely pro-withdrawal Congress members to cast a vote that demonstrates that, before they cast a vote for the supplemental (due to pressure from the party and threats from leadership) that puts them in the position of "owning the war," I'm still not quite clear why. Do they think their records are, or will be, unclear on this?

    Thanks for your patience.

    I tend to be wary of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, as you've probably noticed; this doesn't mean I don't think that it's good for some folks to be pushing the envelope, moving the center via the edges, and so on, of course.

    My impression is that the bill that passed the House today is a good step in the right direction, even though it's only part way towards where we should be. I trust you'll let me know if I have this wrong. :-)


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