Saturday, March 10, 2007

The curse of self-appointed liberal "leadership"

Via Laura Rozen, this news (from a subscription-only story at National Journal) makes my heart sink:

Deciding not to pursue their individual agendas, about a dozen liberal groups that united at the beginning of the year to help House Democrats pass their first-100-hours legislative agenda are continuing to work together, this time on a campaign opposing President Bush's troop surge in Iraq.

The groups are using the same grassroots strategy that proved successful in the previous Congress in helping Democrats to block GOP proposals for Social Security reform and budget cuts. These left-of-center organizations have traditionally worked only on domestic issues, but they are now fully engaged in pushing Congress to impose limits on the country's future involvement in Iraq.

Led by three large organizations -- the Campaign for America's Future,, and USAction -- the groups have formed Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and have agreed to spend a combined $9.4 million on an electoral-style effort that includes canvassing and field operations, media advertising, phone banks, polling, and a press strategy.

"Though we don't work on Iraq as an issue, the debate on the war was crowding out our domestic agenda," says Alan Charney, program director at USAction, a progressive economic advocacy group with field operations in 30 states. "Until Iraq is solved, we know it will be difficult to push the progressive agenda, so we decided that it was time to fight for a responsible redeployment of the troops."

Why does it make my heart sink? Because these organizations aren't led by the grassroots, but by electoral operatives. They don't want to end the war; they want to get it out of the way as an issue. "Americans Against Escalation in Iraq"? As a representative of "Americans for Getting U.S. Troops Out of Iraq Two Years Ago," I see this as a party front, a potential obstacle to ending the occupation -- at best a high-maintenance ally. Americans are already against escalation in Iraq, in huge numbers. The point is to turn that into effective pressure on Congress to end the war.

MoveOn is the only one of the organizations listed here that's at all vulnerable to pushback from large numbers of individual activists, and the only one that's made any significant contribution to antiwar organizing until now.

USAction is the descendant of Citizen Action, with which I was involved for many years. This is completely typical of their politics: issues are instruments, nothing more. There's no recognition in that crowd of the need to work in a respectful way with the organizations that have been organizing for the last five years to prevent, and then to end, the war. Those of us who think the lives of Iraqis and Americans shouldn't be sacrificed to avoid any risk to the chances of Democratic candidates are "issue-heads" in the USAction worldview.

No, they're not the enemy. But their arrogance, cynicism, and complacency make them dubious allies.



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