Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Every Great Offense Starts With a Good Defense

Like most, I've got a pile of new reading material post-Christmas. Thanks to a few days in the Berkshires, I have been able to put a dent in some of it, and in so doing came across an article of real importance and salience to progressives of all shades.

One of the many great articles in The Best American Political Writing - 2005 is a piece by John Heilemann of New York magazine. In King Karl, the author examines the political machinations, motivations, and intellect of none other than White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Political Advisor Karl Rove. Although Rove's power(s) and abilities have grown to myth-like status, especially in Democratic circles, his ability to think and plan strategically have to be admired by politicians across the spectrum.

Heilemann makes the important point that, although Rove is generally lumped in with the "true believers" (i.e. the President, Ashcroft, Cheney, etc.) with in the GOP, he is actually much more of a pragmatic thinker and actor than most residents of Blue states would like to believe. For example, on Social Security, although Rove was obviously disappointed the President's ideas have failed, he recognizes that by virtually forcing the Democrats to unite against the proposal, he has "wedded (Democrats) to the past instead of the future - and that's not a good place to be in American politics."

So what's the lesson? It's obviously not that Democrats should have allowed the President to go forward with the dismantling of social security. Rather, it's that now that Democrats have won, for all intensive purposes, the battle on social security, we must build a positive vision for the future and retake the "mantle of idealism" that Rove claims the Republican party has stolen away. This vision cannot be a laundry list of different policies, which can easily be dismissed as "more of the same." If it is, we fail. Instead, it should be a broadly outlined "opportunity society" where each individual, no matter their race, sexual orientation, class, or creed, has a real opportunity to succeed. It should be a society in which the playing field is level for all and competition in pursuit of the greater good is promoted.

Beating back the President's plan for dismantling Social Security provided Democrats with an incredible opportunity to present the country with a new vision for our new united future. However, that opportunity will have been lost if our leaders continue to defend the past, without speaking to the future, to the ideal, to what American could and should be.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Have Great Hair, and You Don't Play Fair ...

While I plan on focusing most of my future critiques on the candidate for governor who couldn't win a race for State Rep, there is no way I'm letting the current resident of the corner office get away with this one scotch free. Apparently, Mitt went into the RNC's closet of talking points before his most recent sit down with the local reports and came out with the classic "blame the liberal media for all my flaws" routine.

If the last five years have proven anything, its that the media is adversarial at best, capitulating at worst, and nowhere near liberal ... just ask Eric Alterman, he wrote the book on it. So why would the Governor choose now to complain? Maybe a few bad Op-Eds help him prove he's conservative when he goes to Iowa and NH. Maybe he's thought this the whole time (just like he was pro-life the whole time, against RGGI the whole time, and running for President ... the whole time). Maybe the Governor needs a built in excuse for what is bound to be a lackluster legislative year. Honestly, I haven't the foggiest on this one. All I know is, I cannot wait until November 2006 when we have a real leader in the Corner office who will make a difference and not just excuses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Road To Nowhere ...

Forget about the nuclear option, today is the zero hour in our nation's capital. All eyes are focused on the Senate, where several highly contentious pieces of legislation will either take the next step to becoming law or be pushed off 'til 2006. Here's to hoping just about nothing gets done.

For those who have been focused on the Massachusetts political scene, here's what's up for grabs today in the august body that is the United States Senate.

(1) Patriot Act Reauthorization - Andy over at Mass Revolution Now! has been on top of this one, since's it's his boy who is leading the bipartisan charge against further erosion of our civil liberties. More and more, Feingold is really impressing me. The Patrick Henry quote, in response to Sen Cornyn, was especially nice. Personally, I would have gone with, "those who would give up liberty for the sake of security deserve neither," but either way, the White House's refusals to back down, and their illogical defense in the NSA episode (heightened by the resignation of a FISA judge), make this an even tougher fight for Senate Republicans.

(2) ANWR - Despicable, deplorable, and downright unAmerican. Let me set the situation for you, for the past 5 years Congressional Conservatives have tried to attached ANWR to EVERYTHING. Budgets, noncontroversial bills, very controversial bills, but NEVER to a bill that funds our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone a bill that also contains billions for Gulf Coast recovery. So what did they do this time, just that. Senator Ted Stevens (R-OIL), Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, attached ANWR to the conference report of the Fiscal Year 2006 Defense Appropriations. Why? Because it would be political suicide for many Democrats to vote against it, and because he could. The lesson, if you can't win playing by the rules, break them.

(3) Budget/Deficit Reduction - According to the NY Times and the WaPo, the VPOTUS cut short his trip to the Middle East and Central Asia to possibly be the tie breaking vote on a bill that will cut $40 billion from the deficit over the next 10 years. Mind you, the deficit is over $400 billion and the last time it was that big Clinton had us running surpluses after 6 years, so not only does the bill not go far enough, but the steps it does take are so regressive and absurd (cutting student loans, making the welfare to work requirements stricter, etc.) that a 50-50 vote is a real possibility.

None of these matters are settled, and even if they are voted down, they'll rear their ugly heads next year, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth fighting against. Who knows, maybe after today we'll have some new things to be thankful for as we ring in the New Year.

UPDATE - Vice President Cheney performed his only constitutional duty today and broke a deadlocked Senate vote. Budget reconciliation passed 51-50. Good news on the ANWR front as Democrats were joined by 2 Republicans (Chafee and Dewine, Frist's no vote was for procedural reasons) and the Senate's lone independent (retiring Vermont Senator James Jeffords).

Friday, December 16, 2005

To Your Corners, and Come Out Swinging ...

Everyone knew the Romney announcement would mark the real beginning of the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. But I don't think anyone thought all of the candidates would come out swinging from day 1. Personally, I think it's great. There's a lot of different campaigns going on, on a lot of different levels, each with it's own strengths and weaknesses. Before anybody lands the first big punch, I figured I'd take a shot and summing up the Democratic field, what I think they are running on, running from, and what their chances really are. (Quick point - I'm not making predictions, just giving my general reaction to the candidates and how the race is shaping up. As I've said before, I'm a Reilly supporter, but I'm looking at the entire field in this one).

Candidates (alphabetical order, no favoritism here)

Deval Patrick - very strong bio. Everybody who is reading this knows Patrick's story and everybody who has heard it, and heard him tell it, comes away impressed. His time in the Clinton Administration, as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, gives him the public service bona fides and his time after, at Coca Cola and a few other places, gives him credibility with the private sector
  • Strengths - Patrick is a great speaker who feels at ease in a crowd of 5 - 500. He speaks with a passion and commitment that is both impressive and refreshing in politics today. As a fresh face on the Massachusetts political scene he carries little baggage of past races and clashes. Patrick is a big picture type candidate, preferring to offer visions as opposed to details. Finally, his biggest strength is his support from the base of the state party - activists, small donors, dedication (can't be underestimate or undervalued - I mean when they start organizing Sandisfield, MA you know they are dedicated).
  • Weaknesses - The flip-side of being a fresh face is being a political neophyte. Despite his past public service, Patrick has never run for office before. No matter how you spin it, any first time candidate is bound to make mistakes (ask Clinton and Obama about their first run at the House of Reps). While Patrick has the backing of many activists, the Democratic nominee will have to woo some (numbers vary) independent voters. Patrick has shown the ability to talk to the base, can he be as as successful with independents (especially considering the predictable attacks of the Right)? Money - I hate talking money, I wish it was nowhere near the political picture, but it is, and as long as it is, it plays an important role. Although Patrick's fundraising has kicked up, his "burn rate" has stayed near 100%, can this be sustained? I'm not sure, but I'd hazard a guess that rate would come down significantly between January and March when his name ID comes up with the public.
Tom Reilly - incumbent Attorney General of the Commonwealth. Also, a very strong bio. Son immigrants, worked his way through college and law school, into the Middlesex DA's office and ultimately to AG. Career public servant and resident of Massachusetts.

  • Strengths - Reilly has a wide network of supporters, especially elected officials, whose support will be key for caucuses, organizing, and getting out the vote. Reilly's campaign will be based on experience and his record. A record that is particularly strong in the areas of public safety, environmental protection, labor rights, and consumer rights. Reilly, although comfortable in all settings, is much more at home in the face-to-face world of retail politics. Finally, Reilly's biggest strength is his ability to appeal beyond party lines, to independents and moderate Republicans who are sick of their candidates jumping ship.
  • Weakness - Reilly's support from elected officials and the big money raisers of the Democratic party leaves him open to the argument that he's "more of the same" - a reference to the Dems inability to capture the corner office since the Duke left. Where Patrick has to prove he can woo independents, Reilly has to prove he can hold the base. Finally, Reilly has to become more comfortable with the big crowds, with talking about his vision for the future of the Commonwealth. It's not just, as Dukakis famously said in 1988, about competence, its about moving forward, as a commonwealth, together.
While there's been a flurry of activity since Mitt decided that the RGA is more important than healthcare, the economic stimulus, the supplemental, or well, anything else, most likely there will be a cooling off period between now and the New Year, and then the marathon begins. I hope the campaign is a great one, not just a good one. Because the people of Massachusetts deserve it. As Democrats, we should be proud that we have two very capable, dedicated, and devoted candidates. I look forward to their debates, to debates with my fellow citizens of the Commonwealth's blogosphere, and I look forward to November 2006, when we will put a Democrat where we haven't in 16 years - the corner office.

Here's hoping it's my guy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mitt - We Hardly Knew Yee ...

Tonight, Governor Romney will make it official. He's out. One could debate about whether he was ever really in, but for now, thats neither here nor there.

This makes things interesting on the Republican side of the race. LG Healey is in, Mihos might be (either as an Indepdent or a Republican), and who knows who else may jump in. I don't think the announcement has much of an effect of AG Reilly or Deval Patrick. If anything, it may turn the campaign inward, especially post-holidays, as both camps prepare for the June convention, the primary, and the big enchilada next November.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Talking Taxes

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Few issues highlight the divide between the two major parties in the United States and the Commonwealth as clearly as tax policy. The divide is based largely on what the parties, and the individuals who make up those parties, consider a civilized society. Conservative Republicans tend to argue that decreased taxation increases personal freedom and promotes, through market forces, societal improvement. Progressive Democrats would generally counter that taxes allow the government to promote the greater good through investment in a variety of sectors - services, infrastructure, innovation, etc.

These stark differences explain why when a member of either party espouses a policy generally associated with the other, heads turn and questions are raised. This was the case in the early 1960's when President Kennedy called for a tax cut to spur the economy, as it was with President Clinton in the early 1990s (during the 1992 campaign Clinton called for a middle class tax cut, which he later abandoned when the full scope of the Reagan/Bush deficit was made public), and it's the case now in the Commonwealth with Attorney General Reilly's public endorsement of a reduction in income tax rates.

While Kennedy's endorsement of tax cuts is from a bygone era (the top federal income tax bracket was 71% in 1961, while is 33.5% - or so - now), Clinton's attempted, and aborted, plan is informative for those in the chattering class who would jump on the AG. First, the AG, like Clinton, made support of a cut conditional. In the AG's case, (and although some may argue this is nitpicking, it is an important distinction) he said he supported the rollback, "If revenues hold up." Well, according to today's Boston Globe thats not going to be the case. I would assume this would mean a backing off from this stance by the Attorney General. Just as Clinton had to back off his plan to cut taxes for working families.

I don't profess a keen understanding of economics, beyond my own checkbook (which is a whole other matter), but I do know that tax rates and macroeconomic policy are not set in stone for a reason. To sound Yogi Berra-esque, change is the only thing you can predict with 100% certainty. So I'd have to disagree with those who argue that this turn of events makes the AG look "foolish." If anything, it makes him look like someone who can't predict the future.

Personally, I do not agree with the stance taken by the AG, but Michael over at wonk Not! makes an important point. Both candidates, in the debate over the proper tax rate, missed an opportunity. While Michael believes the opportunity was to talk about taxes as "investments," I think the real opportunity was to talk about tax reform. Democrats on the national level have begun to talk about the issue, rightly seeing it as a way to simultaneously turn the tables on the issue and promote a more progressive, equitable, and fair tax system. The Center for American Progress has been leading the charge in Washington, now its time for a progressive answer at the state level to refute the Norquist-ite Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Calling for tax reform moves progressives from a defensive stance to an offensive, proactive position. It plays to our strengths - innovation and creativity - and helps expand appeal of progressive policies. While its important to talk about taxes as investments, its also important to be proactive and offer new, innovative solutions to a tax system that is off, for and by the special interests, not the people.

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, but shouldn't we pay that price in the most fair, equitable, and just manner possible? I think every progressive, democrat, or independent would answer a resounding "Yes" to that.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fighting the Good Fight - Part II

Looks like AG Reilly and NSTAR have agreed to a plan by which NSTAR would cut their rates by some $20 million as of January 1, 2006. That's real savings for lots of working families, struggling to keep up with the cost of home heating in tight budgetary times. It might be more steak than sizzle, but that's fine by me.

It's (Not) the Military Stupid

The folks over at Democracy Arsenal, from their inception, have been making some pretty convincing arguments that the Right's hijacking of the military is especially absurd, considering the progressive values - service, sacrifice, and the greater good - that are at the core of the military. While the military's position on certain issues is anything but progressive, its beyond important for progressives to learn to talk about the military in a positive way and articulate a clear alternative national security strategy to pre-emption.

Clearly, articulating an entire national security strategy will take some time. It will also require the Democratic party to win back some control of the government. However, in the mean time, progressives can take important, smart steps towards building their pro-military bonafides. One would be supporting military recruiters access to institutions of higher education. The best thing for the military would be increased diversity, both in demographics and viewpoints. Further, I don't think the military would be hurt by having a few more of the best and the brightest chiming in on their legality of their practices, especially regarding international law.

During his abruptly ended 1968 Presidential campaign, Robert F. Kennedy called for the end to draft deferments as a crucial step to bridging the growing gap between civilian and military. Progressives could stake a similar step, cast aside past differences with military policies, and aim to make the military the proud progressive institution it has been and should continue to be.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Infamy

Everybody loves to quote the opening salvo in FDR's Address to the Nation on Pearl Harbor, and while that may be the line history remembers, I've always been partial to closing. It's especially pertinent for those on Center-Left who believe that Iraq was a mistake, not because Saddam Hussein was not a threat, as he was, but because the Iraq war has diverted time, energy, and resources from the War against Islamic Terrorism, or as the military has taken to calling it, the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (G-SAVE).

FDR's closing remarks remind us, no matter our thoughts on Iraq, what the message should be with regards to Bin Laden and his network.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Fighting the Good Fight

Unfortunately, a panel of 7 judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected an appeal of an EPA ruling made by Attorney General Tom Reilly, representatives from 10 other states, several territories, and environmental advocacy groups, including the Sierra Club. The appeal came in response to EPA's August 2003 rejection of "a petition for rulemaking that had sought the regulation of the emission of greenhouse gases."

While I profess no ability to give a thoughtful legal analysis of the case, I can say I'm proud that AG Reilly is continuing to press forward on what may be the most important environmental issue of our time. AG Reilly's work stands in stark contrast to Governor Romney's last second decision to pull the Commonwealth out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The Governor's decision might bring cheers from special interests who have lobbied against RGGI and other initiatives, but it does so at a cost. Instead of being seen as a independent leader, beholden only to his oath of office to promote the general welfare, the Governor will be seen (and rightfully so) as a calculating politician. Leadership isn't about easy decisions, or popular decisions, its about the right decisions. Too bad we don't have a resident of the corner office who knows the difference.

If We Are Wrong ...

If we are wrong, then the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God almighty is wrong.
- - Martin Luther King, Jr. 12/5/1955

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Turning Point, Any Point ...

I've purposely stayed away from the debate over withdrawal from Iraq for a lot of reasons. Having opposed the war from the outset, I fully understand the frustration and aggravation of those who call for immediate withdrawal. Personally, I find it insanely infuriating that Osama Bin Laden (no matter his daily role in Al Qaeda's operations), the mastermind behind the death of 3,000 innocent Americans, still walks this Earth a free man. However, I also understand thoughtful arguments made by Senators Biden, Obama, Clinton, Reed, and others, calling for strategic change, benchmarks for progress, and troop redeployment. No matter the revelations and the turns in public opinion, it's clear that the Iraq war will be a point of much friction for the national Democratic party for some time.

Despite this, I think progressives of all shades can agree that the war and it's aftermath have been horribly mismanaged, that the American public has not been dealt with in an open and honest manner, and that the current majority party has, more than once, put politics ahead of national security. These critiques are important because they are a debate about the future, not the past.

Focusing on the future in Iraq and of Iraq, allows progressives to set the parameters for the debate and hold the majority party accountable. While the Bush Administration can attempt to deflect criticism and define the debate with a major address and a publication shorter than your average grad school thesis, progressives can define the debate by focusing on reality facing our troops and setting the table for their drawn down, in the most responsible and efficient manner possible.

As for major address, I think the speech President Kennedy was never able to make said it best:

I realize that this Nation often tends to identify turning-points in world affairs with the major addresses which preceded them. But it was not the Monroe Doctrine that kept all Europe away from this hemisphere--it was the strength of the British fleet and the width of the Atlantic Ocean. It was not General Marshall's speech at Harvard which kept communism out of Western Europe--it was the strength and stability made possible by our military and economic assistance.

Speeches don't make history, leaders do. And right now we are a nation in desperate need of honest leadership.