Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Senate Democrats get spineless, and the Netroots loses their understanding of politics

Can anyone say they were surprised? TPM:

Senator Harry Reid just spoke to reporters after the private caucus meeting with Dems over Joe Lieberman's fate, and he confirmed it: Lieberman will not be stripped of his Homeland Security chairmanship, because the "vast majority" of the Democratic caucus wants him to stay.

"This was not a time for retribution," Reid said, adding that "we're moving forward."

Lieberman was removed from the Environment and Public Works Committee, a largely meaningless punishment since it's a topic (unlike Homeland Security) on which he has no differences with Dems.

Asked about liberal "anger" towards Lieberman, Reid said: "I pretty well understand anger. I would defy anyone to be more angry than I was."

Honestly Harry, I really wouldn't go there.

But he added: "If you will look at the problems that we face as a nation, is this a time we walk out of here saying boy did we get even?"

"I feel good about what we did today," Reid said. "We're moving forward."

Lieberman himself, meanwhile, said he was able to keep his slot thanks to Barack Obama, whose recent statement said he held "no grudges" against Lieberman. Lieberman singled out the "appeal by President Obama himself" as a key reason he's staying.

So, Senate Dems will be allowing Lieberman to keep his plum spot despite the fact that he has been deeply awful in that role, and despite the fact that he endorsed efforts by the GOP to imply that Obama is in league with terrorists, suggested that Obama endangered our troops, and said Obama hasn't always put the country first.

Worse, Reid is echoing an argument he knows is false: That this is only about retribution. Reid and his fellow Senators have made the political decision to leave Lieberman in a job that he was a disaster at, rather than make the good governmental decision to remove him for the good of the country.

Just another reminder of what we're "moving forward" from:

A committee chairmanship is a reward, not something anyone is entitled to. And let's remember making him chair isn't meaningless, he used his power to block any investigations of the Hurricane Katrina incompetence, which you'd think would be reason enough to strip him of his post alone.

And then there's this: (Via Stoller):
Asked what it would mean if Lieberman kept his chairmanship, one Senate Democratic aide said bluntly: "The left has been foiled again. They can rant and rage but they still do not put the fear into folks to actually change their votes. Their influence would be in question."
I started to write a response, but just found that Sirota had already said the same thing but better:

It's pretty odd that only two weeks after a landslide election that saw a huge ideological progressive mandate, Democratic congressional leaders think it's a great public message to declare jihad on progressives.

I don't know, call me crazy, but I think 67 million people voted for Democrats because they want Democrats to reject Bush's ideological conservatism and solve problems - not spend their time making paranoid, quasi-McCarthy-ist speeches deriding "the Left."

But they do it because they know people will continue to take this crap. I am honestly getting more and more worried about the netroots developing their own brand of "dear leader syndrome" where no matter what a popular figure does, people start justifying insane positions simply because a popular figure has taken them. Over the past couple of weeks we've seen people on liberal blogs sing the praises of Rahm Emmanuel, excitedly support the bailout because the leadership said so, defend Volker and Summers as treasury secretary candidates and love the idea of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. But yesterday was a new low. When the top rec listed diaries on Dailykos are titled "Lieberman vote IS the change we need, not its repudiation" and "Revenge, Dean had it right", it's enough give you serious pause.

I frankly don't care that two people who a greatly respect like Howard Dean and Barack Obama think that this was the right way to handle this situation. It isn't. In this case, they are wrong. It shouldn't matter who they are, and it doesn't mean they are bad people. But they are wrong. And they can say that it's about revenge and bipartisanship all they want, but I'm sure even they know that's not true. It's about investigating Hurricane Katrina, and it's about stopping someone who says you hang out with terrorists a platform to speak for you and your party. Competent governance and allowing someone to spread lies under your banner are bigger issues than something as petty as "revenge". The worst part in all of this is that defending people blindly when they are wrong shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how politics works, and reminds those leaders exactly why they didn't listen to you in the first place.

Luckily, there are people like Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who I was fortunate enough to see speak yesterday at a Campaign for America's Future event. During the Q&A, he paused in mid answer and said this:(scribbled down from my notes, so may not be exact quote)
This may sound like sacrilege in this room, but Barack Obama has the potential to be a great president. But when you’re president, you get pulled from a lot of different directions. Right now, he’s getting pulled by a lot of centrists, and all comes down to who pulls him the hardest. He could very easily be a centrist president. But if we pull the hardest, then we have a great potential for progressive change.
And it's the netroots must do a the majority of this "pulling". As FDR said to his supporters in one of my all time favorite political quotes: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

I believe Obama operates in a similar way, and that's gives me great hope about his presidency.

"Making them do it" is the cornerstone to effective politics. And based on the results of the Lieberman vote, we obviously have a lot of work to do.


  1. Absolutely ridiculous. I can kinda understand the argument to keep him in the i can't..

    He's gonna vote how he votes, and if all of a sudden he "magically" feels like voting for the right even on his core issues, then CT. voters will end him in a year. I think its pretty established that he's no longer with the left on national security issues, SO WHY KEEP HIM IN CHARGE OF HOMELAND SECURITY??? Holy crap, i half expect him to be appointed secretary of HS next..

    This video may be more appropriate for the headline:

  2. I agree that this is a blow to the Progressive agenda. Actually, a lot of the moves made by President-Elect Obama have been pretty non-progressive thus far. I think its because of the fact that the Democrats don't really know how to govern yet. Other than Clintonites, we've been out in the "political wilderness" for 20 of the last 28 years. So to make this a smooth transition, he is banking on experienced Dems, and the only ones out there are from the Clinton administration.

    As far as the Senate keeping Lieberman in their Caucus and as the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, it was probably an act of appeasement. By adding the Senate seat in Alaska, they are getting very close to that "magic number" of 60 votes. I suspect they told Lieberman that he can keep his seat as long as he stays in line with the party. The benefits of his vote being guaranteed to go with the Democratic agenda far outweighs the cost of kicking him out of the caucus and him going rogue. I do agree with you that it was a shrewd move, and spineless as well.

    I say its too early to really make judgments on the administration, and we should wait and see how it plays out. However, if he appoints Hillary Clinton as Sec of State, I will be greatly disappointed.

  3. One thing about Lieberman that's important to point out: if you look at the election breakdown graphs from his '06 win, it's really clear that he was running as a republican. Also, unfortunately, we don't get to vote him out for another four years.

    The other thing is, Homeland Security and Government Affairs has some real power to fuck with the president. I assume Obama's leaving that vulnerability open to show strength, as well as buy Lieberman's favor and gratitude, but it's there if things go south and I don't really trust the guy like he apparently does.

    The other other thing is, it's also largely in charge of the working of DC.