Bloggers Don’t Have to Choose

Bob Cesca is one of my favorite bloggers. The “Morning Awesome” series of posts is alway an awesome way to start my morning. Cesca’s very pro-Obama, as I’ve noticed a few other people are too. However, following John Edwards’ exit from the presidential race yesterday, Cesca offers up an unrestrained call for endorsements in a post titled, “Bloggers Must Choose, Too.” (UPDATE: I retooled this sentence on further reflection. Cesca’s not jumping the shark, he’s just providing a case for bloggers to endorse Obama that I think is unconvincing.)

I was thinking… It’s also time for the major bloggers to get behind one of the remaining candidates. I know the unspoken strategy has been to avoid pissing off a reader-base which may have taken many years to build, but this is only the future of the party we’re talking about here.

I don’t know that the major bloggers have avoided endorsing a candidate out of fears of losing readership. Quite the opposite. Many people have written about the experience of regularly being accused of shilling for one candidate, then the other (a sign of a pissed off reader-base) specifically because they have not made an endorsement. Digby shut down her comments section, things got so bad. Others, like eRiposte at The Left Coaster, have found solace in making an endorsement, clarifying their position for readers who know what to expect going in. Cesca is advancing a theory of traffic-related reasons for avoiding endorsements that has been trafficked in by a lot of people who wish the major bloggers were endorsing their candidate (which Cesca gets to later). However, no major blogger I’ve seen has ever written or said that they’re not endorsing because of traffic. Cesca’s preface of “unspoken” is a fig leaf in his argument.

Moreover, I have no clue how a blogger endorsing or not endorsing one of the Democratic candidates has any bearing on the future of the party. Cesca doesn’t explain and I think he’d be hard-pressed to tie even the most influential Democratic blogger’s personal candidate preference to having any structural role in the future of the Democratic Party.

Again, either candidate will make history, so the choice comes down to a new paradigm — “change” — versus more of the same DLC style leadership we’ve been discontented with for so many years. Honestly, this is Joe Lieberman versus Ned Lamont.

No, it’s not. Clinton is not Joe Lieberman. Obama is not Ned Lamont. They have similar issue positions and voting records. No one has suggested Clinton be expelled from the Democratic Party, nor that Obama is a political outsider tapping into a strong anti-war sentiment.

Yes, Clinton is of the DLC. Yes, we’re discontent with that. But there’s no comparing the Obama paradigm of “change” – a vacuous and completely meaningless branding – with the actual, factual connections of Hillary Clinton to a brand of Democratic politics that I know I have major ideological differences. “Change” is so vacuous, Clinton is even using it herself. She has been labeled an “agent of change for 35 years,” whatever that means

Does it sound like I’m agreeing with Cesca on change vs. DLC? Sure, but only to the extent that I think the DLC brand of politics needs to be exiled from our party.* But I don’t know if “change” means “not the DLC” or “progressive, fighting Democrat.” It doesn’t – “change” means nothing. More importantly, what does Obama stand for? Is he more progressive than Clinton? Is he opposed to bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship? Will he fight for us? Nothing in the “change” brand tells me these things.

Worse, Obama has had a recent string of highly objectionable comments that suggest, like Clinton, a drift towards centrism and bipartisanship that runs counter to what the Democratic Party needs now. Praising Reagan, calling the GOP the “party of ideas,” and insinuating that his (independent and Republican) supporters won’t necessarily vote for Hillary Clinton if she were to win the nomination are all things that suggest Obama isn’t offering a new paradigm, let alone one that’s so substantially different from what Clinton offers as to be a foregone conclusion for progressive bloggers on the order of Lieberman v. Lamont.

Cesca concludes his post:

So it’s time to pick a side here, bloggers. Start off with, “While I will support the eventual nominee…” or, “While I admire [or respect] both candidates…” And go from there. We’ll all make nice after there’s an official nominee. Until then, it’s time to take a stand on this thing.

No, it’s not time to pick sides. Why in the world would bloggers eschew an endorsement when there was a diverse field with populist and progressive voices, but rush to endorse once it’s down to two choices? Speaking broadly, the two most progressive candidates (Edwards and Dodd) are out; the most adamant voices for ending the war (Richardson and Kucinich) are out; the most experienced candidate (Biden) is out. Given a choice between the two least experienced candidates with some of the most centrist rhetoric and records, why would progressive bloggers leap into this binary?

Both candidates have upsides for me in some areas, downsides in others. Both have serious unknowns that trouble me. In an email, Eli from Multi Medium captured the large narrative concerns about Clinton and Obama in a way that works well for me.

My biggest worry about Obama is that he will compromise rather than fight; my biggest worry about Hillary is that she will fight for the wrong things.

Given that dynamic, why would I** or any other blogger jump in with an endorsement?
I spent a lot of time on the Dodd campaign watching how bloggers were or were not endorsing. There was one thing in common – they endorsed when they whole-heartedly believed in the person they were endorsing, never a second before. Go read this list of endorsement posts and try to find one person who made their decision public because someone said, “You have to pick”. You won’t be able to (and I’ll note, we had some major bloggers endorse on that list).

People endorse because they believe in a candidate. Hell, go read Cesca’s passionate and thoughtful endorsement of Obama on Huffington Post. He didn’t write that post because someone told him to pick, finally. It’s disappointing that he is forcing a different standard on other big name bloggers.

In the end, though, Cesca’s call won’t matter much. A lot of Edwards supporters online are shifting towards Obama. To the extent that they believe Obama to be a better candidate and a better Democrat than Clinton, some bloggers will surely endorse him. I doubt it will make much of a difference and I would certainly urge caution when it comes to comparing Clinton and Obama to Lieberman and Lamont, no matter who you line up where.

* I don’t think Democratic bloggers endorsing a presidential candidate has any impact on the status of the DLC or their level of regard in the Democratic Party.

**I don’t consider myself to be a major blogger, let alone the sort of blogger Cesca would be waiting expectantly to endorse Barack Obama.

The Civility Delusion

I’ve recently had a number of conversations with Obama supporters – not fanboys, but smart, high-information voters – who think that one net positive for an Obama administration over a Clinton administration is that Obama can enter office without the yoke of 1992-2000’s animus towards Bill and Hillary Clinton. The argument goes that we can expect Hillary Clinton to be crippled by the constant replay of narratives and attacks written during Bill Clinton’s administration, brought back out by the Republicans to shut down what could otherwise be a productive Democratic administration. By contrast, Obama doesn’t carry this baggage and he will enter office on a platform of unity that will prime the pump for a better atmosphere conducive to work.

This tells me that these people are engaging in wishful thinking that goes right past optimism into Delusion Land.

At some level, those engaging in the Obama civility delusion are premising their analysis on the notion that the Republican efforts to shut down the first Clinton administration say more about Bill Clinton than who the Republicans are. In this logic, you can imagine the case being made that had Bob Kerrey or Tom Harkin or Jerry Brown been President instead of Bill Clinton, the GOP wouldn’t have aimed to destroy the Democrat in the White House. This is flat wrong.

The modern Republican Party defined their strategy and tactics during the Clinton administration. They recognized the value in throwing everything, no matter how absurd or unsupported, at the Democrat in the Oval Office. Though they never succeeded in making Bill Clinton an unpopular president, they did make him operate in a hostile media environment, which in turn made accomplishing his domestic agenda more challenging. This strategy worked on Bill Clinton and it has been replicated against the Democratic Party on whole since then, from rampant obstructionism in Congress to Rovian ad campaigns.

Most importantly, we should expect the GOP to continue their destructive attacks on whoever the next Democratic president is. No one gets a pass.

Paul Krugman’s column today makes a similar argument.

Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?

Let’s review the sad tale, starting with the politics.

Whatever hopes people might have had that Mr. Clinton would usher in a new era of national unity were quickly dashed. Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.

This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president. …

First, those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).

The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.

I think Krugman is spot on. It wasn’t about Bill Clinton in 1992. It was about the Republican desire to destroy a the first Democratic administration in twelve years. As Krugman notes, Clinton had also run on unity, though with it somewhat less central to his candidacy than Obama.
I can concede that a Hillary Clinton presidency will start off with baggage from her husband’s administration, as far as GOP attack rhetoric goes. But it’s criminally naive to think that Obama would be immune from Republican attacks. And I’m sure the thought of “how will we shut down an Obama administration?” has already crossed the minds of top strategists at the RNC.

It gives me no pleasure in saying this, but the belief that Obama’s post-partisan unity language will insulate him from GOP attacks will likely be proved to be the Maginot Line of political prophylactics. People who think otherwise will be rudely awakened to that fact in early 2009, if Obama is elected President.

So while there are many good reasons to support Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, immunity or at least a structural advantage when it comes to Republican attacks post-inauguration cannot be one of them.

Stupid Oppo Research

Shorter Clinton campaign: “Ted, we can make a better decision for you than you can for yourself. Since you asked, we wouldn’t have had you endorse Barack Obama.”

Marc Ambinder has posted a video that he says is being circulated as oppo research. I think it’s a safe guess that it is Clinton campaign sending this video to reporters.

Here’s a daring idea. Ted Kennedy, one of the elder statesmen and liberal lions in the Democratic Party, can make up his own mind about who he supports. Questioning his judgment by dumping oppo that would presumably undercut his logic is petty and stupid. I hope the Clinton campaign cuts it out.

What Clinton and Obama Can Do Now

Now that we know both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will be in the Senate to vote against cloture on the Intelligence Committee bill, you might be wondering what else they can do, besides show up to cast the right vote. Ari Melber of The Nation has an answer handy:

1. Use their influence and political capital to recruit two more votes for the Leahy bill. That’s all Leahy, Feingold and Dodd need to keep their fight alive under the current rules. Obama and Clinton were endorsed by a total of seven senators who voted the wrong way last week. As DFA explains, “if these presidential hopefuls bring along the support of these senators, they can sustain a planned filibuster [and] defeat any cloture vote.”

2. Use their influence and political capital to press Reid to run the floor for the Leahy bill, instead of the Bush-Rockefeller bill. This is is tough for several reasons, but there’s an opening now that Bush has essentially slapped Reid around and drawn some rhetorical pushback.

3. Rally the Democratic Congress to confront Bush’s veto threat. Send the one-month bill to his desk and let this unpopular president remind the entire country of his irresponsible, cynical approach to governing. Maybe his approval ratings will drop into the teens like his Vice President. (I personally favor this third option the least, since it involves gamesmanship instead of a long-term policy, which Leahy’s bill offers.)

Howie Klein points out who each presidential candidate should be responsible for:

Hillary could prove she’s a leader by bringing in Evan Bayh, Daniel Inouye, Bill Nelson, Barbara Mikulski and Mark Pryor, and Obama could do likewise with Tim Johnson, Claire McCaskill and Ben Nelson.

We will see what, if anything, Clinton and Obama do to turn their two “no” votes into more votes in the Senate. Without question, though, their presence will make victory more likely and show the rest of the caucus that this remains an issue deserving of the highest levels of attention in the national debate. The more we can get this fight to be treated with the gravity that it possesses, the more likely it is that senators will continue to be drawn to the side of the rule law and will be present to fight with us to defend the Constitution.

What is so remarkable about this turn of events is how we can directly tie the actions taken by the top two Democratic presidential candidates to the passionate, consistent advocacy by people online and offline around the country. From emails to faxes to photos and advertisements, Senators Clinton and Obama have been subjected to a monumental amount of pressure. This advocacy helped to show them that there was support for them to do the right thing. Criticism may well be directed at them from the Republican Party or conservative pundits for this vote, but they should rest assured that there are countless Americans who will look at their actions and say, “They’re doing the right thing.”

We can stop a bad bill today and get past Republican obstructionism. Keep up the pressure through the CREDO email action page and make sure the Senate hears from the American people today!

Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

Clinton Will Be Present To Vote Against Cloture Tomorrow

Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake has received confirmation from the Clinton campaign that Senator Clinton will be in the Senate to vote “no” to cloture on the bad Intelligence bill tomorrow. This is welcome news.

Hopefully she will be able to bring along other Senators and ensure that the Republican obstructionism is defeated.

No word yet from the Obama campaign.

Jane’s updated her post with this line: “The Obama campaign confirms that Senator Obama will be there too, and voting “no.””

Again, this is very good news and certainly brings us closer to defeating cloture on the Intel bill.

Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

Will They Do the Right Thing?

Wolfrum at Shakesville seems to be drinking the same tea as I am on the FISA fight and expectations for leadership from our Democratic presidential candidates.

Senators Clinton and Obama, your country needs you. Right now. Because civil liberties matter. Because laws matter. Because retroactive immunity from lawbreaking is not an American trait. Because having a government that can and will spy on its own citizens with no authorization is the antithesis of a free country.

Later in the same post, Wolfrum makes clear how he will view Clinton or Obama missing the cloture vote on the Intel bill on Monday.

If Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are unable and unwilling to go do their job and fight for what’s right, neither of them has any business being President of the United States. Both will have proven themselves as unfit employees who will let down their employers when they’re needed the most.

Clinton and Obama should expect a vocal backlash against them if they fail to attend Monday’s cloture vote. And rightly so.

Separate from what it will mean for our country, this would be a deeply troubling turn of events for me as a progressive Democrat and a patriotic American. It’s safe to say that no Republican presidential candidate will stand up and defend the Constitution in an age where each tries to one-up the other on how much more of a security state they will create once they succeed Bush in office. I do not trust the GOP to defend the Constitution.

But where will we be, where will I be, if our two leading Democratic candidates place themselves on the side of apathy and cynicism and absenteeism on what I believe is the most important issue facing our country right now? Terrorists will not destroy our republic. Insurgents in Iraq will not march through our cities. But if our Congress fails to defend the Constitution against an administration that gives it no regard, then we must recognize that America faces an existential crisis.

We will know in less than thirty-six hours whether or not Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will man the ramparts and defend the Constitution, or if we must pass judgment on their failure to do what our country needs.

Will Hillary Show?

Matt Stoller at Open Left reports on a conversation he had with Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton yesterday in South Carolina on FISA. Stoller writes:

I talked to Bill first, and asked him for help on the FISA fight. He very lawyerly asked me if they need 60 votes for cloture, and I said ‘yes’. He knows that this means Clinton’s vote isn’t necessary, since it doesn’t matter if the vote total is 59-41 or 59-0.

Then I spoke with Hillary, and she said she has assured her colleagues she will go back to the Senate if they need her vote. She though that we have already lost, alluding to the Judiciary version of the bill which was voted down on Friday. I urged her to speak out publicly and she said she intends to say something on Sunday. [Emphasis added]

Bill Clinton is right to point out that blocking cloture on the Intelligence bill Monday doesn’t take Democrats finding 41 “nay” votes, but the Republicans finding 60 “yea” votes. And Hillary Clinton’s statement that she’ll speak out on this issue and vote if needed is a marginally positive note.

But let me say this: If Hillary Clinton does not show up to vote against cloture on the Intel bill, a vote that will take place while she is in Washington on Monday, it will tell us a great deal about Hillary Clinton’s priorities as a Senator and presidential candidate and an equally great deal about how Harry Reid is running the Democratic caucus. If Clinton doesn’t show up for this vote, according to this statement, it will be in large part because she was given a pass by Reid to miss it. Reid will have told her that her vote was not needed and Clinton will have taken that opportunity to continue campaigning.

I know that presidential candidates miss a great deal of votes while they’re campaigning. I lived with that reality while I was working on the Dodd campaign; as the campaign went on, his missed vote totals rose and it was an issue that we were always well aware of. A lot of the time it is hard both from a cost and a time standpoint to move a candidate from one side of the country to DC in time for a vote. Some campaigns have more money than others, but even when cost is no expense, nothing is a guarantee. I get that.

But Senator Clinton (and Senator Obama) will be in Washington on Monday. And DC isn’t that big of a city, yet neither have committed to be in attendance for the cloture vote. Taking the handful of minutes or even hours that will be needed to vote against cloture on a horrible piece of legislation which strikes against the rule of law should be requisite for every single Democratic Senator and whole lot of Republicans, too. It will be very hard for me to look at this cloture vote as anything other than a statement about how much these senators care about the US Constitution; missing it will tell me that they just don’t care about the Constitution.

The same goes for Majority Leader Reid. If he can’t crack the whip over his caucus and make sure that Senators Clinton and Obama aren’t there to make crystal clear that they stand with the American people in support of the US Constitution, I’ll read that as a statement about how much Reid cares for fully shutting down the Republican Party’s attack on the rule of law.

Our chances of winning the cloture vote on the Intel bill Monday may be good, but it takes more than one vote to stop the Republican Party’s assault on the Constitution. That makes the actions of the people that want to be our leaders in regard to this vote even more important. To jam Kia Franklin’s line yesterday about the best way for telecoms to avoid being liable for breaking the law, the best way for our presidential candidates to avoid criticism for failing up to stand up for the Constitution would be to stand up for the Constitution.

Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

I Get Quoted

Ari Melber of The Nation, in a piece on the FISA fight today:

Matt Browner-Hamlin, a former blogger for Chris Dodd, works as an organizer for Credo Mobile on the FISA fight, and he emailed The Nation with this observation about the presidential candidates:

Senators Clinton and Obama rushed off the campaign trail to vote on the Farm Bill in November, ahead of the Iowa caucus. But with the Constitution on the line today for the second time in little more than a month, they both did absolutely nothing. No Democrat will mistake their inaction for leadership.

Thanks for the quote Ari.

The vote in question was on Senator Harkin’s Farm Bill, the sine qua non of issues Democratic pols are sure they’re right on when it comes to the Iowa caucus. Harkin’s bill failed, but Senators Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Dodd all left the trail to vote for this Iowa-related legislation.

At the time, Senator Clinton said, “This morning, I was proud to vote in favor of Senator Harkin’s Farm Bill the most significant piece of legislation for rural America that Congress has considered in recent years.”

Senator Obama was similarly enthusiastic about his decision to leave the campaign trail and vote alongside Senator Harkin,”I will continue to work with Chairman Harkin in fighting for America’s family farmers.”

Clinton spokesmodel Howard Wolfson confirmed to Jane Hamsher that she will not be coming back to Washington, though this was said before Republican obstructionism stopped today’s debate on FISA. Obama communicated his intentions through pure silence and absenteeism.

As I wrote to Ari Melber, I don’t think anyone will mistake Clinton and Obama’s inaction for leadership.

FISA Promises & Big Telecom Money

Last December Chris Dodd, alone among presidential contenders, led a fight to stop retroactive immunity for big telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon from becoming law. Dodd came off the campaign trail to stand in the well of the Senate for almost eleven hours, arguing against retroactive immunity and for accountability for the violations of Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. Dodd was prepared to filibuster, but his tactics succeeded in stopping the FISA legislation from proceeding without going that step. However, he was alone when he should not have been.

Other Democratic senators made pledges to be there beside Dodd in the event he had to filibuster bad FISA legislation. Here’s what Barack Obama’s campaign had said about his willingness to support a filibuster:

To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. [TPM: Election Central, 10/24/07]

And here is what Hillary Clinton said herself:

As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently. [TPM: Election Central, 10/23/07]

Senator John McCain has not said that he will support a filibuster to stop retroactive immunity.

Keep in mind that when Chris Dodd took to the Senate floor in December, the assumption was that a filibuster was about to take place and it did not only because other procedural measures were deployed that forced Harry Reid to pull the bill.

So, if Clinton and Obama would not hold themselves by their word, how are they reaching this decision? According to Center for Responsive Politics, Senators McCain, Clinton and Obama are by far the top three recipients of telecom industry cash in the 2008 cycle, including tens of thousands of dollars each from AT&T and Verizon. Here’s the breakdown:

Telephone Utilities: Top 20 Recipients 2008 Cycle:

1. John McCain $176,800

2. Hillary Clinton $106,300

3. Barack Obama $87,236

AT&T:
2. Obama, Barack (D-IL) $43,483

3. Clinton, Hillary (D-NY) $43,400

5. McCain, John (R-AZ) $23,700

Verizon:
1. Clinton, Hillary (D-NY) $24,850

2. Obama, Barack (D-IL) $22,753

5. McCain, John (R-AZ) $19,350

Senators Clinton, McCain, and Obama are all seeking the presidency and have spoke about their desire to change how Washington works. The opportunity to do that now, in 2008, is right in front of them — leave the campaign trail and do what the big telecom companies are hoping they won’t: stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law.

Contact Clinton, McCain and Obama through this Credo action alert: Call on them to get back to DC and protect our civil liberties.

Cross posted at CREDO Blog

Disclosure: I have joined the CREDO Mobile team to stop the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program and hold the telecom companies accountable for their lawbreaking.