Yes We Can Say That

Public Finance, FISA and the Death Penalty:
The DLC and the Erosion of a Dream Candidate

“…the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken,”
Barack Obama in a video statement about opting out of public finance
for his presidential campaign.

Having a plausible explanation for a complete reversal of a principal policy does not mean it is ok. If you have to explain a change in policy position by saying, “We can say that because…” you are rationalizing your faulted integrity. The irony is that this election is not so much about the desperate necessity for changes in policy for which there is considerable consensus; it is really an election about integrity, something that has been missing from politics for generations. And if the statements coming out of the Obama campaign recently are any test, political integrity will remain an oxymoron for generations to come.

I was curious as to what may have changed in Senator Obama’s campaign that would cause them to legitimize these controversial reversals. Was it just a typical “move to the center” that is characteristic of all post primary presumptives? Or was it something else, like maybe part of the deal with Hillary was to move to a more centrist, DLC approach in exchange for that wing of the party not making a fuss at the convention?

I decided to examine whether there were parallels in the DLC’s way of thinking and the changes in the Obama stance. While some of the connections are arguably spurious, I did find enough that it is worth questioning if this is the source code for the new Obama campaign.


“House members shouldn’t be intimidated by pressure groups who view the FISA bill’s immunity clause as a litmus test on respect for civil liberties. It’s not. Rather, it is an over-emphasized aspect of a broad bill that could constructively define the rules of signals intelligence collection in the 21st century. This bill represents an excellent opportunity for House members to strengthen their civil-liberties credentials by supporting a law that improves and clarifies the standards for intelligence collection.”
– Jim Arkedis, director of PPI’s National Security Project, in a Feb. 2008 article about the FISA debate on the DLC website

“…given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.”
– Obama statement about his support for the FISA compromise that passed the House last week (from Talking Points

One does not have to look far on the DLC’s website to find support in its mission. An op-ed piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2003 gives legitimacy to its raison d’etre:

“In 1996, a survey by the Washington Post compared the views of delegates to the Democratic convention with those of ordinary registered Democratic voters. They might as well have come from different parties. On every single social and economic issue, the views of the registered Democrats were closer to those of all registered voters than to those of Democratic delegates.

Almost two-thirds of Democratic delegates wanted to cut defense spending; most registered Democrats did not. A majority of Democratic delegates opposed a five-year time limit for welfare benefits; two-thirds of registered Democrats supported it. Democratic delegates were split on the death penalty; registered Democrats favored it by a margin of more than 2 to 1.”

from a 2003 article in the LA Times by Al From and Bruce Reed (now president of the Democratic Leadership Council)

This is as good a time as any to say that I really am not against the DLC. They are an essential part of our party. If the Democrats were a ship, the DLC might be the rudder that keeps us upright while we in the liberal wing are the wind in her sails. The challenge for us is who is at the tiller.

Yet they do represent the establishment, and that is whom we all thought Barack was running against the last four months. At least I thought so. I’m certainly old enough not to be naive about politicians, but I thought he would take firmer stands, and not “cave” as some bloggers have put it.

One of my important issues is my opposition to the death penalty. But like those on the right who oppose a woman’s right to choose, I know that I cannot make the death penalty a pillar of my decision making when it comes to my vote. Yet when our candidate came out against the recent SCOTUS decision against the death penalty for anyone but killers, I still felt as if there was one less thing to like about Obama.

As reported in yesterday’s online version of the Wall Street Journal, Obama said:

“ ‘I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes,’ Obama told reporters at a press conference in Chicago.

“The expected Democratic nominee said he believed the rape of a child ‘is a heinous crime’ that fits the circumstance…”

And the DLC’s take on the death penalty? They are reactionarily (?) entrenched after the punishment they took in the 1988 Dukakis campaign:

[A]fter 12 years in the presidential wilderness, Democrats rallied to Gov. Clinton, who positioned himself in the 1992 campaign as both hard-headed and warm-hearted. He proved that he would defend the social order by not only supporting the death penalty but actually taking a break from the campaign trail to return to Arkansas to preside over an execution.”
-Marshal Wittman, from a May, 2005 article in Blueprint Magazine, from the DLC’s website.

In another February, 2006 DLC article from Blueprint Magazine, Virginia’s newly elected Democratic governor Tim Kaine said he won in part because he was able to sidestep making his “personal faith-based opposition to capital punishment” a campaign issue by saying that he would follow the law because, “ I was…telling voters that I took the oath of office as seriously as my wedding vows.”

And because, as stated in the LA Times piece cited above, “Democratic delegates were split on the death penalty; registered Democrats favored it by a margin of more than 2 to 1,” it seems the DLC encourages an ambiguous stand on the death penalty for those who are morally opposed to it.

To be sure this is speculation on my part. It is impossible to prove that the DLC specifically is an influence in these apparent reversals, and despite it all, obviously none of these things will keep me from voting for Obama in November, but for sure some of the glimmer is gone. The shine, as they say, is coming off the rose. I just hope there is still some left after Denver.

I wonder if Bobby would have compromised this much.


One thought on “Yes We Can Say That

  1. What happened to Obama? Political reality set in! Perhaps in the long run the grueling campaign may prove to have been good for the Obama campaign. If nothing else it demonstrated clearly that politics is a blood sport…you show your opponent no quarter…go for the jugular. Why would he go into battle with McCain with one hand tied behind his back? Of course he’s going to take full advantage of his commanding financial advantage to mount an unprecedented 50 state strategy.Compromise is inevitable and I’m willing to give him a mulligan on the campaign financing issue. It’s not nearly at the top of the long list of ills that we’re suffering. And besides, since his money has been raised millions of small donations from Americans like you and me, it’s already public financing in a way.His compromise on the death penalty is more troubling…though in full disclosure I have to say that, though I’m opposed to the death penalty in its present form…too often it’s not applied uniformly and in too many cases it’s applied in error…I’m not morally opposed to the death penalty in cases of heinous crimes committed beyond the shadow of a doubt. Death penalty advocates often talk about the death penalty as a deterrent to crime but often they really don’t understand why. No one committing a violent act in the height of passion is going to stop and think about its ultimate consequences…but it does bring closure to the victims and a sense of justice having been done. Without that sense of justice people lose respect for the law and get kind of angry…some even take the law into their own hands…it’s the road to anarchy. And unfortunately, as I’ve grown older I’ve come to the sad conclusion that they’re just some people out there who’re so god damned evil that they just need killing! So even though he’s actually much closer to my point of view than he was before, his change of heart appears to have more to do with political expediency than any sort of epiphany.And get ready…I’m afraid we’ve not seen the last of his compromises…and on some of the most important issues…like Iraq.Even though the invasion of Iraq can never be a success…it was a failed policy from the beginning…believe it or not and like it or not…there is some progress afoot there. I think it’s mostly because the militants have killed one another off, the country is effectively partitioned, and people are just sick and tired of all the fighting and dying. You think we’re sick of hearing about the war, imagine how the Iraqis feel! For whatever reason…the return of sanity or the surge…there’s a glimmer of hope that we can leave Iraq in some semblance of stability. And with the price of oil skyrocketing you can bet your sweet bippy that President Obama is not going to start some precipitous withdrawal that would further destabilize the Middle East. Once he’s sworn in…or more likely before…he’s going to be backpedaling just as fast as he can. A more realistic goal would be to be able to get all our troops out of Iraq by the end of his first term. That’s the political reality.Despite his flip flops on some important issues, I also will vote for him in November…there’s no viable alternative. But it got me to thinking about the role of government and our expectations. Take Al Gore for example…so close to his goal of being elected only to have it snatched from him in a virtual coup in the 2000 election. Yet, rather than wallow in dejection he chose to pursue a new path and ironically enough, I think he’s accomplished far more in his role outside of government than he could have as President. The one hope I cling to is that Obama also understands that it’s not the tail that wags the dog. He spent years working as a community activist on a grassroots level and the remarkable organization he built for his remarkable run for the Presidency is a tribute to the lessons he learned. Obama talks about rebuilding our nation, house by house, block by block, community by community and I think this is really key…even if he has to compromise on some important issues, perhaps in the long run…by kicking the lobbyists out of government and changing the economic equation from “trickle down” to “trickle up” economics…by encouraging citizen participation, restoring peoples faith in government, and instituting a sane foreign policy…perhaps in the long run we can change the tenor of our politics and put the American people back in charge! So while Obamas image is tarnished, I still have the audacity to hope that his administration can make some substantive changes in the way business is done in Washington …but it won’t be accomplished without a lot of support from the grassroots and a lot more activism from folks like you and me. Democracy is a participatory sport! As the old adage says…if you want change, be the change you want to see!


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