Note to Blue opinion leaders

Is it really a good idea to spread the “Democrats are cowards” meme six weeks before an election that might restore the system of checks and balances? Would it be intolerably rude of me to note that you’re doing Karl Rove’s work for him?

I hate the torture bill as much as you do. Maybe more. I hate George W. Bush and all his works as much as anyone can on an outpatient basis. I’m disappointed the Democratic leadership seems to have decided against a filibuster. I’m not sure they made the right calculation, even in political terms.

But is it really a good idea to spread the “Democrats are cowards” meme six weeks before an election that might restore the system of checks and balances? Would it be intolerably rude of me to note that you’re doing Karl Rove’s work for him?


I seem to have made myself obscure. One of Kevin Drum’s commenters has it right. My attack was on those who are now calling Democrats cowards, not on Reid’s failure to call for a filibuster.

Whether or not the Democrats’ refusal to take a stand that will lead to their being labeled “soft on terrorists” six weeks before a crucial election constitutes “cowardice” &#8212 which is a fair description, but not the only fair description &#8212 it makes no sense for the anti-Bush forces to spend all their fury on their own side.

Virtually all Republicans will vote for torture and arbitrary detention. The vast majority of Democrats will vote against torture and arbitrary detention. Therefore, it seems to me that opponents of torture and arbitrary detention ought to vote Democratic, and work for Democratic candidates, and give money to Democratic candidates, this year, even if the Democrats disappoint us by failing to mount a filibuster.

As Michael Harrington told the McCarthy supporters who decided to sit out the 1968 Presidential election &#8212 thus ensuring the election of Richard Nixon &#8212 because they were angry at Hubert Humphrey, “Coalitions are built by victories, not by defeats.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

44 thoughts on “Note to Blue opinion leaders”

  1. When the Democrats looked up after all that 'triangulating', they were like Wiley Coyote- supended in mid-air, way past the edge of the cliff. Not a problem easily solved by being careful what we say in the last weeks before an election.

  2. It's the truth, though, isn't it? The Democrats won't oppose torture, so they are cowards. Simple as that. If they won't stand firm on a principle like that, there's no sense in worrying about whether the election "restores" checks and balances. The Democrats are no more likely to provide anything more than token opposition to the President when they have a majority than what they're doing right now.

  3. There is no leader. There is no one person to stand up, as Martin did 35 years ago, and say with absolute conviction and integrity, "We are not afraid." The American people would stand shoulder to shoulder with that leader, I still believe that. If Kate Smith was right and God still does bless America, then such a one will rise up before it is too late.

  4. A staffer at Sen. Reid's office has just told me that no final decision has been made abotu a filibuster.
    The number is 202 224 3542.

  5. What's the point of winning a house of congress now anyway?
    If our goal truly is to get some checks and balance what on earth would lead one to believe congressional democrats are the answer?

  6. > Give us a majority and we will do the
    > things that we won't do now?
    Very nicely stated.
    I would also ask:
    1) Where are the "Democrats of Faith"? Why aren't they standing up tall, strong, and proud _in_public_ denouncing torture? Mr. Obama in particular could gain the attention of the press; he did so when he wagged his finger at "some Democrats". But for torture, not so much.
    2) No one really knows why the red-purple people vote the way they do, but one common explanation is that while they might agree with many Democratic positions they believe that Democratic /politicians/ as a group have no spine and won't stand up for what they believe in. These actions address that perception how?
    I gave money to Kerry, I worked for Kerry, I voted for Kerry – even though I didn't like him much. I have given more money than I can really afford this cycle to Democratic candidates I don't really like either (Tester, Webb). I have sucked up and played the good little child for my betters at DNC headquarters.
    But if they won't stand against torture, what will they stand up against? When?

  7. And, the Democrats gain control of one house or both, and then, they do what? Suddenly, with power, we are supposed to believe that they will grow spines and find consciences?
    Are they going to impeach his royal highness? Are they going to repeal this torture bill? Are they even going to investigate any of his "state secrets"?

  8. It's not rude, Mark, just wrong.
    By walking right into the trap of going along with the Bush-Cheney insistence that we have to have a detainee (torture/tribunal) bill before the recess, the Democratic caucus has been doing Rove's work for him. By counting on "allies" like the most likely 2008 Republican presidential nominee to achieve a decent bill and/or to run out the clock by holding out for one, Democrats have been doing Rove's work for him.
    We are merely pointing out the truth: that there is one chance left to demonstrate that our party's willing to fight for the Constitution, and that nothing but political cowardice is holding it back.

  9. I agree about the words. And I won't say them publicly.
    Too bad the Dems actions scream cowardice, too.
    As Markos pointed out yesterday, we have a long road to hoe – and many of these Dem "leaders" have to be gotten rid of – but first we have to win this election. Chin up, everyone.
    Perseverance furthers.

  10. it's not that by not fighting this that the democrats label themselves as cowards…it's that by not fighting this they *demonstrate* that they are, in fact, cowards.

  11. What is there left to check?
    The Executive Branch was just made infallible by the Congress, or did you miss that whole "The President can capriciously grab and torture whoever he wants outside the reach of the judiciary" thing?
    All of that said, this is what America wants.
    We've become a terrified, ignorant nation afraid of things our forefathers actually believed in — and could explain.

  12. Thanks to all of you for making my point more clearly than I ever could have.
    And yes, the New York Times editorial, eloquent though it was, still made Karl Rove smile when he read it. As the late Michael Harrington said to the McCarthy crowd as it sat out the 1968 Presidential election and handed the country to Nixon, "Coalitions are built by victories, not by defeats."
    The thought of Henry Waxman with subpoena power ought to make every Bush-hater salivate, as it makes Bush tremble. Let's have the post-mortem after the funeral, not before.

  13. It wouldn't be intolerably rude. It would be wholly inverting the set of known facts. Oh. It would be insulting. And diversionary.
    Democrats ARE cowards in how they've handled this issue. That's not a MEME–that's the actual pattern of behavior.
    Anyone who cannot be moved to defend and uphold the Constitution has no claim to the mantle of courage or leadership. They should be RUSHING to filibuster these bills.
    It's a matter of principle, it's a matter of faith (these liberties and rights were endowed by our Creator), and it's a matter of values.
    Either you believe in this country or you don't; either you're willing to fight for principles that can never be compromised and liberties that can NEVER be suspended–or you have no claim to courage or leadership at all.
    It's NOT us doing Rove's bidding: the Democrats Senators and Representatives ARE DOING Karl Rove's bidding EVERY time they fail to fight for the Constitution.
    The American people respect those who fight, and who stand up for what they believe in. That doesn't describe any Senator right now–every last one of whom should have been filibustering. Lanny Davis, btw, is an amoral hypocrite for suggesting filibusters were a terrible thing b/c Strom used it for evil ends.
    It's clear Sherrod Brown has no claim to progressive, Democratic, or American leadership. He is Chuck Schumer's mistake–Paul Hackett was without question deserving of every last sweat droplet and penny of support.
    I don't care how likable or "nice" Brown seems to be–anyone too gutless to stand up for this country/this Constitution–has no claim on votes or power. I'll say that straight to his face when I see him–for ALL his works that've gone before are NOTHING in light of this profound betrayal of his obligations, his pledge to uphold the Constitution, and whatever honor requiring him to bind support for our soldiers.
    Brown's breach of trust will ensure that he looks the other way when it comes time–as it surely will–for other nations to torture OUR soldiers/pows. He won't be able to look anyone in the eye–and I'll stare him down.
    Brown–and the rest–are a shame and a disgrace on this country, on the American people, and on the founders of this country. (Some of my ancestors fought in 1776). Nothing–NOTHING–gives Senators and Reps the capacity to knowingly pass illegal measures, to betray the Constitution, or to suspend Liberties.
    Sherrod Brown does Karl Rove's work. Without Sherrod Brown, Karl Rove would be OUT OF work.

  14. Who, exactly, do you see out there "spreading the 'Democrats are cowards' meme"?
    Is is the bloggers, writers, and grassroots activists, who are willing to stand up and take an unpopular position in defense of our Constitution? Or is that meme being spread by our elected senators and representatives, who are running away from this fight with their tails between their legs?
    I'd have to say that Reid and his compatriots are the ones who are about to define the Democratic Party in the eyes of the nation. If they allow the torture/habeus bill to become law, then Americans will see that these people have no bedrock principles and no courage whatsoever.
    Even the people who love this bill would have to admire the Democrats for standing up against it. But if the opposition just rolls over and gives up without a fight, then all of us – red and blue alike – will see this bunch of "leaders" as a shifty bunch of chickens. Karl Rove will laugh all the way to the poll booth.
    It's time to get a little more "reality-based," Mark. Only the actions of the Democrats in a time of crisis will determine whether they are labeled "courageous" or "cowardly." The nattering of "blue opinion leaders" won't matter much at all.

  15. if the dems are going to act as cowards on this, i really don't care much if calling them on it does rove's work. they've made their bed and can sleep in it. perhaps they don't deserve the power of subpoena, if this is their way.

  16. "is it really a good idea to spread the "Democrats are cowards" meme six weeks before an election that might restore the system of checks and balances?"
    That calls for a question as its answer: Is it really a good idea for Democrats to *ACT* *LIKE* *COWARDS* six weeks before an election? What do you think's worse, acting like a punk, or calling someone a punk in the hopes that they might change their ways?
    We agree on that, right? Or do we? Do you think Democrats will show how tough they are by helping the president legalize torture? It's too bad we don't have a test case for this theory, that siding with the president on a stupid, politically-motivated and bullshit-based policy initiative would pay electoral benefits.
    Oh, wait, we do. It's called the rush to war in Iraq, and it's called the 2002 elections. How'd those go? You remember those, right?
    "Would it be intolerably rude of me to note that you're doing Karl Rove's work for him?"
    Would it be intolerably rude of me to note that you're joining the esteemed company of Marshall Wittmann, and recycling one of his most annoying rhetorical tricks: that of telling anyone who disagrees with him "You know you're just doing what Karl Rove wants you to do, right?"
    Karl Rove is apparently the new "terrorists": "If you don't (vote for Bush), the terrorists will have won" is replaced by "If you don't (kiss my ass), Karl Rove will have won."
    And would it be intolerably rude of me to note that past efforts by Democratic strategists to psych out Karl Rove have – coincidentally, I'm sure – involved the time-tested Democratic strategies of not attacking the president as a liar, accepting the GOP's claims that the president is strong on national security despite a laundry list of screw-ups that would make the Keystone Kops proud, and generally letting Republicans get away with murder while they're clucking about how they just want to get along with everyone?
    Why are people allergic to the idea of Democrats fighting for what's right? And then, when challenged, actually fighting back? And why do you think encouraging this mentality is going to help us win elections?

  17. > But is it really a good idea to spread the "Democrats are cowards" meme six weeks before an election…
    Are you freaking kidding me? Don't YOU DARE blame the rank and file for this. It's the Democratic party ITSELF that is spreading this meme. Their craven, calculating behavior simply UNDERLINED their cowardice.
    They have played this the way Rove knew they would, and sought to placate their activist base with fine orations before rolling over for ignominious defeat.
    They may just have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with this one.

  18. > "Coalitions are built by victories, not by defeats."
    No shit.
    So, this latest example of a defeat born out of timidity and appeasement by the Democrats builds our coalition how, exactly?

  19. Mark Kleiman: "Thanks to all of you for making my point more clearly than I ever could have."
    Oh Bullshit. The Democratic leadership cut and ran like the cowards that they are, leaving the field clear for Rove to define them as he wishes. If they had stayed and fought, they would have been heard – by some, at least.
    As it stands now, they aren't heard by anybody.
    As for your coalition, Mark, with whom is it to be? The fraudulent 'maverick' trio of GOP senators?

  20. If they are unable to support the Constitution why should we work for them? It is politically stupid for Democrats to not come out fighting mad about this. People think Democrats are cowards not for opposing laws like this, but for being cowards and not angily and loudly fighting these attacks on the Constitution. The biggest way to fight the reputation you are cowards is to fight for what you believe. If you agree with the President, why is any Democrat voting for you?
    This is a fucking stupid opinion Mark.

  21. I'm be willing to keep my mouth shut for five more weeks if that would do any good. But where is the polling evidence that the Democrats who voted for this are going to be perceived as tough minded, courageous, guardians of the Homeland? Does it make any sense to let the party's fate depend on finding large numbers of swing voters who are that stupid?

  22. Great – Dems win and have a 52-48 advantage next year. How does that help repeal this bill? That's right it doesn't. Okay we win both the House and the Senate and pass a revised bill by February. Guess what the President vetoes it. Basically Dems caved on the Constitution eventhough they knew at the very best we would be stuck with this law for two years and probably more like eight or ten. Fuck you Harry Reid and all other red state Democrats.

  23. "Coalitions are built by victories, not by defeats."
    And how many victories has the Democratic Party delivered lately, exactly?
    For all their clever tactics and triangulation, and spinelessness, these people are consistent losers. Well, if we're going to lose anyway, let's at least stick to some principles, and drop the oh-so-clever maneuvering.
    The failure to filibuster this bill was a disgrace. Do you seriously imagine that it will be repealed even if there is a Democratic majority?

  24. Yeah, Mark, but I'll be disappointed to to point of blind rage if it turns out that there aren't 41 Americans in the U.S. Senate.

  25. What the vote today tells me is that the DLC (along with the DSCC and the DCCC) has determined that they if they lose the base (us liberals), moderate Republicans are willing to leave behind the evangelical Christian Republican party, to come over and vote (if not join) the Democratic party.
    It's long past time for us, we on the left, to stop voting for Democrats and vote third party.
    Unless we are will to get involved, grass roots, involved in the Democratic party at our local level and be active, retakeover the party, the Democratic party is the new Republican party.
    We have to find new candidates for office and move these `career politicians' out of their cushy jobs.
    And stop already with the Clinton love affair – the man was a sell-out. And he's still at it, only this time on behalf of his wife, who is even more to the right than he was.
    What today also means is that this Congress will give Bush a blank check to attack Iran before the year is out.

  26. There is no way to accurately describe what this bill does that will not give readers the impression that Democrats' refusal to forcefully oppose it is cowardly. People need to understand what happened. The Ny Times did that. There was one passing line about the Dems. It wasn't anything that anyone who pays attention to these issues doesn't already know.
    I can't believe you oppose that.

  27. They did Karl's work for him when they voted for this bill. If these idiot Democrats wanted to dispirit their base and make them feel like suckers, well, mission accomplished.

  28. I commented here yesterday that Mark's part of the problem, not the solution, with posts like this that are not only inane, but guilt-inducing.
    It's another good reason to consider voting Green, as a realistic alternative in the booth Nov. 7.
    And, what happened to that comment? I don't see it.

  29. Would it be intolerably rude of me to note that a vote to subject me to the possibility of torture, imprisonment and execution without trial on the say-so of one man who is a proven liar is a vote to do that no matter what their party affiliation is?

  30. "But is it really a good idea to spread the "Democrats are cowards" meme six weeks before an election that might restore the system of checks and balances?"
    The assumption behind the wording of the above claim is that if the Democrats win there might actually BE a restoration of checks and balances. That assumption is proven utterly and totally false by the complete abrogation of responsibility that our "leaders" have demonstrated.
    They will not even reliably VOTE AGAINST — let alone present arguments against, filibuster against, or for that matter tell the simple truth about — legislation that the media have completely failed to describe accurately to the public, and that goes to the very heart of both everything that is actually special about America, *and* everything that is wrong with the cabal that have usurped our government. If they will not speak up and speak out about this abomination, they clearly will not stand up against the lesser crimes and misdeeds. IIRC, Pelosi herself has promised no impeachment — and possibly even no oversight?
    I truly do not understand their thinking. It cannot even be explained by simple cowardice — the polls all indicate that the majority of the public is now AGAINST the war. I can only take it to mean that the Dems in "power" have been Stockholm-syndromed. They have internalized the worldview of their captors, and are lost to us.
    This time, it may well be true that, as the Naderites said six years ago, there is no longer any meaningful difference. I don't for a minute believe that there was no difference in 2000. But that was then. In 2006, the conclusion is starting to seem inescapable.
    And if that is the case, then the current Dems really do deserve to lose, both so that we can make it abundantly clear that the disasters to follow will ALL be laid fully and completely at the feet of the Republicans, giving them no chance to try to place portions of blame on "cut'n'run" Dems or "tax'n'spend" Dems for their catstrophes, and also so we can perhaps flush these sellout Dems out of the system once and for all, and make way for a real opposition party.
    I am so disgusted I cannot begin to say. God save America. God save us all. Cause the Dems clearly can't, and the Republicans clearly won't.

  31. But none of you Democrats had this hysterical concern for the Constitution, the judicial branch etc. when Janet Reno was Attorney General, burning up little Christian children and seizing Cuban refugees. Why would anyone believe that anything you did was based on principle now? You make me puke.

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