Make Iraq Topic #1
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At the opening dinner last night, Richard Parker, in presenting an award to John Kenneth Galbraith, read from a letter Galbraith had written to JFK in 1961: "The right," he wrote, "will always criticize reasonableness as softness... When they speak of total victory they invite total annihilation. They aren't brave but suicidal. There is a curious superficial pugnacity about the American people, which, I am persuaded, does not go very deep. They applaud the noisy man but they reconsider if they think him dangerous. We must make it clear that these men are dangerous."
It's time the Democratic Party stopped being afraid of upsetting Wall Street and Big Pharma. Drug companies will pocket $139 billion in profits as a result of the new Medicare prescription drug law alone. Can you believe passing a prescription benefit that doesn't allow the government to negotiate bulk-purchasing discounts? If you were the CEO of a private company signing off on a deal like that, you'd be fired.
There has been a lot said after the election about moral values. If Democrats want a moral values issue they can call their own, why not start with the immoral behavior of giant drug companies such as Merck that not only pocket massive profits at the expense of the taxpayer, but continue to sacrifice the health of the public on the alter of higher and higher profits. Indeed, as many as 55,000 patients may have died as a result of taking Vioxx, which Merck continued to advertise even while in possession of studies that showed that it greatly increased the risk of heart attacks.
If Democrats want to appeal to voters who believe in promoting what Republicans call a "culture of life," they should make it a priority to put an end to the kind of corporate behavior that promotes a culture of death.
If the Democratic Party is serious about reclaiming the moral-values high ground, for heaven's sake, stop trying to figure out how to triangulate on gay marriage, and become the real pro-life party by taking on the drug industry.
And be bold and passionate enough to turn economic issues into moral issues. Because, remember one thing: although it hardly got any ink compared to the passage of gay marriage initiatives, voters in Florida and Nevada, both red states that voted for George W. Bush, also approved initiatives calling for big hikes in the minimum wage. These were the true moral values initiatives. Because it is a moral disgrace that low-wage workers with full-time jobs do not earn enough to lift their families out of poverty. And while the Bible says nothing against gay rights, it says an awful lot about our responsibilities to the poor. We shall be judged by what we do for the least among us, was Christ's admonition. Maybe someone can send that to Tom Delay.
So: moral values have become code for gay rights and Janet Jackson's right boob only because Democrats have abandoned the urgent task of speaking about economic issues in moral terms. It is up to the progressive movement to bring soul back into American politics, and then Democrats will be able to galvanize voters, in Kansas no less than in California. We continue to have the numbers on our side -- over a million jobs lost, 36 million people living in poverty, 45 million uninsured -- but somewhere along the way we lost the music, the conviction needed to transform data into narratives, and economic issues into moral ones.
Let me move to foreign policy. Because all of us need to leave this conference absolutely clear on one paramount thing. We cannot continue to ignore the war in Iraq and hope that we can ever again be a majority party. We cannot ignore Iraq and hope that we can run in 2006 or 2008 on expanding childcare. We cannot continue to allow Dick Cheney to go on Larry King as he did on Monday night, and lie to the American people that the insurgency is in its "last throes." This is absolutely untrue. Military commanders on the ground, unable to get a hearing in the White House or Congress, have been forced to leak to the New York Times about how bad the situation is in Iraq, and how long our forces may have to stay there. And the American people know that, as the latest polls made public by the Campaign for America's Future show, that 57 percent of the American public doesn't think the war is worth the cost in lives and resources.
There is nothing more important than for the Democrats to start demanding some answers. Congress is supposed to providing oversight, isn't it? Well, where is the oversight? Congress passed another $80 billion appropriation for Iraq, but refused to consider a bipartisan bill by Congressmen Tierney and Leach that would have established a Truman-style committee to provide oversight of the way billions of dollars are spent in Iraq -- and this is at a time when we cannot account for 9 billion dollars we sent there, and when there are over 70 investigations pending into potential criminal cases involving U.S.-funded projects.
Not to mention the ongoing ripping-off of taxpayers by Halliburton, which continues to receive billion-dollar contracts. And let's not forget, at a time when Ahmad Chalabi, the man who fed the US government bogus intelligence, and is suspected of passing U.S. secrets to Iran, is the Oil Minister.
When the president was asked earlier this year why no one in his administration was held accountable for the myriad failures in Iraq, he sounded like Will Farrell's petulant caricature on Saturday Night Live . "Well, we had an accountability moment -- and that's called the 2004 elections."
It's time for Democrats to say no, no, no! You have had no accountability moment!
Let's put an end to the happy talk. Send Dick Cheney back to the bunker, and answer two simple questions: 1) Are we, or are we not, building permanent bases in Iraq?; and 2) What is our exit strategy?
The problem is that senior Democratic leaders are having a really hard time answering those questions, and progressives in this room need to take them on. Hillary Clinton was on CNN last week, where Judy Woodruff asked her the exit-strategy question. Her response was, "You know, I am not one who feels comfortable setting exit strategies. We don't know what we're exiting from. We don't know what the situation is moving toward.... How do we know where we're headed, when we don't know where we are?"
Wow, very existential. But with the greatest respect, Senator Clinton, if you are not comfortable setting exit strategies, can you please direct us to someone who is? Because our soldiers are dying every day, waiting for someone who is comfortable setting an exit strategy. And because our treasury is being drained of hundreds of billions of dollars desperately needed at home. And because this was the wrong war, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and nothing has changed that.
As Howard Dean told Tim Russert on Meet the Press , "We're in greater danger now because of what's going on in Iraq than we were before."
And do you know what Tim Russert replied? "Let me stay on your rhetoric." Because Tim Russert and most of the mainstream media would much rather stay on Howard Dean's rhetoric and Howard Dean's personality and Howard Dean's pugnaciousness, than on the insignificant fact that our country is less safe because of our invasion of Iraq.
That's why I love the blogosphere. While the mainstream media is suffering from attention deficit disorder, I promise that we will stay relentlessly on the Iraq story. We'll publish pictures no one will publish, we'll show video no one will show, and we'll stay on it 24/7 until the truth penetrates through the lies and equivocations.
And that's the responsibility all of us have -- to keep the pressure on our leaders to stop pussyfooting around, to find their voice and their spine, and to realize that they need to stop choosing caution over boldness -- that they must ignore all siren songs urging them to abandon passion and principal and lurch toward the center. Instead, they must reclaim the Party's true identity and return to the idealism, boldness and generosity of spirit that marked the presidencies of JFK and FDR.