What is Chucky Boy doing to Hillary?

A Hill snapper took the pic - à propos of nothing much, that I can see.

It's only an 11K JPEG. But it's clear there's something going on. And, whatever it is, the Senior Senator from New York is doing it to his junior colleague.

Is that a Masonic handshake? Or something Jewish? Or - frankly, I'm not going there.

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Schumer and Gingrich came to flog their books Schumer: Positively American; Gingrich,Winning the Future) in a very civilized discussion without any partisan rancor. Both books seek to influence their parties' agendas with innovative ideas that will fix America and Schumer's to capture the voters of the political pendulum, those who swing between parties and decide national elections.

Gingrich opened by saying that the the poorest class is poor because they have no economic network. During his talk, Schumer noted that Republican economic royalists, who know only their own self interest and hold the public interest in contempt had too much power in the Republican party and that would lead to the GOP's future electoral downfall.       

After the talk, I asked Schumer:

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Living in Grace Time

Who's blocking real progress on Iraq?  A number of groups and individuals who might surprise you.

Steny Hoyer, who is tearfully saying Democrats will not defund the troops, thereby perpetuating a false frame that makes it hard for Congress to check Bush.  Rahm Emanuel is sticking with Steny, safe in the belief that Democrats have no responsibility to end the war, as are Chet Edwards and the Blue Dogs (who are otherwise known as the 'scared white Southern men of the party).

Harry Reid, who failed to get a vote on a non-binding resolution in the Senate, and doesn't think his original war vote was wrong. It's Bush's fault apparently that Reid voted for the war.  Like with his stance on Alito, Reid is giving the impression of action, but not the teeth.

Chuck Schumer, who thinks he can put enough pressure on Bush to change his mind and change strategy, but is slow-walking on really challenging Bush.

Carl Levin, who has 'a little hope' we can 'turn the President in a different direction', and made the bad faith deal with Warner that the Republicans ended up filibustering.

Hillary Clinton, who argues that the war won't end until the next President takes office and so she won't take a public position that Congress should use their financial leverage to end the war.

All of these members share a common attribute - they do not believe that the public is particularly important in this debate, and they do not accept that the public's vote in the last election was to end the war in Iraq, not to play games about what the President can and can't do.  If this President won't end the war, Congress must.  If this Congress won't end the war, it needs to be voted out of office by the public for failing to do its job.

The polling is bad for cutting off funds for the troops.  The polling is good for Congressional action to end the war.  Therefore, if a member is giving a caveat that Democrats support the troops and won't end funding to the troops, they are prolonging the war.

That's where we are.  I wish our members weren't consistently behind the public in their seriousness about ending the war, but that's the deal.  And we better stop fawning over our Democratic leaders or they will never get serious about building a progressive America.

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The Netroots as Enablers of Failure?

Here's Ian Welsh making an important argument based on my earlier post.

Walking Edwards back was indeed important and shows that the movement progressives can put on pressure. I saw plenty of the Dem regulars arguing it was no big deal, just business as usual.

The Dem regulars are complements, but they are almost always willing to excuse and to enable, and that's not healthy for the party in electoral terms. (e.g. Kerry having voted for the war made 2004 very dicey for him.)

The right wing netroots and the right wing in general were nothing but enablers to Bush from 2001-05. There were exceptions, but they were far to weak to matter - the Republican "regulars", and almost everyone is a regular, because they all get paychecks, completely outweighed movement conservatives (ie. people for whom principle is more important than loyalt). And the Republicans have paid a price for that.

Democrats will likewise pay a price if the Regulars get too much of an upper hand.

It is also important to note that the Regulars suck at policy - they are always pre-compromising bills. This matters, because pre-compromised bills don't perform properly. Allow basic health insurance to be sold by insurers and you don't get the GDP savings, for example, which are immense.

And if you don't get, you don't get the prosperity hit that fixing health insurance properly would give you. And if you don't get that prosperity, you don't get the popularity that comes from prosperity (or from a well functioning plan.)

Policy matters, and doing it in a compromised fashion leads to bad policy; and bad policy has an effect at the ballot box.

And the Regulars don't seem to get that.

Now, the counterargument is that never being willing to compromise is also a sickness and it leads to rigidity that makes it hard to win races. And that's also true, but that's not the weakness the Democrats have right now - their willingness to compromise, and compromise, and compromise, is not in doubt.

Going too far either way isn't good. And if the netroots are turning into enablers first, movement progressives second, that's not a good thing.

Enough flexibility to win. Enough support of Democrats not to sell them down the river just because they have to live in the real world and occasionally make compromises.

But not so much that there is no rudder; not so much that policy becomes so compromised that it becomes bad policy; not so much that Democrats can reasonably be attacked for not standing up.

I think this is right.  I see this a lot when I post on Presidential politics in the willingness of various supporters to reflexively defend their candidate and impugn the motives of their critics.  "Who do YOU support" is a constant refrain, and my answer is actually that I support good ideas and integrity, regardless of candidate.  It's a good thing that Edwards was criticized, because it forced him back from saying that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable to saying that he wouldn't know what to do in case of a nuclear Iran.  Regardless of whether you support Edwards or someone else, it's a good thing that the debate was shifted this way.  I'm glad that Hillary Clinton moved this direction as well, and I'm glad that Republican candidates will also be put on the spot.  This is because attacking Iran is a really really bad idea.

Politically speaking, the serious danger, and Chris and I discuss this a fair amount, is that movement progressives will wither away because there is no support.  It's up to us to figure out how to build independent and sustaining structures to ensure that  movement progressives strengthen our arguments and our ability to affect public discourse.  This is not especially competitive with Democratic regulars, though there are disagreements about strategy.  But it's terribly necessary.

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The Changing Relationship of the Netroots and the Democratic Leadership

One unremarked change in the netroots that happened after the 2006 election was a dramatic upward swing in approval ratings for Democratic leaders.  And when I say dramatic, I mean simply exceptionally large.  Nancy Pelosi, who was disliked by 52 percent of Daily Kos readers prior to the election, saw her approval rating skyrocket to an 85 percent approval rating and her disapproval plummet to 14.  Harry Reid, already at a very good 70/24, moved to 80/19.  Chuck Schumer, who had a seriously hostile fight with liberals during the 2006 primaries, jumped from 27-62 to 74-25.

In other words, Pelosi and Reid saw moves upward of nearly 50 points in approval ratings.  This love from the netroots was reciprocated somewhat by Chuck Schumer, who blogged on Daily Kos and gave credit to bloggers for recruiting Jim Webb, and democratizing the political process.  In Chris's excellent post on stagnating traffic levels of progressive blogs, he notes that the blogosphere may be becoming a subset of the elitist political establishment.  This is borne out by another trend, the whiteness of the netroots.  It's also hard to deny that the netroots didn't particularly drive the protests in DC, nor did we use them as a signpost of movement building.  In fact, there was explicit ambiguity about what these protests meant and whether they were effective, which suggests a real split between the netroots as a piece of the party and the standard 'left' represented by The Nation magazine, Jane Fonda, and Code Pink.

The radical love towards the Democratic Party leadership within the netroots suggests that the netroots are far less cynical than the traditional left-wing of the party, and far more willing to compromise.  In the netroots surveys, it came out that we are more liberal in our personal politics than the Democratic Party at large, but also much more willing to compromise to achieve electoral victories.  We believe I suspect in a heterodox political system, where disagreement is tolerated and even encouraged.  There are no purity tests here.  And winning cures a lot of doubters, though not all (Rahm didn't get a huge bump within the netroots).

During the time the Democrats were in the wilderness, from 2001-2006, there was no leadership in the party, no boldness, and very little explicitly liberal and partisan content in American society.  So it's no surprise that the progressive netroots exploded in popularity.  It should also not be a surprise that, starting in late 2005, after the elections of Democrats all over the country and Bush's failed Social Security push, the progressive netroots stagnated.  We began to see leadership within the Democratic Party, and didn't need to go to the internet to find it.  After the 2006 elections, there's a perception that our Democratic leaders represent us, and we will back them.

This netroots was created by the scars of the late 1990s and the Bush administration, a time of deep political cynicism and Democratic cowardice.  I guess it's no wonder that Obama and Edwards, who represents an antidote to that cynicism, and Gore, who represents strength, are doing well online.  But there's another piece here, a sort of Netroots 2.0.  We were generation one, but there's another generation right behind us, people who are about to get involved in politics.  We are mentoring them with a new open model of politics, one they take for granted but that we had to fight for.  They don't know what it's like to be insulted by the party, but that was our formative experience, the crucible by which we organized ourselves.

Our challenge is to make way for this next generation of activists, to help them see how to put pressure on the political system to make change.  Right now, it seems that the netroots has chosen to become an appendage to the Democratic Party, flowing money in one-way to leaders and consultants.  A small minority of these leaders are 'of the netroots', but that's increasing as every successive cycle of candidates becomes more netroots friendly.  

2008 is going to change and shape the netroots in ways that we don't understand yet.  I believe that 'movement progressives' that operate to ideologically realign the country, are in a weak spot right now because of the level of trust placed in Democratic leaders after the 2006 election victories.  Pushing Edwards to the left on Iran, which happened because of the arguments of movement progressives, just isn't seen as particularly important.  The 'Democratic regulars' are in ascendance, as they have access to funding streams and well-understood arguments.  

These two groups are complements, not competitors.  We need both, in fact, as the movement progressives will never be as interested in supporting Democrats as the Democratic regulars, and the Democratic regulars will never be as interested in governing or ideological realignment as the movement progressives.

Right now, movement progressives have a lot of work to do.  We need to self-define, and work to establish our own funding channels, stars, and base of operations.  If we don't, we'll go the way of the New Left of the 1960s, which, while incredibly effective in stopping the Vietnam War, fell into disarray and allowed the right-wing to reemerge in a stronger and more cancerous version.

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