The Capitulation Bill: "Obviously it's a good move"

The crazy thing about the fight is that Democratic insiders are convinced that capitulation is the right strategy.  They actually believe that this will put pressure on the Republicans in the fall, and that standing up to Bush is a bad idea.  For instance, there's this.

Democrats said this week they would have jeopardized their fall bargaining position if they had insisted on keeping withdrawal timelines in the current supplemental spending bill (HR 2206). Persisting now would likely have resulted in another veto and would have handed Republicans talking points for the Memorial Day recess about which party supports the troops in the field.

Democrats were particularly worried about the prospect of Bush declaring at wreath-laying ceremonies that "Democrats have stopped resources for the troops," said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala.

"The problem is that we have to provide money for the troops, and if we don't, the Democrats will be blamed," added Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., a war opponent. "Bush has the bully pulpit, so he will define who is responsible."

"Obviously it's a good move," said Democratic pollster Fred Yang. "It gives President Bush and Republicans one less thing to shoot at" during the upcoming recess week.

Bush has the bully pulpit.  Obviously it's a good move.

These are the attitudes of Democratic members and pollsters.  There's no evidence that Bush moves numbers anymore.  In fact, when he talks he becomes less popular.  He has no credibility, which means that his access to the bully pulpit is severely diminished.  Yet Democrats are afraid of him.  More than that, Democratic members think that by capitulating to him that Republicans will stop saying that Democrats won't fund the troops.  It's crazy.  It's like they didn't notice the 2002 election where they were like 'we can take Iraq off the table'.

And while the news media is abuzz with talk of Democratic capitulation, I'm watching Louise Slaughter on C-Span idiotically saying that this is not a concession to Bush, and that Congress is fighting to end the war.  And she really believes it.  She really thinks that Democrats are fighting Bush with this bill.  It's amazing.  It's like la-la land.

Yang's comments are particularly silly, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised since he accepted Third Way's fraudulent study as 'useful' when it was actually statistical malpractice.  There's actually a secret problem in Democratic politics where a lot of our pollsters actually don't know how to do professional polling. But we'll leave that aside.

The key take-away here is that the Democratic Party is degraded and disorganized, and it shows.  It's not just that the party is bought off, though some members are.  It's that even the ones who want to do the right thing are constantly being told by people like Yang that capitulating to the President is obviously the right move, and that their concession is not actually a concession.

Update [2007-5-24 11:10:12 by Matt Stoller]:: Dodd and Edwards get it.

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She's Smart!

As I've said before, Clinton is a hawk.  But that does not mean that she's stupid, insecure, and nasty like George Bush.  She's charismatic, warm, intelligent, and exceptionally knowledgeable.  Here's a standard account of her impressive persona at a meeting.

While traveling during the past week, I visited a longtime friend who recently met Hillary Clinton. The event was private and exclusive -- only a few dozen business leaders attended, along with some spouses. Hillary spoke, took questions, then met with everyone personally.

During the Q & A session, the executives asked her some complex questions about technology, international trade, globalization, etc. My friend said her responses were in-depth and extremely intelligent. He was also impressed by the personal interest she took in everyone during the meet and greet session; she spent a few minutes speaking with each person individually, frequently asking questions that indicated she both listened to and thought about their comments.

According to my friend, a political independent who has never been particularly fond of Hillary, she was a huge hit. He went home ready to vote for her, and he sensed others in the audience felt the same way

Having a President who's really really smart is such a break from Bush that this one simple fact could override all other considerations by the base.  So many people - especially young women - are blown away by her poise that they will support her.  Because of the blurring of the candidates, personality could be the way that the Democratic Party is going to choose its nominee, picking an unrepenting hawk who is also an incredibly smart rock star.  The challenge of her opponents is not to denigrate that personality, but to point out that voters should choose based on different ideas about the country and not different cults of personality.

After all, a serious mistake would be to assume that criticism of her principles implies criticism of her personal abilities.  Because of the right-wing smear machine of the 1990s, Clinton is considered not only calculating, but she is expected to be cold, mean, and dismissive.  She's not.  She's really quite brilliant and comes across exceptionally well.  If you don't believe that, as many of you don't, prepare to be blown away when you do see her in person.  The public has low expectations for Clinton.  We shouldn't.  She's amazing.

Update [2007-5-24 10:22:20 by Matt Stoller]: A lot of people are interpreting this as me being in the tank for Clinton. Not so. It's just obvious that she's very brilliant, and you're not going to beat her by pretending she's not.

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Presidential Politics and the Capitulation Bill

There's so much going on it's hard to track all of it, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention John Edwards and his impressive speech today on the war on terror.  AJ at Americablog says what I think is about right.

The speech was perhaps most notable for what it did not include: absent was the reflexive bellicosity that conventional Democratic beltway wisdom has long insisted is necessary to project "strength" on foreign policy and national defense. There was no talk of "keeping all options on the table," no insistence that the Middle East only understands strength, and no blind endorsement of plans that deserve significant debate (such as increasing the size of the military).

Edwards rejected the "war on terror", rightly identifying it as a political frame, and slammed the Bush doctrine of preventive war. He also clearly identified how the current administration is hurting the military, both in the field and at home, offering a persuasive alternative model for the civil-military relationship.

I'll quibble in that he says he'll leave troops in the Green Zone to protect the embassy, but the rejection of of fear is huge.  By contrast, Clinton would not say how she would have voted on Feingold-Reid (she voted for cloture) and will not now say how she's going to vote on the new capitulation supplemental.

Either route chosen will bring with it huge potential political pitfalls, as Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., tacitly acknowledged Wednesday afternoon in her dismissive comments to reporters asking her how she will vote.

"When I have something to say, I will say it, gentlemen," Clinton told journalists.

I'm going to quote Digby.

Taking into account that this report is the usual Jake Tapper insider BS filled with GOP talking points, the fact remains that if Senator Clinton hasn't learned her lesson by now she never will. Voting for the Iraq resolution was the biggest mistake she ever made and it remains the biggest obstacle to her winning the nomination. Democratic voters reluctantly forgave John Kerry and John Edwards for making that boneheaded decision the first time but they won't do it again. If she votes with Bush on Iraq this time, it's over. She will lose the left wing of her party completely.

In fact, I'm shocked that any of the Democratic candidates for president would even entertain a passing thought that they would vote for this thing. It was a bad political calculation in 2002 and it so much more stupid now that I can't even wrap my mind around the idea that they aren't rushing to the microphones to declare their vote against it.

I actually think it's a little simpler than this.  Clinton is a hawk.  She believes in the occupation and she doesn't want to withdraw all our troops from Iraq because she thinks they are protecting what she sees as vital national security interest.  I'm not going to pretend this is a political calculation, I'm not going to be that condescending to Clinton.  She genuinely thinks this and is pretty upfront about it (though she does try to blur the difference as a strategy, her policy statements are pretty clear).  She doesn't regret her 2002 war vote, to her it wasn't a mistake.  And now it's up to the Democratic primary voting universe to take her at her word, and debate whether it makes sense to leave troops in Iraq and choose Clinton as our nominee, or to ask our nominee to pull our troops out and choose someone else.  This is what democracy is about, it's what primaries are about.  

I'm looking forward to seeing which Senators filibuster the capitulation bill.

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Spectrum, Iraq, and the Media Problem

One of the reasons I'm going to focus much energy on the spectrum fight is because the key leverage point for going into Iraq is a media system that allows only the powerful to speak.  Take this account by high priced operative Bob Shrum, of Time columnist Joe Klein's relationship with John Kerry in 2004.  The nexus between high priced media consultants, high priced pundits, and politicians is poison to a democratic system.  And then there are the more overt links between the press and the political class - Jeff Chester points us to this nice episode in Illinois:

Fourteen U.S. lawmakers urged federal regulators to waive media ownership restrictions that would allow Tribune Co. to be taken private in an $8.2-billion deal, according to a letter made available on Monday.

The deal, led by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell, needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission as it involves the transfer of broadcast licenses.

Under current media ownership rules, a company cannot own a daily newspaper and a television or radio station in the same market although media companies do under agency waivers.

Tribune has such arrangements in Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Los Angeles and New York and earlier this month asked the agency to waive restrictions that could prevent it from owning television station and newspapers in the same city....

The 14 lawmakers from Illinois, which included Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin and House Rep. Rahm Emanuel as well as Republican House Rep. Dennis Hastert, encouraged the FCC in the letter dated May 18 to act on the applications "expeditiously and to avoid administrative delay."

Sam Zell, the mogul behind the deal, gave $5000 to Rahm Emanuel's PAC in 2005, the Common Values PAC, and to Dick Durbin.  He was also a donor to Bush and now John McCain (as well as Russ Feingold and Tom Delay).

So a media and real estate mogul is calling in political favors to waive cross-ownership requirements to consolidate media properties.  That's a problem.  This weakens our ability to have a diversity of voices speaking out, and it prevents a media check on the powerful.

The internet is our best (and maybe) last hope.  Here's Al Gore:

I truly believe the most important factor is the preservation of the Internet's potential for becoming the new neutral marketplace of ideas that is so needed for the revitalization of American democracy... People are not only fighting for free speech online, but they are also working to keep the Internet a decentralized, ownerless medium of mass communication and commerce.

That's why this spectrum fight is so important.  If we can generate enough pressure on the FCC, we can ensure that the public airwaves can be used for a wireless open network which any citizen can use to create media.  New business models will emerge, a diverse set of voices will use it, and we can revitalize democracy.  How do I know this is possible?  Well I'm doing it, in a care, right now, with nothing more than a laptop.  And you're reading and commenting on it.

Now it's time to route around the damage caused by the George Bush's, Sam Zell's, Verizon's, and Comcast's of the world, and ask the FCC to free the spectrum for public use.

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Iraq Is Ours, My Friends

One thing I've tried to do is highlight the fact that Iraq is not a sharp break with history caused by a malevolent actor, but a part of a strong American tradition that progressives did not notice until it was too late.  I mean, do you really think that a stupid insecure manchild like Bush could become President without large forces putting him into office?  In Ending the National Security State, I drew links between the sharp right turn of unions, the swings of the racist South in the post-WWII environment, and the Communist purges.  This set of forces, which put us on the path of a top-down imperial Presidency, first liberal, then conservative, and then crazy, is what the war in Iraq and the covert actions in Iran really represent.  The 2006 election was historic, possibly the first antiwar electoral platform that worked during a war, but it was only one election.  We are fighting 60 years of history, and 30 other election cycles, including 2002 and 2004.  You can't stop a train that easily.

We're in Iraq because the political system, the public, and all of us became unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood.  We're still in Iraq, and will be there until the public is genuinely convinced to leave.  Right now, we're not there.  I know what the polls say, but I also am watching Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Giuliani, Romney, etc running for President, and not one of them is calling for a full withdrawal. Not one.  Clinton, the leading nominee in a supposedly antiwar party, is a hawk and doesn't even think that voting to authorize the war was a mistake.  So do not tell me that Pelosi, Reid, and Moveon are doing a bad job.  They are not.  They are persuading a country and a politics that is used to lazy bullshit that kills a lot of people to think twice about it, and resist.

This will not end, either, for quite some time.  And it's not because of George W. Bush.  It's because of people like Robert Schanzer, who is apparently some sort of expert on national security.  Schanzer, who I'm picking because he worked for Biden and sort of sits in the middle of Democratic foreign policy networks, has the following to say.

2008 is not 2006.  There is a big difference in the public's mind about putting a new party in control of the Congress and electing the commander-in-chief.  The 2006 election was a protest vote against Bush's war policies and a response to congressional corruption and lack of oversight of an incompetent executive branch.  The hurdle that John Kerry could not surmount in the public's mind will still be there for the next Democratic candidate for President -- "Will he or she do what it takes to keep us safe?" The Iraq war has lowered this bar somewhat for Democrats, but it still remains higher for Democrats than Republicans at least until Democrats win a post-9/11 election.  

With the Iraq albatross around their neck, Republicans will be even more eager to play the "weak on national security" card against Democrats.  This was on clear display last week as Rudy Giuliani took great glee (and got rave reviews in conservative circles), for taunting Democrats for "not understand[ing] the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us" and claiming "America will be safer with a Republican president."

Unfortunately, the Democratic frontrunners did little to dispel this notion during the first presidential candidates' debate.  Obama chose to talk about the Hurricane Katrina response when asked the first thing he would do after a terrorist attack on U.S. soil   And, when Brian Williams served up the Giuliani quotes on a silver platter to Clinton, she did not discuss how to defeat al Qaeda or combat the spread of the global jihadist movement, but instead expounded on the virtues of greater port and subway security.

This isn't going to cut it in a general election.   Because of the still lingering security gap Democrats face, progressives cannot wait until the general election to start speaking convincingly about the threats the nation faces and how to deal with them.  Promising to end the Iraq war (as if that could actually be accomplished), will not necessarily be enough to defeat a Republican opponent who is not Bush and will most certainly have his own plan to wind down the war.  

This is more of the same.  Fear.  Fear.  Fear.  Boo!  Are you scared yet?  This is what we're up against.  It's infiltrated both parties, but it can be beaten.  It has also, and this is where I differ from the Naderites, infected me and my community.  I'm willing to acknowledge this.  We cannot honestly have a debate about Iraq without discussing our lack of activism in the 1990s, when the case for war was built, or the corporate consolidation of our media accelerated.  We cannot realistically complain that our leaders are afraid when we are afraid and refuse to organize against Democrats in primaries.  We cannot use words like 'circular firing squad' or discuss criticism as problematic if we are to genuinely oppose the National Security State.

This is a powerful and nasty group of actors, and much of the public, while open to a different direction, is not being honest with itself in terms of what that means.  Seriously slashing our consumer lifestyle will be a glorious and healthy move, but it will be costly.  We are in thrall to war, just as we have been slaves to slavery.  That did not end simply, or easily, and neither will this.  But it will end, because it cannot go on.

Our greatest President knew this in 1862, when it looked bleak.  And so I'll quote him now.

Is it doubted, then, that the plan I propose, if adopted, would shorten the war, and thus lessen its expenditure of money and of blood? Is it doubted that it would restore the national authority and national prosperity, and perpetuate both indefinitely? Is it doubted that we here--Congress and Executive--can secure its adoption? Will not the good people respond to a united, and earnest appeal from us? Can we, can they, by any other means, so certainly, or so speedily, assure these vital objects? We can succeed only by concert. It is not "can any of us imagine better?" but, "can we all do better?" The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

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FCC: Google Spectrum Fight Fight Fight!!!

There's a big fight a brewin at the FCC.

Boingboing points us to this Forbes piece by internet law expert Tim Wu on wireless broadband and spectrum.  Basically, a huge chunk of incredible spectrum just came free, and it's being put up for auction by the FCC later this year.  This spectrum could be used for a new nation-wide wireless broadband network, a new wireless carrier, and lots and lots of innovation that is only now happening abroad.  Here's Wu:

What's needed to spur innovation is a simple requirement: that any winner of the auction respect a rule that gives consumers the right to attach any safe device (meaning it does no harm) to the wireless network that uses that spectrum. It's called the Cellular Carterfone rule, after a 1968 decision by the FCC in a case brought by a company called Carter Electronics that wanted to attach a shortwave radio to AT&T (nyse: T - news - people )'s network. That decision resulted in the creation of the standard phone jack. Applying the Carterfone rule to the next spectrum auction would ensure that our key fob designer need only look up standard technical specifications and then build and sell his device directly to the consumer. The tiny amounts of bandwidth the fob used would show up on the consumer's wireless bill.

The right to attach is a simple concept, and it has worked powerfully in other markets. For example, in the wired telephone world Carterfone rules are what made it possible to market answering machines, fax machines and the modems that sparked the Internet revolution.

This is going to be a big one.  Moveon just joined in the fight with a strong campaign, and the Save the Internet Coalition is going to weigh in.

Significantly, Google is now chiming in.

Google filed a proposal on Monday with the Federal Communications Commission calling on the agency to let companies allocate radio spectrum using the same kind of real-time auction that the search engine company now uses to sell advertisements....

We have large industry allies who want spectrum sold wholesale to consumers based on 'open access'.  This means anyone can lease spectrum for any reason, which will lead to lots of wireless innovation.  It will also end a key piece of the net neutrality fight, since cheap wireless broadband, though not as fast as wireline, will be a baseline competitive product to DSL and cable.

The deadline for comments at the FCC is May 30, and we're going to fill up their inbox and then some.  This wireless fiasco we have in America can end, soon.

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Beshear Wins Outright

I'm told that Steve Beshear narrowly won the Kentucky gubernatorial primary in the Democratic Party, beating corrupt Liebercrat Bruce Lunsford.  Lunsford just conceded.  This is very good news.  Beshear was not expected to get to the 40 percent marker, and a run-off seemed to be in the cards.  But Besear won outright.

Mitch McConnell is in trouble.

Update [2007-5-22 22:41:16 by Matt Stoller]:: Beshear won 40.9 to 21.4. Lunsford had all the insider connections, money, and pull. And he got spanked.

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Wingnut Nominations Begin to Crack

Last month I blogged about Michael Baroody of the National Association of Manufacturer's being nominated to be head of the Consumer Product Safety Division (joshuaj83 accurately reported that Senators were going to give him a rough ride).  NAM is a key driver of right-wing politics, and Baroody got a $150,000 severance prior to leaving his post.  That brought down the wrath of Bill Nelson, Dick Durbin, Barack Obama, as well as the New York Times editorial page.

Here's what Baroody did at NAM:

Keeping cigarettes from the horrors of fire-safeness, fighting for all-terrain veicles' right to flip over and kill people, protecting parents from the dangerous knowledge that the cribs and strollers they just bought had been recalled, making the world safe for asbestos, heroically keeping the National Highway and Transportation Safety Board in the dark about accident data on defective tires, keeping government out of the climate-change-prevention biz, and keeping the feds from "silencing commercial speech without authority" - the commercial speech in question being tobacco billboards near schools.

Baroody has a long history in Republican politics, but as it turns out, so does his family. His family has been intimately connected to money laundering through the American Enterprise Institute since the 1964 Goldwater campaign, up through Nixon and now into the right-wing business coalitions of George W. Bush.

This is a cancer that's been growing for a long time.  

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Trade Update

I've been in meetings this morning with various liberal groups, as well as on the Hill at a few member offices.  I learned very little that's actionable, but one thing that is happening is a big caucus meeting today on trade.  I've been able to look at a copy of the talking points handed out to members last Thursday, and there's very little there that we haven't seen.  I'm sure that a huge point of contention is going to be the discussion over side letters versus reopening the FTA agreements.  I think that the promise a few weeks ago was that the Peru and Panama agreements would have to be reopened, but that may not be the case.

We'll know more in a few hours, after the members are done with the meeting and start talking.  Passions are high on both all sides.  This is very painful for the New Democrats and Charlie Rangel, I don't think they expected this level of opposition and anger.  They thought they could just roll the single-issue groups and frankly, if it were up to those groups, they would have been correct.  What the neoliberals are encountering is internet politics and a kickass freshman class.

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Mark Udall Gives a Middle Finger to the Base

The AP has a headline out 'Dems to Send Bush No-Timeline War Bill'. David Espo cites anonymous Democratic officials, and I have some conflicting information.  I'm not sure that the AP is wrong, only that it's not clear to me that they are correct on this.  Still, it's worth pointing out that there are a number of problems with the Democratic Party so far, problems which had been predicted (and which are unavoidable).  Most progressive activists realized that 2006 was going to strengthen the progressive movement, but it would not put us in charge.  No, the people in charge are the Steve Elmendorf's, the lobbyists, and the single issue group leaders.  These aren't insane Republicans, but they are 'little c' conservative, cautious, and driven by the need for exceptional amounts of reassurance before embarking on any strategy.  Some of them are progressive, some of them are not, but mostly what they are is opaque.  There is little transparency on how decisions are made, and you can see the effects: no minimum wage increase, no lobbying reform, no prescription drug negotiations, a questionable and confusing announcement of more NAFTA-style policies, a refusal to follow up on ignored subpoenas, and no end to the war in Iraq.

That said, we need to keep working to change this state of affairs, and there is a lot of hope.  Reid has a very unreliable caucus of 51 Senators, with a large chunk that pull away at the hint of anything controversial or progressive, while  Pelosi has to deal with a large Blue Dog caucus.  Nevertheless, both passed extremely strong Iraq legislation, and there's a lot of oversight going on.  The Republicans are bleeding public support, and in 2008 Democrats can rip a chunk of their voters to our side.

And then there's the McGovern amendment, which was not supposed to break 100 votes.  It got 171 votes, including stalwart cautious operatives like Rahm Emanuel.  That's very very good.  Still, I think it's important to recognize right now that the Democratic conventional wisdom is in flux.  There's polling that suggests opposition to Bush and the Iraq war is the right strategy, and 171 members of Congress recognized that.  Only 59 Democrats voted against it.  That's not just a majority of the caucus, that's 74% of the caucus.  This is an antiwar party.  But it's not a disciplined antiwar party.

And who didn't?  

Well I want to single out three members who are going to need our support this cycle.  One is Mark Udall, who wants a promotion to the Senate in Colorado. Colorado is probably our best Senate pickup opportunity, with Wayne Allard retiring.  But at this point, I probably won't be giving to Udall's campaign, and I hope you don't either.  With this vote, Udall is already showing that he's going to say 'screw you' to the base.  I can't find any Iraq polling that's specific to Colorado, but I also can't imagine that the Iraq war is very popular in Colorado.  Udall, coming from a very liberal district, voted against the war in 2002.  I don't know if he's changing his mind because he wants to run for Senate in 2008, or if he's just shifted in his stance, but his vote against the McGovern amendment is a serious problem.  The same situation is roughly true with Jerry McNerney, who voted against the McGovern amendment as well but is doing it to remain in the House.  And then there's Steny Hoyer, who is the voice of the spineless in leadership.  McNerney, Hoyer, and Udall represent the three archetypes of resistance to the antiwar agenda - the 'tough district' candidate, the 'seeking promotion' candidate, and the 'lobbyist-owned' candidate.

Let's put Hoyer aside.  Were there a primary challenge to him, I would support it, but I don't think there will be.  McNerney and Udall are interesting problems.  Their votes are not a deal-breakers for me, but they do suggest a loss of credibility.  I think all of us understand pragmatism in politics, which is why this is so irritating.  It's not like this was a hard vote to take.  Iraq is extremely unpopular.  People hate this war, and they hate Bush.  Many conservatives hate Bush.  This is just a call that cuts against the whisper campaigns of the waning Third Way and DLC hacks in the party.

So I'm keeping my eye on Udall, and I encourage you to do so as well.  And when you get a fundraising call from the DSCC or from Udall's people, make sure they know that he has some explaining to do with regards to Iraq.  Here's his campaign's contact information. You can reach his people at Phone:  (303) 412-0531.  I'm going to call and let him know that his vote was not ok.  One thing we don't need is another Lieberman in the Senate.

And I'm going to wait until someone confirms the AP story before buying the Dem capitulation line.  We've been spoonfed false assertions like that from anonymous sources far too many times to refuse prudence.

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