Monday, August 31, 2009

Bob McDonnell's Shell Game With Virginia Voters

The media, both old and new, has been lit up like a busy switchboard by Amy Gardner's startling expose of Bob McDonnell in last Sunday's Washington Post. Ever since then, Democrats have been going viral and Republicans have been trying to back pedal, ignore it, distract the public with something else, or worst still, portray McDonnell as the mainstream of Virginia.

No, Bob McDonnell is not in the mainstream of even Republican conservatism in Virginia. But he's playing a dishonest shell game with voters. Here's what he really is - what you'll find if you know which shell to look under.

He's an out there theocrat on the far right of his own party. And his thesis was no academic exercise by an 18 year old, as some Republicans are trying to portray it. Bob McDonnell wrote his now widely reported thesis when he was a 34 year old, just a few years before launching his political career. What he did was lay down a blueprint in that paper, and then he executed it and followed it doggedly until it was time to reinvent himself for a different era. Here's what Andrea Mitchell of CNN has to say:

McDonnell and his fellow travelers are saying don't pay attention to McDonnell's words as a 34 year old grad student, but examine his record in office instead. So, ok, let's do that. Here's an eye popping list of just some of the theocratic positions, completely consistent with his post-grad thesis, that he tried to enact while in the Virginia legislature:
2004: McDonnell Voted To Ban College Health Centers From Distributing Plan B Birth Control. The Virginian-Pilotwrote that McDonnell, on February 17, 2004, was one of 52 state House members who voted to pass HB1414, which was a bill sponsored by Delegate Bob Marshall to ban “health centers on college campuses from distributing the morning-after pill.” More specifically, this was a bill to prohibit “state supported colleges from distributing the morning-after pill at their health centers,” wrote AP. (The Virginian-Pilot, 02/18/04, History of HB1414, 2004, and The Associated Press State & Local Wire, 02/16/04)
Deeds Supported Expanding Access To The Morning-After Pill. In 2001 and 2002 Deeds voted to make the morning-after pill available from pharmacists without a prescription. (HB2782, 2001; SB623, 2002)

2003: McDonnell Voted To Kill A Bill That Would Have Defined “Contraception Not To Constitute Abortion.”Bob McDonnell voted to kill a bill that defined contraception “as the use of any process, device, or method to prevent pregnancy, including steroidal, chemical, physical or barrier, natural or permanent methods for preventing the union of an ovum with the spermatozoon or the subsequent implantation of the fertilized ovum in the uterus.” The bill passed the Senate unanimously. [History of SB1104, 2003]
Deeds Voted to Define Contraception Not To Constitute Abortion. Deeds supported legislation clarifying that contraception does not constitute abortion, subsequently ensuring that restrictions placed on abortion were not placed on legal contraceptives. [History of SB1104, 2003]

2001: McDonnell Voted Against Allowing Pharmacists To Dispense Emergency Contraception. In 2001, McDonnell voted against HB2782 in every instance. It was a bill that would have allowed pharmacists or health professionals to dispense emergency contraceptives, much like “pharmacies to dispense immunizations even to persons who are not patients.” The bill would also ensure “that nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians may dispense emergency contraceptives.” [History of HB2782, 2001]
Deeds Voted To Allow Pharmacists To Dispense Emergency Contraception. In 2001, Deeds voted for HB2782, a bill that would have allowed pharmacists or health professionals to dispense emergency contraceptives. [History of HB2782, 2001]

McDonnell Introduced Informed Consent Bills For 4 Consecutive Years As Legislator. As a member of the House of Delegates, Bob McDonnell introduced legislation 4 years in a row for a “requirement that each woman be given, at least 24 hours before the abortion, an explanation of the proposed procedures or protocols; an instruction that she may withdraw her consent at any time prior to the procedure; an offer to speak with the physician who is to perform the abortion; a statement of the probable gestational age of the fetus at the time the procedure is to be performed; and an offer to review printed materials that must be developed by the Department of Health.” McDonnell also introduced a similar piece of legislation in 1997 requiring informed consent and including a $500 fine for non-compliance. (HB1371, 1998; HB2108, 1999; HB1482, 2000; HB2570, 2001 and HB2778, 1997)

Deeds Voted Against McDonnell’s Informed Consent Bills For 4 Consecutive Years As Legislator. As a member of the House of Delegates, Bob McDonnell introduced legislation 4 years in a row for a “requirement that each woman be given, at least 24 hours before the abortion, an explanation of the proposed procedures or protocols; an instruction that she may withdraw her consent at any time prior to the procedure; an offer to speak with the physician who is to perform the abortion; a statement of the probable gestational age of the fetus at the time the procedure is to be performed; and an offer to review printed materials that must be developed by the Department of Health.” McDonnell also introduced a similar piece of legislation in 1997 requiring informed consent and including a $500 fine for non-compliance. Creigh voted against all forms of this legislation and (HB1371, 1998; HB2108, 1999; HB1482, 2000; HB2570, 2001 and HB2778, 1997)
It seems that if you examine McDonnell's record it stands as part of the same radical, theocratic, dominionist philosophy as his thesis. It's cut from the same cloth and its perfectly consistent.

What is inconsistent is his insistence, now, that it was a mere academic exercise of a school boy. But even that is consistent with the kind of stealth campaign he is waging. As Kos points out:
However, a less-noticed passage is potentially more explosive, and could form the foundation of a potent narrative if the Deeds campaign ever gets off its ass and runs a real campaign. Turn to page 55 of the McDonnell thesis:
It is also becoming clear in modern culture that the voting American mainstream is not willing to accept a true pro-family ideologue because as then-Representative Trent Lott (R-MS) observed, "Americans
think of themselves as conservatives; they want government reduced. But in their hearts they are liberals, they want all the goodies coming in. Leadership, however, does not require giving voters what they want, for whimsical and capricious government would result. Republican legislators must exercise independent professional judgment as statesman, to make decisions that are objectively right, and proved effective
Got that? "Leadership" means hiding your "true pro-family" ideology from the voters, who don't want it and aren't willing to accept it, but then governing in that fashion once elected. It is the height of cynicism -- openly violating the trust of the voter by pretending to be something you are not, masking your true intentions from an electorate that would never endorse that agenda with their vote
McDonnell would not be the first radical rightwinger to win an election by painting himself as a moderate and then veering sharply to the extreme right once in office. And in Virginia, governors only serve for one term. That's enough time to do a boatload of damage and never be held accountable by voters afterwards.

But one thing becomes clear. That is that if you take McDonnell at his words and examine his past history, including his record in Virginia, you would find that it is perfectly consistent with his thesis and every thing else he has stood for from the time he studied at Pat Robertson's Regent University until right now. He's a dangerous theocrat willing to fool the public to get in office and enact his religious agenda.

The only way to stop that is to lift up all the shells and look under them. Then, you'll find the real Bob McDonnell. The one who is radical right and wrong for Virginia.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don't Let the Democrats' Failure Be the Right Wing's Opportunity

AN UPDATE ALREADY: This post by Michael in Norfolk also sums up the growing disillusion and why something needs to be done quickly by Democrats to stanch it.

The zeitgeist, at least for today, seems to be the growing disillusionment with Democrats in Congress and even with Barack Obama. First, in response to a comment by the very astute Gretchen Laskas on Lowell's Blue Virginia, I posted the following, which Lowell turned into its own diary (with my approval). The money quote:

It makes my blood boil that Democrats are always mopping up after the Republicans back us into a corner and bloody us. Every time we have a good policy or concept, they manage to successfully mount an offensive that so discredits it that we have to scramble to "rebrand" it. And ultimately abandon it for compromise.

The Republicans have just presided over two monumental failures, a failed foreign policy and an economic collapse that is the worst since the Great Depression, and one that was caused by the very same factors that caused that Depression. Yet, nobody has managed to back the GOP into a corner. They are not wringing their hands and talking about rebranding their free market ideas, which are the root cause of the economic disaster we are now in.

Democrats don't need to cower and rebrand constantly. They need to agree on what they stand for, get the messaging right the first time, and stand up unambiguously for what they believe.


Oh, and bipartisanship was always DOA. I have been around the block too many times to ever have thought otherwise. When Republicans lose elections, they engage in sustained temper tantrums and can never be counted on to do anything constructive for the common good. They don't even believe in a common good. In fact, they think "the common good" is a communist code word.

After reading their blogs; magazines; and books, and watching and listening them on TV and radio talk shows, what part of that don't Democrats get?
The emphasis, by the way, was Lowell's but I liked it so I decided to leave it.

Meanwhile, when I got home from work, I read this op-ed piece, by Robert Kuttner, in the Washington Post. Kuttner argues that the beneficiaries of the collapse of capitalism and the free market economy have actually been the far right wing and not the liberals.

Incredible as it seems, with everything they believe in - unregulated markets, globalism, and free trade - a proven failure in the real world, it is they who are managing to exploit the real and justifiable anger of the ordinary citizen who has lost his job, his home, and his health insurance.

Kuttner lays the blame on a left that has failed to make its arguments or its case to the public. We have no clear narrative that we all agree on and can present in an understandable way. Even worse, nobody sees a sense of outrage at the privileged classes that not only brought the economy down but are benefiting even now by its collapse.

Here's what Kuttner says.
Wall Street and the abuses of corporate America crashed the economy, leaving regular people anxious and financially insecure. Yet the far right, not the reformist left, is getting the political windfall.

Something is severely off when economically stressed Americans confront members of Congress about "death panels" in the Obama health plan. The rumors, fanned by talk radio with a little help from Republicans, are false and even delusional. Yet the anger, if misdirected, is genuine.

People should be plenty angry about their jobs and their mortgages and their health insurance. With health care, however, virtually all of the fears attributed to the Obama health reform efforts more accurately describe the existing private system.

It is private insurance companies that ration care by deciding what is covered and what is not. Private plans limit which doctor and hospital you can use, define "preexisting conditions" and make insurance unaffordable for tens of millions. For many, all this can cause suffering and sometimes even death. Our one oasis of socialized medicine, Medicare, has the most choice and the least exclusion.
Kuttner also rightly sees that the citizen anger, however misdirected, is a genuine backlash against a broader array of discontents, not the least of which is the way the Obama administration and Congress handled the AIG bailout, including the huge bonuses that went to the very Wall Street vultures who caused the financial meltdown to start with.
After receiving nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayer aid, Wall Street is returning to business as usual. Consider: Firms that received government help, after losing fortunes in 2008, still found money to pay out exorbitant bonuses at public expense.

Far too little of the government's aid to Wall Street is trickling down. Because of the administration's decision to target $75 billion in mortgage-relief aid to banks and mortgage companies rather than to beleaguered homeowners, foreclosures are still increasing far faster than loan modifications.

Despite the premature triumphalism about a trivial drop in the measured unemployment rate in July, more than 25 million Americans are either unemployed, out of the labor force, or working part time when they need a full-time job. No wonder there is widespread pocketbook anger.
Meanwhile, Kuttner lays the blame solidly where I think it belongs.
One is Obama himself. This president recoils from confrontation, even with those who are out to destroy him. He has had ample opportunities to put himself on the side of popular economic grievances and to connect America's economic troubles to the forces that Roosevelt called "economic royalists." But Obama, whose propensity for consensus is hard-wired, keeps passing up those opportunities.

Even now, he won't make clear that the private insurance industry is the problem. Recent administration statements on the "public" insurance option have been classics of mixed messaging. Obama's economic team is far too cozy with Wall Street, fanning populist suspicions.

Despite the president's history as a community organizer, his style as president is to tamp down popular protest, not rev it up. I know of several cases in which the White House requested allied progressive groups to cool it. When government-subsidized AIG disgracefully paid culpable executives "retention bonuses," Obama dispatched Larry Summers to the Sunday talk shows to helpfully explain that "We are a country of law. There are contracts." Tell that to laid-off and outsourced factory workers. It's hardly surprising that regular people resent the corporate-connected Washington of Barack Obama.
Kuttner also blames the "Wall Street dominated economy" for the weakening of the labor movement, which has suffered from the illegal union busting tactics of large corporations. As he points out, organized labor was one of the main forces that protected workers' rights and fought for wage increases and safe working conditions. Since the deliberate weakening of labor, workers' wages have stagnated while corporate executives' pay and perks have soared even when their performance created economic disaster for investors, homeowners, and consumers. People see the palpable unfairness. And they also see Democrats failing to stand up for them or even to fight to keep the promises they made on the campaign trail.

So, when tea baggers, birthers, and assorted crazies come along, yes, they capture and channel the frustration the public is feeling. As Kuttner wisely points out, the thing about economic upheaval and the anger and fear it creates is that it could be an opportunity for liberals to extend concepts of fairness and fight for prosperity for working people or it could be an opportunity for demagogues to tamp down those very things and channel the outrage into darker outcomes. As Kuttner points out.
When economically stressed and frightened people are anxious and sullen, you never know who will capture their fears and hopes. In the 1930s, economic anxiety produced leaders as different as Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. History shows that if the reformist left doesn't offer a plausible story and strategy of reform, the lunatic right will gain ground even with an implausible one. So where are the liberal protesters? The initiative has passed to the know-nothing right for two big reasons.
As Robert Kuttner concludes
One way or another, hard times produce popular anger at callous elites. Presidential leadership and progressive organizing energy to connect the mounting outrage to the real economic abuses are overdue. Otherwise, even a ticket of Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford could pick up the pieces.
Coming off of this thoughtful article, I saw Ben's post of Jane Hamsher on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell. Ben is right, by the way, that Hamsher rocks, so I'll let her have the last word on the Democrats and health care reform.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy 40th Anniversary, Woodstock Nation!

It’s hard to believe forty years have past since I was there. Yep, I’m one of those aging hippies who attended. Actually, I was fifteen years old, and my eighteen-year-old cousin offered to let me tag along with her group of friends if my parents approved.

Now, before you begin to wonder about my parents’ judgment – let alone sanity – in letting a fifteen-year-old go to such an event, you have to realize a few things.

One, we lived about an hour away from Sullivan County, New York and had relatives scattered throughout the area. In fact, it was the heart of the Catskills, long a Jewish resort area and we were familiar with all the Borscht Belt hotels there. So, my mother’s first thought was that if an emergency came up, an aunt or uncle could get to me in fifteen minutes, and they could be there in an hour. In other words, for us, it was a local event.

But the most important thing to remember is that nobody ever dreamed this three-day concert would turn into the enormous event we now refer to as Woodstock, with kids flocking to it from across the nation in numbers that nobody thought possible. Indeed, when Walter Cronkite was alive, he related the story that he let his own teenage daughter attend, also never suspecting what it would become. And when he flipped on his own TV, he had the same astounded and fearful reaction that my parents had, “Omgod,what have we done!”

Nevertheless, many years later, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for that three-day festival, especially after reading this write up in today’s Washington Post. The reporter captures one of the things that made Woodstock so special – the harmony, love, and caring that all of its participants felt. Amazingly, over a three day period, a group of half a million young people got together, many indulging in both drugs and alcohol (beer and wine were among the mildest substances present) and nobody picked a fight with anybody else. It was remarkably violence free. I couldn’t imagine something like that happening today. In fact, every attempt to recreate Woodstock, from the Altamont Free Rock Concert, in Northern California in December of 1969, to a recreation of Woodstock in New York State in 1999, has been marred by some violence. Indeed, at Altamont, occurring later the same year as Woodstock, somebody was murdered by a Hell’s Angel serving as a security guard (whose bright idea was that?).

Although most writers and historians penning stories about Woodstock focus on the unique harmony and peacefulness of the event, there is something even more astounding about this three-day concert that many have forgotten. If you are a fan of irony, I promise you are going to love this.

The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 almost didn’t happen. Without the intervention of a local conservative Republican, it never would have occurred. I'll get to that part in a moment.

Further, it didn't even happen in Woodstock either. It was originally scheduled for Wallkill, a town to the east of Bethel, where the festival finally ended up. Wallkill was close to Woodstock, NY, which had always been an artist colony and had attracted a community of folk singers and rock musicians in the sixties. Janis Joplin lived there. So did Bob Dylan for a while. But the Wallkill town zoning board turned down the four promoters’ application for the concert. They were ready to cancel the event when a prosperous and conservative farmer, Max Yasgur, offered his farm in Sullivan County.
Yasgur, the conservative Republican, caught a lot of flak from his neighbors but he stood his ground. In fact, here is his son’s recollection:
"He said, 'You don't like these kids because of the way they look, because of the way they dress,' " said Sam Yasgur, who was 27 at the time. He said his father told the detractors, "Tens of thousands of soldiers died so they have the right to do what they're doing."

"During the festival, it was intense," Sam Yasgur recalled. "There were threats. There were neighbors who couldn't get out and milk their cows. Their fields were being chewed up by cars, their crops were being destroyed." But he said when his father was invited onstage, he surveyed that huge sea of people and defended their right to be there.
And for me, that should be Woodstock’s enduring legacy, every bit as much as the love and peace, and the drugs and hedonism. It was a time when a conservative Republican from a small town stood up for a group of hippies whose lifestyle he wouldn’t dream of emulating. Max Yasgur stood his ground for individual freedom and mutual respect despite all odds. That makes Woodstock very relevant to today and the future.

Woodstock proved that Americans of all political stripes can get along and stand up for each other's rights. All that's needed is the commitment to mutual respect and a love of liberty that Max Yasgur displayed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jeff Schapiro Says Creigh Has Only Begun to Fight

Jeff Schapiro, from the Richmond Times Dispatch, has come up with a video that takes on Bob McDonnell's attempt to rebrand himself as the centrist candidate.

First of all, Schapiro hits the nail on the head that Democrats right now have run out of steam. As he points out, we've been on a winning streak in this commonwealth since 2001. The simple law of averages suggests that eventually, fatigue sets in and you just can't keep it up.

That's why, according to Schapiro, Deeds has finally hit back at McDonnell to rouse his somnolent base. But the abortion issue, according to Schapiro, is only one prong in a multi-pronged attempt to challenge McDonnell's likable, moderate, and easy going image. Well, watch the video because Jeff Schapiro is far better at giving his original political analysis than I am at paraphrasing it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Agreeing to Disagree, Without Being Disagreeable.

There are really two parts to this post.

The first is to announce two emergency meetings in the Danville area, to be held by a group called The Virginia Change That Works Campaign. They are holding these meetings to discuss the best ways to fight the disinformation and fear surrounding health care reform. I encourage progressives who live in the 5th district and are interested in health care reform to attend one of these meetings.

But the other reason for the post - and my title says it all - is that I am discouraged by the level of rudeness and general craziness surrounding the town halls and the discussion in general. First, though, the announcement.

I received the following email from a friend of a friend. My blogger buddy, Drew Lumpkin, who has temporarily suspended Dem Bones to work for the Deeds campaign, referred his friend, Win Carlisle, to me. Win sent me this important announcement about these meetings on health care reform to be held in Danville. Below is his announcement, which he has asked me to publicize.
It’s time to stop the misinformation, smears and falsehoods about Health Care Reform! The Virginia Change that Works Campaign will be having two emergency meetings this week to discuss the best ways to tell Virginians in the 5th district the truth about the need for quality, affordable health care for everyone.

Enough is enough, Healthcare can’t wait!

The meetings will be held on Wednesday, August 12th and Thursday, August 13th at 7pm. Our office is located at 308 Craghead, Danville VA 24541.
Choose the night that works best for you. We hope to see you there!
Any questions call Aaron at 616.648.4555
Danville is just a bit too far for me to get to from Northern Virginia, but I hope to get to a town hall meeting here in NoVa. And that brings me to the second point of this post.

I believe it's important for people on all sides of the issue to come out and have a respectful dialogue. I also believe, however, that it's important for progressives to show up at these meetings to counter the organized effort at deliberate disinformation being spread by some well funded insurance industry groups. And it's even more important for people of good will, regardless of which side of the issue they are on, to show up to blunt the efforts of those who are there simply to shout down their opponents, harrass public officials, and disrupt meetings.

Harrassment, intimidation and disruption are the antithesis of democracy. I encourage people on both sides to show up and show the bullies how democracy is conducted in a civil society where people agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Inconvenient Abortion Issue That Keeps Dogging Bob McDonnell

Today's Washington Post reports an interesting difference of opinion on Creigh Deeds' strategy of highlighting Bob McDonnell's opposition to abortion. The Deeds campaign is attempting to call voters' attention to McDonnell's staunch social conservativism. McDonnell, a Pat Robertson ally, has been trying to downplay his positions on abortion and single sex marriage in an attempt to rebrand himself as a moderate. Although Rosalind Helderman and Sandhya Somashekhar, the two Post reporters, question the hazards of bringing up the divisive issue of abortion, some progressives disagree with their assertion that it is a risky strategy.

Ben Tribbett declares flat out that it's time to take on McDonnell on this issue. Ben also points out the obvious, that it's far more risky to fail to motivate your base. And August is exactly the time to do so because that's when your base is actually the only one listening. You want to fire up the activists or they won't be there to knock on doors, or phonebank for you in September and October when everybody else finally begins to pay attention.

Meanwhile, Shaun Kenney, former communications director for the RPV, leading conservative blogger, and very smart political strategist, is claiming, over at Bearing Drift, that Creigh Deeds embracing the issue of abortion is a strategy that will fail. He says:
Convincing women that McDonnell is somehow out of the mainstream on abortion is like one horse bucking a national freight train. Gallup polls are showing Americans to be majority pro-life for the first time in the history of modern polling.
Actually, one Gallup poll did find, back in May, that more than half of Americans self-identified as pro-life. But even if 51 percent termed themselves pro-life, that still means 49 percent do not consider themselves pro-life. Given that there is always a statistical margin of error, this means that nationally the country is divided on the issue, not pro-life by a solid majority. But reading that particular poll was tricky at best, as the New York Times pointed out right after it was released:
In advance of President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame last weekend, Gallup released a poll showing that for the “first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.” This was based on a question that asked respondents if they consider themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” The poll found 51 percent saying they were “pro-life,” up 7 points from a year ago to a new high.

That is a significant change.

But a close look at polls that ask a similar question reveals that responses to this question move around a bit. CNN asked the same question in April, and found the “pro-choice” response ahead by 4 points, but the “pro-life” response was ahead by 5 points a couple of years ago. Fox News polls have found the “pro-life” response ahead, “pro-choice” ahead, and the two tied in various polls throughout the years.
In addition to that ambivalence, the public actually expresses quite a bit of doubt on this divisive issue. In that same Gallup Poll, here's the actual breakdown of the way the respondents, who called themselves pro-life by 51 percent, actually answered specific questions on when abortion should be available: 22 percent said it should always be legal, 23 percent said it should never be legal, and 53 percent said it should be legal in some cases.

That means the most adamant positions were at the margins of both left and right, with the vast majority favoring neither a total ban on nor unlimited access to abortion. Most people seem to be in the middle, understanding that while abortion is tragic, it sometimes is the best of some really terrible choices a woman might have to make. One thing that's certain is that at less than a quarter favoring a total ban on abortion, the true hard right anti-abortion stand of Bob McDonnell, who opposes it even in the case of rape or incest, is definitely not the mainstream position that conservatives like Kenney or Chris Beer, whom he quotes, believe it to be.

And, in fairness, neither is the abortion on demand view a mainstream one. The majority of Americans are troubled by abortion and have a nuanced opinion of it. That, by the way, reflects my own view (in the interest of full disclosure I have to say that although I am basically pro-choice, it is not without great ambivalence).

Having said that, the Washington Post article, although it considers Deeds' strategy to bring the abortion debate into the election a risky one, admits that in Virginia, it could make sense. (The emphasis is mine)
The early statewide pitch by Deeds is a bold gamble that the demographics and politics of Virginia have shifted so quickly and decisively that raising a divisive issue such as abortion, which Republicans attempted to use to their advantage for much of this decade, is now favorable to Democrats. Although advocates on both sides of the issue rank Virginia as one of the more restrictive states on abortion, a Washington Post poll in September found that 60 percent of Virginia voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a number that has not changed significantly in recent years.
The key take home point here is that Republicans indeed used the abortion issue throughout most of the 1990s and earlier, when they thought it gave them the winning advantage. As their most socially conservative candidates began losing elections in the Northern Virginia suburbs, they began downplaying the issue and even objecting when Democrats brought it up. They had no such shyness, though, about using the abortion issue when the state truly was more conservative on the issue.

I also disagree with the Post's assessment that it is risky at all to bring it up. Although the two reporters point out that Mark Warner and Tim Kaine did not make abortion a center piece of their campaigns and David Poisson was quoted in the article as believing it should not be a key issue, I'm not sure that view is the best for this year's campaign, even if it was effective in 2005 and 2001. Here's why.

When Mark Warner ran against Mark Earley, Earley did not try to present himself as moderate on social issues. Further, even though the issue wasn't at the center of the campaign, most voters knew that Warner was the pro-choice candidate, so he never exactly tried to hide his position. Also, back then, fewer Virginians were pro-choice.

Then, when Kaine ran, he actually wasn't pro-choice. At best, he simply believed that he shouldn't impose his personal beliefs on the rest of the state. That was also his position on the death penalty, which he personally opposes but still carries out. He took a principled and consistent position, whether you agree with him or not. He did not impose his personal and religious beliefs on social issues on those who disagreed with him. But he certainly wasn't an impassioned defender of abortion rights either.

By the way, if we're talking about injecting social issues into a campaign, somebody should point out that Jerry Kilgore most certainly attempted to make hay out of Kaine's opposition to the death penalty, although it was never in danger of being repealed. So, it's obvious that Republicans will bring up all sorts of social issues if they sense it will motivate their base, scare the voters, or otherwise work to their advantage.

As for Poisson, he ran for his seat against Dick Black who, as the Post admitted, was "largely defined by his opposition to abortion." In other words, Poisson did not need to bring it up. Dick Black was notorious for his extremism and certainly wasn't trying to present himself as a moderate. There was no question of Black attempting to rebrand himself in that race. So comparing Poisson's winning strategy to this year's gubernatorial race is pretty much an apples and oranges exercise.

In fact, the real issue isn't abortion, it's who is the real Bob McDonnell.

He is now running from his own position, one which he espoused just earlier this year. And Virginia voters deserve to know where he really stands on every issues, including abortion.
Before moderates and progressives in Northern Virginia, the Richmond suburbs, and parts of Virginia Beach vote for him, they deserve to hear where he really stands, not just on abortion but on every issue that affects them.

Make no mistake, I actually agree with Kenney and other Republicans that abortion will not, and should not be the major issue. It would be a mistake to base a whole campaign on one issue, especially now when most people are worried about jobs, the economy, health care, and transportation. Both candidates need to present credible campaign platforms built around solutions to these problems and their plans for the environment, climate change, and energy needs. But abortion is certainly a legitimate issue to talk about.

And so is the candidates' stands on the availability of contraceptives, which to me is even more important. There are some on the right, most notably Ken Cuccinelli, who support bans even on birth control and morning after emergency pills, given to women after rape. Despite the claim that these are abortifacients, the science contradicts that. What those pills do is prevent a fertilized egg from lodging in the womb. They prevent pregnancy. They do not kill fetuses.

The truth is there are other issues that concern the majority of Virginians more than this one does. But as long as some citizens will be affected by abortion and birth control laws, and as long as they are concerned about this, it is a valid issue to be discussed. And voters deserve to know where both candidates stand. That's more than just a campaign strategy. Telling them where you stand is the right thing to do.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Mark Warner's Perilous Fork in the Road

One of my favorite poems has always been Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Traveled.” In that poem, the narrator describes coming to a fork in the road. Although both paths appear equally pleasant and leafy, the narrator must choose which path to take. Knowing he may never pass that way again, the direction he takes will have consequences for the rest of his life. And that's the thing about difficult choices. They have consequences.

When it comes to the difficult choices about health care reform, our junior senator, Mark Warner, faces just such a fork in the road. Whichever choice he makes will have consequences, not just for his personal ambition but also for the fortunes of his party, his nation and his state. That’s a lot resting on his shoulders and those of his colleagues in Congress.

Senator Warner has aligned himself with the Senate’s conservative Democrats, who are allied with the House’s Blue Dog caucus, especially on health care reform.

Before going further, let's acknowledge that Mark Warner always was a pro-business centrist. Virginians not only understood this but embraced it. As governor, he led from the center and was largely successful because he applied good business practices to Virginia and put its fiscal house back in order, restoring its AAA bond rating and balancing its budgets. But as governor, he also found ways to balance the best practices of business with meeting the needs of Virginia’s ordinary citizens. He was successful because he did not sacrifice the well-being of the neediest on an altar of fiscal conservatism. Instead, he found a way to balance the two sets of priorities so that all Virginians benefited from the commonwealth’s prosperity.

Now, however, the nation is in an economic crisis that is the most severe since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

At the same time, we are facing a crisis of our health care system and it urgently needs reform. To reform it in a way that provides near universal coverage is going to require a lot of spending. That goes against the grain of cautious, centrist, business oriented politicians, such as Warner. But the alternative is a health care delivery system whose costs put such a strain on the economy that it will threaten our recovery. Our health care costs are far higher and our medical outcomes are far worse than those of the rest of the industrialized first world. It would seem to be a no-brainer. We are paying more money for less quality of care than countries like Canada, France, Germany, and even Taiwan.

And the problems have been exacerbated by the climbing unemployment rate because so many people’s health insurance is tied to their employers. With the loss of jobs comes a loss of health care coverage.

To my mind, the best solution would be a single payer system not tied to one’s employer. But I understand that that solution is unpalatable to the vast majority of Americans despite the fact that it actually works very well in other countries, regardless of how much the far right in this country tries to discredit it.

It’s important to note, though, that the single payer option is the solution of choice on the left end of the spectrum, supported by liberals like Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders in the Senate and John Conyers, Tammy Baldwin, and Elliott Engel in the House.

On the right, especially among Republicans, the solution would not have any public option and would depend solely on market-based solutions with little government interference. It would depend on encouraging consumers to purchase private insurance plans and give them a tax cut to do so (every right wing solution to any problem depends on the so-called free market and a tax cut and little else).

The reason I am pointing that out is because it’s important to note that the plans currently under discussion in the Senate and the House are varieties of centrist compromise that would still be based largely on private insurance companies and employer based options. They are neither single payer options nor socialized medicine. What is under discussion is various ways to fund the plans, including a government subsidy only to those who couldn’t afford to purchase insurance, penalties for large businesses who don't cover employees, insurance pools and tax breaks to small businesses to encourage them to purchase insurance for their workers, and a public option for those who truly can’t afford a private plan even with a subsidy.

Supporters also hope a public option would provide more competition to the private insurers to get them to keep premiums low and provide better coverage. There would also be stricter regulations to ensure that insurers don't deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or cancel coverage for those who get sick. That is the plan of the true centrists. It’s the one progressives don’t necessarily favor, but are willing to support to get to the goal of near universal coverage.

Mark Warner does not support that plan. He has aligned himself with the conservative Democrats in the Senate, led by Max Baucus, and the Blue Dogs in the House, led by Jim Matheson and Mike Ross. They are neither moderate nor centrist – they are conservative. That’s the first thing you need to remember.

Now, let’s examine what those congressional Democratic conservatives stand for.

Both groups oppose the public option. Neither group has an appetite to fund health care reform by taxing the wealthiest one percent of the nation. Yet the Senate conservative Democrats, and their Republican allies, have no similar reluctance to tax the health benefits of those who currently have “generous insurance plans.” In fact, most of those on whom that tax burden will fall are fire fighters, police officers, government workers, and those who are professionals and middle managers. In other words, the middle and working classes will bear the burden with additional taxes, with the upward distribution of wealth once again preserved for the most fortunate – those with friends in high places.

In addition, without the public option, Americans would be mandated to buy health insurance from private providers, unless their employers provide it. Not only would this not actually help ordinary citizens, it would simply be an unfunded mandate on them. And it would create a windfall profit for insurance companies, who would reap even greater benefit under this so-called reform, as even this article in Business Week points out.

Although the Senate supports regional co-ops instead of the public option, we have even less evidence that these would work on a national level than we do that a single payer system would be effective. There are a few such co-ops operating in some states with various degrees of success but it is hard to say whether that model would translate well elsewhere. Certainly, if you object to risky and costly experiments, the regional co-ops would qualify for that description even more than the public option would.

There are many good reasons for supporting the more progressive health care reform plans out there. But for the Blue Dogs in Congress and the conservative Democrats in the Senate one very good reason is that their financial ties to the insurance industry are, by now, also very well documented, as this Washington Post article, for example, demonstrates regarding Mike Ross:
Ross has received nearly $1 million in contributions from the health-care sector and insurance industry during his five terms in Congress, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions. The lawmaker founded Ross Pharmacy of Prescott, Ark., which he and his wife sold in 2007. The couple received $100,000 to $1 million in dividends last year from the sale, according to House financial disclosure forms.

Records of political fundraisers since 2008 compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group, show a steady schedule of events for Ross sponsored by the health industry or lobbying firms that represent health-care companies. They include two "health-care lunches" at Capitol Hill restaurants in May 2008 and March 2009, as well as receptions sponsored by Patton Boggs and other major lobbying firms.
Further, the above mentioned Business Week also points out Mark Warner’s connections to UnitedHealth. Here’s the telling quote:

UnitedHealth's relationship with Democratic Senator Mark R. Warner of Virginia illustrates the industry's subtle role. Elected last fall, Warner, a former governor of his state and a wealthy ex-businessman, received a choice assignment as the Senate Democrats' liaison to business. The rookie senator landed in the center of a high-visibility political drama—and in a position to earn the gratitude of a health insurance industry that has donated more than $19 million to federal candidates since 2007, 56% of which has gone to Democrats.

UnitedHealth has periodically served as a valuable extension of Warner's office, providing research and analysis to support his initiatives. Corporations and trade groups play this role in all kinds of contexts, but few do it with the effectiveness of the insurers. In June, Warner introduced legislation expanding government-backed Medicare and Medicaid coverage for hospice stays for the terminally ill and other treatment in life's final stages. The issue isn't a top UnitedHealth priority. But the corporation wanted to help Warner with his argument that in the long run, better hospice coverage would save money. UnitedHealth prepared a report for lawmakers finding that 27% of Medicare's budget is now spent during the last year of older patients' lives, often on questionable hospital tests and procedures. Expanded hospice coverage and other services could save $18 billion over 10 years, UnitedHealth asserted.

When Warner went to the Senate floor on June 15 to offer his bill, he cited those exact figures. He thanked the company for its support and put a letter from UnitedHealth applauding him in the Congressional Record.
If voters are angry with Democrats and disillusioned by politics, it’s because after two election cycles of successfully running against lobbyists, special interests, and the culture of corruption, powerful Democrats are beginning to look exactly like those they replaced

The only way for those Democrats to stanch that anger and disillusionment and keep their own seats at the midterms is to take the road less traveled, less profitable, and ultimately more moral. It’s to stand with the ordinary working people and the middle class rather than with the powerful and wealthy special interests who usually managed to turn legislation to their advantage, regardless of which party is in power.

If they don’t, they could face dire consequences at the election polls sooner rather than later. Indeed, Ben Tribbett makes that prediction in a tweet, where he predicts that those who don’t support a public option, including Warner, Webb, Boucher, Connolly, Perriello, and Glenn Nye will all lose their seats in the midterms. But I believe electoral disaster could come even sooner than that in Virginia.

That’s because the very first election where fallout from anger at the Democrats for failing to get health care reform right will be right here in Virginia. The gubernatorial race is the canary in the mining shaft. It's the forerunner to the midterms in two years. And here is where there is a double irony for Mark Warner especially.

Currently, Creigh Deeds and Jody Wagner are running hard as Virginia Democrats in the mold of Mark Warner. How ironic, then, it would be if Warner’s own actions helped to kill the health care reform and take down with it Deeds and Wagner at home and then the Virginia Democrats in Congress a year later. Even if Warner were to survive it based on his personal popularity, that would spell the end of any ambitions he has on the national stage.

But that’s the choice he has to make as he stands at this fork in the road. Choose wisely, Mark. Your future and ours depend on it!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Rich Trumka's Statement on Mob Violence at Town Halls

The following is a statement that I received from Rich Trumka, currently Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. He will be the AFL-CIO president within a few weeks.

August 6, 2009

Every American has the inalienable right to participate in our democratic process. Our politics is passionate, heartfelt and often loud -- as was the founding of our nation. But that is not what the corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt town halls held by members of Congress.

Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change.

Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents -- not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction.

We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these *Brooks Brothers Riot* tactics. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone - on all sides of the issue - deserves to be heard.

A couple of points by way of explanation.

First, the "Brooks Brothers riots" that Rich mentioned refers to the November 19, 2000, demonstration organized by the GOP to shut down the hand recount of the contested Florida presidential election. Scores of young Republicans descended on South Florida to intimidate the election canvassers, and some overzealous demonstrators even pursued the chairman of the Dade County Democratic Party, who had to be escorted to his car by the Miami-Dade police. That particular incident prompted Jerrold Nadler, a New York congressman to say that he "dectected a whiff of fascism."

That astroturf action was well documented in the newspapers at the time, including the fact that many of the protestors were actually young Hill staffers. In fact, I later got to know one of them on a professional basis. She worked for John Kasich, who is now running for governor of Ohio.

To return to the point of this post, I would be the first to actually encourage those who have doubts, objections, and criticisms of health care reform to attend town hall meetings with their representatives. It is the right and duty of every citizen to participate in the democratic process. That's especially true for the loyal opposition. Of course, they should be there to dialogue with their representatives and fellow citizens.

What many of us are objecting to, however, is a well-funded, organized attempt to disrupt, shout down, and heckle elected officials and intimidate their fellow citizens with whom they might disagree. That's not democracy. That's one step away from a Beer Hall Putsch.