Sunday, November 20, 2005

A modest proposal for anti-war Democrats

Yes, I'm still sour on electoral politics at the moment. Will I get over it? I dunno. Given my addiction to the game, probably. I'm already back to thinking about 2008; in particular, the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. It seems to me that the anti-war movement went at things the wrong way in 2004 ... at least with respect to the Democrat Party's primary process. Anti-war Democrats rallied around a surging semi-sort-of-anti-war candidate (Dean) and a no-chance-in-hell-of-winning-anti-war Democrat (Kucinich) -- then when a turd turned up in the punch bowl, grimaced and drank anyway.

Yes, I'm aware that, for many, there was nothing else to do. To be an operative member of a political party requires a commitment to that party. You fight for your candidate, and you hope he wins. But, if he doesn't, you have two honorable choices: Buckle down and support your party's candidate, or leave your party. There's some wiggle room there, of course. You might not put the effort in for the other guy that you would have for your candidate. Your faction may not bust its gut supporting the party's ticket. But unless that faction is prepared to walk away and join another party or form a new party, it pastes on a smile and puts out a yard sign and makes the best of things.

There is, however, another way of doing things. Instead of rallying behind a particular candidate or candidates, a sufficiently active and dedicated faction can work in advance to ensure that all of the likely nominees are acceptable. What I propose is that anti-war Democrats start working in Iowa and New Hampshire now to ensure that only candidates with acceptable records -- of action where possible, in rhetoric where that's the only thing to go on -- on the Iraq war have any chance of receiving the party's nomination.

It's litmus test time, folks. It's time to set some standards, and then start working to ensure that the caucus attendees and primary voters in Iowa enforce those standards. By the time the Democratic primaries head south in early 2008, only solidly anti-Iraq-war candidates should be left standing.

Think about it: The 2008 hopefuls are already visiting Iowa, kissing hands, shaking babies and trying to get their names remembered. Why should single-issue advocates wait until mid-2007 to start affecting the process directly? It's time for a sustained and focused effort in places where that effort can be decisive. It's time to start creating a solid consensus in two small, but important, states, that pro-Iraq-war candidates need not apply for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Here's the good news: According to Ballot Access News, there were about half a million registered Democratic voters in Iowa, and about 175,000 in New Hampshire, as of January 2004. Even with dramatic growth and party shift, we're talking about reaching an audience of less than a million people. A million voters ... not 300 million Americans. And we have three years to affect the way they mark a ballot in two states, not three weeks to get them to take a day off work and march nationwide. That cuts the size of the job down quite a bit, doesn't it?

A movement which can turn hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out for street action across a nation can surely put together a PAC which can spend the next three years reaching a smaller, geographically more compact audience with a focused message on what to look for -- and what not to accept -- in its presidential candidates. The key is creating some simple and compelling litmus tests and then hammering them home at every opportunity, starting long in advance and with persistence. The goal is to ensure that the target voter audience will be willing and able to apply those tests.

Mailings to registered voters. Television and newspaper ads with pictures of all the candidates and Xes through the photos (with names) of the pro-war candidates. Volunteer shills to follow the pro-war candidates around to events and pop up at question time (or appropriate heckling times) with "how did you vote on the Iraq war resolution in 2002?" and "do you now or did you ever support the war on Iraq?" We can ensure that the Democratic Party nominates an anti-war candidate in 2008 ... by stopping pro-war candidates cold before they have a chance to gain momentum.

Hell, I'm even willing to get things started (and to pony up a few bucks to a PAC pursuing such a strategy):

Litmus Test #1 -- for presidential aspirants who were voting members of the US House of Representatives or the US Senate in October of 2002. How did these aspirants vote on HJ Res 114 (the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq)? A no vote puts the potential nominee over the first hurdle. A yes vote disqualifies the candidate from further consideration.

Let's see how the Democratic hopefuls (thanks to Politics1 for keeping score) fare:

Evan Bayh -- Voted for the war in the US Senate
Joe Biden -- Voted for the war in the US Senate
Hillary Rodham Clinton -- Voted for the war in the US Senate
John Edwards -- Voted for the war in the US Senate
Russ Feingold -- Voted against the war in the US Senate
John Kerry -- Voted for the war in the US Senate
Dennis Kucinich -- Voted against the war in the US House
Ben Nelson -- Voted for the war in the US Senate

Among US Senators and Representatives, our first litmus test narrows the field from 8 to 2. Obviously we need other litmus tests for potential candidates who weren't serving in federal legislative office at that time, but you get the point: We need to create an environment in which the pro-war candidates are told, in a binding manner, "you are unacceptable -- we will be choosing our nominee from among those candidates who did not and do not support the war."

Note that this approach does not require support for any particular candidate. It simply requires opposition to any candidate who doesn't meet the standards. And note that this is a single-issue effort. Let others sort out the candidates' views on health care, gun rights, Social Security ... our job is to make sure that the candidates pushing varying views on those issues after Iowa and New Hampshire are all acceptable to the anti-war movement as an anti-war movement (and as individuals, we end up getting to pick from an assortment of views with that one issue laid to rest already). Instead of putting our money on one or two eggs, it's time to start determining what's in the basket to begin with.

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