When Dems Court `The Left/Peace Movement’…
(related posts -
- Kinsey’s The Man – July 16, 2010
- Bennet and Romanoff – Again or is it `Still’? – December 16, 2009
- Bennet-Romanoff: Wesleyan vs. Yale: Colorado’s Non-Race of the Decade – October 13, 2009
(slightly updated – added a few paragraphs August 2, 2010 – rjp)
note: this piece is today (September 24, 2012) more than two years old. it speaks of the U.S. Senatorial Democratic Primary between Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff, which Bennet won. To my never ending wonder, the piece has received 10,000 hits (there is way for me to track this) . The beat goes on. As a result, I have had to do something I really find displeasure-able - rereading what it is that I wrote to try to understand its popularity. Concerning the Bennet-Romanoff contest, I do believe the piece has survived `the test of time’, even if it is unkind to both. If anything Bennet is even worse that I suspected. My friends who believed they had a direct pipeline to Bennet were cut off at the knees, and this already before, not after the election. They seem bitter, but I cannot help thinking that they should have known better. The deeper issue explored here – the relations between the Democratic Party and `the Left’ – however that is defined – I believe remains as valid today as it was two years past and my approach, sketched out towards the end, remains unchanged. cheers. Rob P.
So little in return…
The Left/Peace Movement – I use the terms interchangeably although
they are not always so – is so used to being out of power that when they do have the opportunity to influence events, peace activists are often at a loss. That is how things are shaping up here in Colorado around the Democratic Party race for the US Senate nomination, pitting Michael Bennet, the current US Senator and Andrew Romanoff, his challenger. As the Bennet/Romanoff competition for Colorado’s Democratic nomination for the US Senate tightens, both candidates are scrambling for `progressive support’ from peace movement and left types. But how little both of them are offering in return for an endorsement! And frankly, how few have been the demands that the peace movement itself has made on either of them!
Bennet, whom admittedly had no experience in foreign affairs, was chosen by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to fill the seat of Ken Salazar, whom Barack Obama appointed as Secretary of the Interior, and who, by supporting and expanding the deregulation of offshore drilling, bears some responsibility for the BP Gulf oil spill. Bennet has been able to get a good deal of outside (outside Colorado that is) financial and political support, including the endorsement of President Barack Obama.
Miffed that he was passed over both for this Senate seat and other higher posts for which he thought himself deserving, Andrew Romanoff launched a primary challenge. I don’t think much of him (as I have written below). Like Bennet, minus a few questionably sponsored trips to the Middle East and a perusal of the Democratic Leadership Conference’s handbook on Cold War liberalism foreign policy, Romanoff lacks any serious knowledge or experience in foreign policy. A close look at his record in the Colorado State legislature suggests he is not as liberal as his supporters claim.
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Colorado Grassroots Democrats…
Still, through an energetic organizing effort in which he mobilized his many supporters, Andrew Romanoff has won `the hearts and mind’ of a good portion of the base of the Colorado Democratic Party on the Front Range (east of the Rockies from Pueblo to Ft. Collins and including the Denver area where most of Colorado’s population resides). Playing successfully on grass roots anger at `outsiders’, rather than the party base determining the party candidate, Romanoff is mounting a serious challenge. He also has made much of his decision not to take `PAC’ contributions in this election, although in `his former life’ as a state legislator, he excelled at exactly that. The signs in my neighborhood suggest that Romanoff has the edge, but that can be deceptive.
The heart of the matter is this: despite minor differences, the positions/political visions of both candidates are about the same. There is hardly any programmatic difference between them on key issues. And since they can hardly challenge each other on issues upon which they agree, the contest between them has become, like so many others both in Colorado and elsewhere in the USA, intensely personal. Romanoff paints Bennet as the `big money candidate’ which he certainly is. Bennet’s outside support also rankles Colorado Dems, who, at their base are a pretty independent lot resenting anyone but themselves choosing their candidate, a not so oblique reference to Obama’s open support for Bennet; Bennet’s camp attacks Romanoff as factional and a party splitter; they also point to the fact that Romanoff voted on a bill asking the federal government to partially privatize Social Security (which he did) – pointing to the fact that Romanoff has taken large contributions in the past from big banks and financial institutions.
They both have a point.
The Limits of Glasnost…
Andy’s negative attacks have finally drawn Mickey out into the open – which is where Andy wants him to be, Andy’s only shot at winning the nomination. According a July 27, 2010 Wall Street Journal report, Andy was way behind, trailing Michey by a margin of 53%-37%, this according to a Denver Post/9News poll. In terms of fundraising, at so vital to today’s elections where money opts votes, Bennet was way ahead, having raised a whopping $2,578, 654 to Andy’s piddling $464,340. To bolster the finances, Andy sold his house to a Colorado developer for $360,000 of which $325,00 he donated to his own campaign.
You would think that given these stats, Mickey could just sit back and let Andy whine away without responding. But the Wall Street Journal piece appears to be based on old data. According to Denver Post polls (August 3, 2010) just in the past week Andy has pulled even with Mickey – a rather dramatic last minute surge on Andy’s part based on the effectiveness of his attack ads. This has forced Mickey to jump into the boxing arena, gloves off. After restraining himself and acting `above the fry’ for some time, Mickey finally caved, took off his boxing gloves and started to respond – I presume to declining polls.
In any event, the two boys are really going after one another in public now, and as a result, both are losing credibility from their constituencies. The recent Post piece, cited above, also gives very different figures for the amounts the two have raised – with Bennet having collected a war chest of more than $7 million to Romanoff’s $1.7 million. These figures make the current Democratic primary race for the US Senate the most expensive in Colorado’s history – more than double the amount spent in the 2004 race that pitted Ken Salazar against Mike Miles
Still, there is a limit to their mutual attacks, a line that neither one has yet to cross: foreign policy. Neither Mickey or Andy are talking about how stupid/awful/insane it would be for the United State and/or Israel to attack Iran. Neither has said much about the Israeli attack on the Turkish aid ship to Gaza which killed nine. Neither has spoken out about the supplemental appropriation to the US military that recently passed to continue/deepen the war in Afghanistan and neither has spoken about the recent release of 92000 secret documents on how bad the war in Afghanistan is going and how US Special Forces specialize in killing civilians. Nor as either commented on the US policy – p.1 in the New York Times (August 1, 2010) of targeted assassination of Taliban/al Qaeda leaders – patently against international law which this administration has trampled upon no less than the last one.
And don’t expect them to change their tune unless there is significant constituent pressure to do so – which is unlikely.
Still there is a limit to their mutual attacks, a line that neither one has yet to cross: foreign policy. Neither Mickey or Andy are talking about how stupid/awful/insane it would be for the United State and/or Israel to attack Iran.
Neither has said much about the Israeli attack on the Turkish aid ship to Gaza which killed nine. Neither has spoken out about the supplemental appropriation to the US military that recently passed to continue/deepen the war in Afghanistan and neither has spoken about the recent release of 92000 secret documents on how bad the war in Afghanistan is going and how US Special Forces specialize in killing civilians. Nor as either commented on the US policy – p.1 in the New York Times (August 1, 2010) of targeted assassination of Taliban/al Qaeda leaders – patently against international law which this adminsitration has trampled upon no less than the last one.
And don’t expect them to change their tune unless there is significant pressure from their constituencies to do so (which is unlikely)
So at this moment it appears to be a close contest and as a result both candidates are scrambling for support, giving the left/peace movement elements in Colorado an opportunity to influence the candidates and push the discussion to the left.
I see nothing wrong with the peace movement engaging Bennet or Romanoff – or any other candidate – or even coming out supporting them, as long as they get something in return. But it appears that both candidates are following a similar path – courting the peace movement while offering it nothing on issues – be it the Af/Pak war, Iraq, or Israel/Palestine. And if the peace movement cannot get some kind of substantial commitment – as I doubt it will – then why support either?
Generally speaking, liberal Democratic candidates for high public office do their best to stay as far away from left issues and organizations as much as possible, afraid to be `tainted’ by actually supporting the policies that the base of the Democratic Party advocates. Examples abound.
To name a few:
- if they could help it, Democratic Party candidates hope to avoid the immigration issue and would rather die than do so. And if they do address it, as Andrew Romanoff did several years ago when he helped usher in what was in 2006 the most repressive anti-immigration legislation in the country up until that point, the last thing he wants to do is talk about it now.
On Foreign Policy: not much there…
- on foreign policy issues, the liberals are finding it increasingly difficult to avoid speaking about the `elephant in the living room’ – the ever bloated US military budget, used to establish a global network of military bases `platforms’ for anti-insurgency efforts the world round. But to the degree that they can, liberal Dems like Romanoff and Bennet hide behind `the Al Qaeda threat’ -as Romanoff did recently when addressing some Boulder peace groups. I hear no voices in the Democratic Party in this election calling for the cutting of the military budget and using the moneys to deal with our growing infra structural crisis in education, healthcare and public services.
That the Al Qaeda threat is overstated, exaggerated and simply an excuse for imperialist war, be it Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere, or a pretext for ridiculous – no obscene – and never ending funding of weapons development programs – is obvious to all but the mainstream political class. In the past inflating the `Soviet threat’ was key to rationalizing US military aggression (that is the proper word I believe) abroad.. In the post Cold War era it has been replaced by the `war on terrorism’.
- Although it is politically unpopular, in the period ahead there is virtually no way this country (or others) can
deal with the economic woes that we face without tax increases. It will require raising taxes, preferably in a progressive manner that takes back some of the hundreds of billions that the super-rich have stolen from the rest of us in a quarter of a century of tax cuts. Yet where is the political courage to state the obvious: there can be no economic recovery without tax increases? Haven’t heard that from either Bennet or Romanoff
- One could go on: the need to tax oil and gas companies that are squeezing the life out of Colorado and neighboring states; the need for universal single payer health insurance that benefits the American people, not the insurance companies; the need for radical action to deal with the environmental crisis; the need to actively support a national policy to protect labor organizing rights.
Put another way, liberal Democrats rarely deal with the main issues affecting the country – or if they do – with vague promises as Obama did to get elected president. In this sense, both Bennet and Romanoff are pretty representative standard fare nationally, doing nothing out of the ordinary, mostly avoiding key issues, or at best, making weak commitments on which they later will probably renege once elected.
Unfortunately, the fact that both of them are intelligent or have appealing personalities does not seem to influence their policies one iota. We have a whole series of intelligent chameleon-liberals and right wingers in this state. Philip Anschutz, Larry Mizel, Dick Lamm, Norm Brownstein, Ken Kramer, even Bill Owens – perhaps the worst governor this state has had in decades – are all `intelligent’ So what?
Why then the courting of Boulder peace activists, meeting with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and other elements that liberal Democrats regularly savage?
Not complicated at all.
The political base of the Democratic Party in Boulder, while a mixed bag, is generally far to the left on most issues than elsewhere in the state, enough so to have subsidized (largely through local contribution) an on-going genuine peace center (Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center) for several decades and one of the most consistently interesting and independent radio stations in the state if not in the nation – KGNU. Admittedly both are in financial difficulty; that does not take away from their contribution or long range influence.
The Greens – not the best organized political party in the state but…
And then there are the Greens – true, not the best organized political party in the state, but one that has, in the face of considerable resistance, shown itself again and again to be the party of peace, civil rights and the environment that the Democratic Party claims to be and isn’t.
A number of times in the past, in close races – Democrats have been forced to `condescend’ to speak to `the left’. Democratic candidates were in trouble. It is at such moments that the veil comes off their claims that the left is irrelevant:
• Running for the US Senate (I forget the year, 2004 I believe) Tom Strickland, who has of late gone on to lobby for private health insurance companies against the public option, turned to a Green Party candidate and asked for support. Offering the Greens nothing in return, his `offer’ was rebuffed. He lost. On foreign policy there was literally no difference between Strickland and his opponent; both supported the military build up and the war in Iraq. Strickland deserved to lose.
• More recently, Joan Fitzgerald found herself outmaneuvered by multimillionaire Jared Polis. Yes, Polis spread a lot of his money around, too much for me to ever really trust him, but he also carefully cultivated
the Boulder Peace Community, made commitments that he has actually stuck to (more or less) to oppose the US war in Iraq, and `occasionally’ listen to voices other than those that are `over the top’ pro-Israeli. Fitz Gerald, who in many other ways was a sincere liberal (on labor, civil rights, women’s issues) appreciated too late the importance of the `peace vote’. In the months before the Democratic primary, in an effort of damage control she and her staff met regularly with key Boulder peace activists. It was too little, too late.
She had signed on to what I can only describe as a truly stupid AIPAC inspired resolution supporting Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. She had also co-authored a piece with Ken Gordon calling for the state legislation to support tightening sanctions against Iran, doing what so many other politicians in Colorado and elsewhere have done: sucking up to AIPAC and the neo-conservatives. Rather than enhancing her candidacy, she seems to have lost support over this which she was never able to recoup. It is impossible to tell just how much her bowing to AIPAC affected her loss.
The fact is that in close elections, Democratic Party candidates come begging to the peace activists they usually scorn. That seems to be what is happening now with the Bennet and Romanoff race. So Bennet has promised a few long time older peace activists with whom I am familiar `immediate access on all issues’ if they need to speak to him, giving the false impression that a telephone call will translate into influence. (It turned out that `access’ was rather temporary and that now Bennett sits comfortably in office, the friends cannot get him to respond to phone calls, letters etc….what a surprise!). When he thought it useful he even carted out his `Jewish’ credentials . (That struck me as particularly opportunistic).
Romanoff pushing the `Al Qaeda Threat’…
Romanoff goes to Boulder and meets with Veterans For Peace, and representatives of other peace groups. Really touching, Andrew. But he’s careful to hide behind the `Al Qaeda threat’ and the war on terrorism – rather than challenge its fundamental assumptions, the pretext for the largest military build up in modern history – and with it more war, more death and destruction, a good deal of which will be labeled `made in the USA.’ In response to the flood of questions on Israel-Palestine he comes
back with shallow counter, `Doesn’t Israel have a right to defend itself?’. Is that all you can say about Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza, not so much a war as a turkey shoot, or the brazen killing of 9 Turkish peace activists on a ship bringing humanitarian aide to Gaza?
Frankly, beneath a winning smile and engaging personality, from the point of view of what are the key issues of this country’s peace movement, Romanoff’s positions on peace – on the military budget, on war in the Middle East or elsewhere – stink.
Bennet’s – a bit more difficult to unearth – do not appear to be much better. For those of you who do not choose the obvious positive alternative, supporting Green Party Bob Kinsey’s run for the Senate, I would hope that at least in exchange for supporting either Bennet or Romanoff you extract a substantial concession from them in return.
I’ll take Kinsey…
As for me – I’m voting for Bob Kinsey, Green Party candidate who has the substance and the politics that both Romanoff and Bennet lack.