Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd sat down with a small group of progressive bloggers on Saturday at the Yearly Kos conference and, in a 45-minute conversation, discussed Iraq, impeachment, the recent Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) vote and Bill O'Reilly's rabid attacks on liberal writers and activists.
In a conference-center meeting room, we met a friendly and relaxed Dodd who, after a brief welcome, took the entire time to answer questions that included those about his recent trashing of O'Reilly for the Fox News blowhard's ongoing hate-fest against Yearly Kos attendees.
"Had it been a one-night deal where he went after the Daily Kos, I probably would have said, alright I'm going to let it go," said the Connecticut Senator. "But it was kind of a repetition going on where all of a sudden I said they've decided this has value with them and it's resonating with people and they're getting away with describing something that's just totally fallacious.
"And you've got to answer these guys at times and it's uncomfortable and it's obvious that there's risk involved because I'm sure he'll be deciding he wants to say what he wants to say over the next coming weeks on all of this. But I'm a great believer that enabling occurs with silence... and so I thought it was important for one of us to get up and make a case and push back."
While not being willing to boycott appearing on Fox entirely -- saying, "I don't think you can leave the field to them" -- Dodd called the growing influence of progressive blogs and their readers a threat to propaganda outfits like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
"There's a lot of money involved and all of a sudden a growing percentage of people get their information from a very different set of sources," said Dodd. "One of my theories about O'Reilly... Something tells me, you scare the hell out of these guys. And I've got a feelings that a lot of what motivated that thing didn't have anything to do with Daily Kos or postings.
"You're a threat to institutions like Fox and News Corp and others."
And Dodd, who has shown strong leadership in the Senate on ending the Iraq occupation and overturning the Military Commissions Act in its entirety, took his colleagues to task for voting on Friday to give George W. Bush extended powers for domestic spying. Dodd said that each Senator had ample time to read the legislation and that the new FISA law didn't appear with the suddenness with which the Patriot Act originally came to lawmakers.
"This is not a Patriot Act situation. People had a very good idea of what was involved," he said. "Even though the vote occurred last evening, there was all day yesterday, there were caucuses, there was an ongoing battle -- the reason the vote took as long as it did was that they were settling on whatever the language was going to be in the various proposals -- so there was full awareness. And this isn't a 500-page bill -- it's a relatively short two or three pages so you could read it in 30 seconds."
"This is not a question of ignorance or 'we didn't know, it was late at night, rushing along here...' That argument should not be accepted as a legitimate argument at all. This is again, lacking, in my view, a sense of conviction about this stuff."
Dodd refused to be critical of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on the outcome of the FISA vote or the overall priorities so far in the 110th Congress, except to say that he believes Iraq should continue to be front and center on the Senate agenda.
I asked Senator Dodd about the outrageous obstructionism being practiced by Senate Republicans and whether he believes, if nothing else is going to get done anyway, the Senate should have continued debating the recent Defense Authorization bill (and the withdrawal provisions) and should go forward by making the Senate business about Iraq every single day after the August recess.
"I don't disagree with that," Dodd said. "I think we walked off the Defense Department Authorization bill too quickly. I think we should have stayed right with that. Not that these other issues aren't important... The ethics stuff is important and the SCHIP for the kids is important -- I don't want to minimize the importance of those things, but nothing is more important than the Iraq war. You've got to stick with it."
When Pachacutec of Firedoglake emphasized the need for Senate Democrats to get stronger spines and "even if you lose, pick a fight," Dodd immediately agreed.
"I think it's much more valuable to get 20 votes for something that means something than when you try to get 51 votes," Dodd said.
The biggest philosophical divergence in the room came predictably enough on the subject of impeachment. I asked Dodd whether or not the conduct of the Bush administration had become such a threat to our Democracy that there were simply no practical or political arguments left for not impeaching Bush and Cheney.
Dodd said that, while as repulsed as everyone by Team Bush, he has very real concerns that going for impeachment would cost Democrats the presidency and both Houses of Congress in 2008.
"Politically speaking, there's nothing more important to me than winning the election of '08. I don't say that from a personal standpoint, I want a Democrat, I want someone to bring some progressive values and ideals to this office, to be the nominee and to win," he said. "And having been the general chairman of this party in the reelection of Bill Clinton -- I'm the only chairman of the party that's actually reelected a Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt and I was looking at a guy who was 35 percent in the polls in January of 1995 -- so I have some sense of what it takes to win a national election. And my gut instinct tells me that if we go down this road of an indictment and a trial, that we will lose the national election in '08. We'll lose maybe the House and possibly the Senate in the process."
I pressed a bit more, asking Senator Dodd if that's a false choice given that Republicans are already blocking all movement, while depicting Democrats as leaders of a do-nothing Congress and that, if the GOP is successful at that positioning, the public will also be left asking why Congress didn't move to impeach Bush and Cheney or more forcefully work to end the war.
"I think people have the same reaction that they have to Congress generally: 'listen, it's about me, it's not about you and what are you doing for me?' That's the old question people ask all the time when they go to vote. 'Are you listening to me? Are you paying attention to me?' That's the ultimate question that any voter asks of any person running for office.
"It's never about the candidate in their mind -- it's about them. They want to know if you're paying attention to them, if you're listening to them. 'Do you know what I'm going through? Do you know what I worry about? And here you are again worried about yourselves. My kid's in a crappy school, I've got no health care, some son of a bitch just closed the shop and moved to South America with my plant and you're farting around with this thing? What the hell's the matter with you?' And that's a very common reaction from people and to try to make the subtleties of these other arguments becomes very hard to get resonance with them.
"And this sounds like -- other than to a particular audience that cares deeply about it -- the general audience that's out there struggling every day and wondering if government cares at all about what's happening in their lives, this appears to not be focused on them... And that's the worry I have with it and why I think this is dangerous."
While it was clear that most in the room disagreed with him on that subject, Dodd also said that the subject of impeachment becomes very different when talking about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"I would agree if you're taking about Gonzales I think that it's much more plausible because I think there it would be obviously a huge story and it would be a dominating story but I think there would be the notion that this is not the legislative branch seeking a coup of the executive branch, but rather dealing specifically with a Constitutional officer. So I don't disagree with that analysis."
Finally, Dodd discussed the greater influence of progressive blogs on Capitol Hill and his disdain for the varying degrees of status given to different presidential candidates by the Corporate Media. When asked about the media's tendency to assign presidential candidates to first-tier or second-tier status based on polling and fundraising, Dodd said that some status should come from decades of fighting for the right causes.
"I may not be as well known, but damn it after 26 years of fighting a lot of these freakin' battles, when people weren't even around this stuff, I think I at least deserve to be taken seriously about this," he said. "And I don't deserve to be relegated to some status because I don't have numbers that are breaking through the ceiling financially."
And Dodd, who most Americans don't know authored the popular Family and Medical Leave Act and fought for years for its passage, said that it's obvious to him that blogs have gained major traction in the halls of Congress.
"I think most offices today are certainly very much aware and have hired people in their offices to either have blogs or to engage or pay attention to what is being said so there's clearly a lot more of that and it's growing all the time," said Dodd, while also acknowledging the netroots' fundraising prowess as was illustrated last quarter with blog money coming into Tom Allen's challenge of Republican Senator Susan Collins in Maine.
Quipped Dodd: "That will get their attention -- very quickly, I think."
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.