Greetings from the Democratic National Committee (DNC)'s winter meeting in Washington DC, a 2006 victory lap for the Democratic U.S. House and Senate, governorships and state legislatures as well as the first showcase of 2008 Presidential candidates. From the Veterans and Military Families Council Meeting to the general sessions to the candidate hospitality suites, Democrats are celebrating successes, addressing challenges, and committing to building a more secure and just America. I will be updating this post over the next 2 days - to catch the meeting live see C-Span (www.cspan.org) or click on the DNC website (www.democrats.org) for a full report.
Meanwhile, some highlights:
I serve on the Resolutions Committee, where we considered considered a number of proposals submitted by the grassroots and netroots Democrats, We voted to condemn the Bush-Cheney escalation in Iraq and support our troops, promote action in Darfur, promote energy independence, habeas corpus, clean elections and DC voting rights; commend both the new House Madam Speaker and the 50-state strategy project; commemorate Black History Month and honor our fallen Democrats Susan Blad Selvin, Maria Leavey, Father Roert Drinan, Molly Ivins, and Governor Ann Richards.
Stopped by the Rules Committee, where the buzz was all about delegate selection rules for the 2008 convention and the push for early primaries (such as in California, provided we find a way to pay for the $90 million tab) which could lead to a super tuesday on February 5, 2008.
Friday began with the Veterans and Military Families Council Meeting, where we met to assess our impact on the 2006 elections. Conceived days after the November 2004 election through the help of spiritual godfather Max Cleland (who volunteered considerable support to our initiative), the Council consists of veterans and military family members from across America who were focused on highlighting national security issues in elections and legislatures. Successes included the election of Fighting Dems Senator Jim Webb and Representatives Chris Carney, Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak, Tim Walz as well as returning Members of Congress who are veterans and veterans advocates; passage of a new Ohio law (now introduced in Montana and other states) to protect military funerals from harassment by hate groups; increased attention on veterans outreach and policy by Democrats running for office at all levels of government; and, the refusal to be swiftboated on national security issues. Among our new members were two of the vets who stood with Patrick Murphy in Paennsylvania when he called his swiftboating opponent a coward for attacking Murphy's service in Iraq. Our special guest speaker Nita Martin of Philadelphia, a former Republican who hoisted up a tiny Young Democrats of America tee shirt for her infant grandbaby whose dad missed his son's birth due to service in Iraq, and said we have to do more for the troops who are deployed without an end date and staged without proper equipment. Nita said it feels like Groundhog Day (actually, it literally is Feb 2) because we keep hearing the same hollow assurances that armor and reinforcements are on the way - her son said his unit expects to receive their full equipment in a couple of months - which is when the unit was supposed to come home. Understandably concerned and frustrated, she said many military families will vote for the candidate with a cogent plan to bring the troops home from Iraq.
With the sacrifices of our troops heavily on our minds, we joined the DNC for the general session. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reveled in the Congressional victory, laying out the Democrats agenda: a new direction at home with ethics reform, 9/11 recommendations, a fairer economy, affordable education, accessible health care, energy independence, and a new direction in Iraq.
With that, the 2008 Presidential election officially began. Below are key ideas that stood out from the speeches.
The former DNC General Chair, Senator Chris Dodd (CT) thanked all the volunteers who secured Democratic victories and said if we listen to the American public, and pay attention to the dreams and aspirations to their families, the 44th President will be a Democrat. Asking for a "chance to be heard; to make my case for the candidacy for President," Dodd said the American people are tired and fed up of the Bush-Cheney Administration who in State of the Union couldn't bring itself to mention the words Katrina or New Orleans and who are trying to govern by scaring Americans: "scare me once, shame on you; scare me twice shame on me." Opposing the "wire-tapping, Abu-graiding, Exxon-loving, you're-doing-a-heck-of-a-job-brownie crowd," Dodd vowed "we're not going to take fear as an answer any more in America."
Invoking his father's work as a prosecutor at Nuremberg, Dodd said the soft power of our moral authority contributed to winning the cold war and will contribute to willing the war on terror. Dodd pledged to overturn the horrible torture bill President signed last fall and "bring our troops out of Iraq. ...Frankly I am disappointed that we cannot do more than a nonbinding resolution. Last week I proposed a real bill with real teeth. Enough is enough." In the day's funniest line Dodd referenced his young family: "As father of a 5 year old and a 2 year old I am the only [Presidential] candidate who gets mail from AARP and diaper services. " Dodd closed with a call to service: "to challenge the American people to be a part of something larger than themselves. It's not America that has changed - it's the leadership that has changed. We need to get back to leadership in synch with the American people."
Illinois Senator Barack Obama made a plea for a positive campaign, insisting that the "reality tv show" mentality fed by the 24-hour news cycle is "not why we are here." Describing America as being in a "sobering place" Obama said this is "not a contest; it is a serious moment for America. The American people understand that. Every candidate will have something serious and valuable to offer. Campaigns should not be about making each other look bad but about how we can offer something good for this precious country of ours. Our rivals won't be each other or the other party but cynicism."
Instead Obama proposed a "discussion" of the issues and set forth goals: health care for all Americans by the end of the first term of the next President, energy independence and a national security policy. Touting his early opposition to the Iraq war -- "a tragic mistake" -- he said "whether you were for or against the war in the beginning, we each have the obligation to set forth in clear unambiguous terms how we are going to get out of Iraq." Concluding with a call to "turn the page" he noted that "for every attack ad out there, there are real patriots fighting and dying in Iraq, [so] we must free ourselves from the constraints of politics and offer hope. We have offered plans; we need now to offer hope to the American people."
Former Supreme Allied Commander General Wes Clark began: "I am a soldier. I am fighting for America. " He asked delegates to "reflect quietly on the sacrifices that are being made by our troops and the families of the men and women in uniform." Citing his work in 26 states for 80 candidates, Clark praised the Democratic victories. He then talked about reading the casualty reports in the papers by units, names, and pictures because "for me it's personal." Blasting Bush, Clark said you cannot "mistake stubbornness for strength and slogans for strategy." He said he opposed the war from the start and was tired of politicians dragging their feet instead of ending it. Saying "I know what it is to plan and prepare for war" he said "others now call for poll-tested positions" but we need to be bolder. "Being right isn't enough - we must also be strong. It makes me angry. But as the old saying goes 'Don't get mad get even.' By 'get even' I mean putting equality, justice, fairness and balance back into American life" - equality isn't women making less than men; justice isn't generals punished for torture but politicians and lawyers not being held accountable; balance isn't 46 million of our people lacking health insurance and 36 million people living in poverty; fairness isn't CEO's - not workers - making millions of dollars from increased productivity nor tax cuts in a time of war for the people who least need them while sons and daughters of the working poor and middle class put on uniforms to fight for our country
It is great, Clark said, that we have a new Congress to work on these priorities but we need a new President to "re-energize the American spirit." Clark concluded: "Years from now the Iraq War will be over and there will be a memorial to the fallen. But we must begin now building the only memorial that can match their sacrifice - a stronger, safer and more just America."
"Somewhere in America" began former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, "an 8-year-old girl is hungry, a woman is working low wages and long hours at a hotel, a kid has an acceptance letter to a college he cannot afford, a woman washing dishes answers a knock on her door from a chaplain delivering horrible news from Iraq, and a father will come home from working a double shift, feel the forehead of a feverish child, take her to emergency room and plead for health care; and somewhere in the world in a refugee camp, a 5-year-old boy is caring for his 2-year-old sister after their parents were killed. It doesn't have to be that way. Everywhere in America people need us. Will you stand up? If we don't stand up who will?"
Referencing Martin Luther King's 1967 Riverside Church speech opposing escalation in Vietnam with the words "silence is betrayal," Edwards said, "I believe it is a betrayal for us not to speak out against the escalation; for the President to send more men and women t Iraq; for us through our silence to allow him to do so; we have the responsibility the power, the ability to do so." Of Bush, he said, "Mr. President, you're not the decider - the American people are the deciders" and "He is counting on a Democratic party that will not press what we know is right. Silence is betrayal. He is counting us on us to be weak, political and careful. ... Being honest and changing course in Iraq is the first step toward restoring America's reputation in the world. America is not the Superdome after Katrina; Abu Graib; Guantanemo; government behind closed doors." Edwards concluded "it is time to be patriotic about something other than war: tomorrow begins today; take action today. Because somewhere in America, everywhere in America people are counting on us to stand up for them. We don't have to redefine the Democratic Party, we have to reclaim the Democratic Party."
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich posited himself as the only candidate who "not only voted against the war; I voted against funding the war and have a plan to bring the troops home." He continued, "The war would not have been waged if I were President." Urging delegates to bring our troops safely home, he said "a Democratic President must deny him money to keep the war going beyond his term and attack Iran - if we give him money to fight the war then we will have bought the war."
Turning to another area of conflict, Kucinich said he opposed war this summer between Israel and Lebanon. He and his wife traveled to South Lebanon after the war, and saw "countless cluster bombs were strewn about .. the smell of death everywhere .. signs that read 'This is your Democracy America.'" He then spoke of visiting the graves of children who were killed in the bombings and being comforted himself by the mourners. Kucinich concluded by asking the delegates to work for an agenda of peace and opportunity, urging "Crown thy good, America."
New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton focused first on the Iraq war. Speaking of the upcoming resolution she said: "if we can start with a bipartisan vote it will be the first time that people have said NO to President Bush. I have proposed capping the troop levels. We need to threaten the Iraqi government - [that] we are going to take money from their troops not our troops." Addressing the war vote she said, "If I had been President in 2002 I would not have started this war" and pledged "If we do not stop this war before January 2009, then as President. I will."
Turning to universal health care, energy independence and global warming, Clinton said "I am not running for President to put bandaids on our problems. We are the most creative; most innovative; most effective nation in the world. We need smart strong leadership that can provide the solutions." Touting "my lifetime of experience and qualifications [to] make us believe in ourselves" she said she has worked "in Arkansas for children and poor people and rural health care; and in New York for aid to the smallest villages, to help farmers, and to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 in the greatest city in the world." Concluding, "I know a thing or two about winning campaigns" Clinton said "we have got to stand up and fight back. We have to stop the genocide in Sudan ... fight for the right end to the war in Iraq ... we can have change and unity; if we are willing to stand up and fight there is no stopping us."
THAT'S ALL FOR NOW - OFF TO THE CANDIDATES EVENTS AND MEETINGS. WILL TUNE BACK IN LATER.
MEANWHILE FEEL WELCOME TO COMMENT AWAY.