Using Primaries To Reject Lies & Support True Progressives

11/21/2005 05:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In recent weeks, many Democrats seem to be finding their voice when it comes to the Iraq War. Republicans have reacted by slandering people like Vietnam war hero Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) as a "coward" after he courageously said its time for a serious exit strategy and withdrawal. In resorting to this kind of McCarthyism, Republicans are digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole that they will never be able to get out of.

Sadly, however, there are still some Democrats who, in their own self-absorbed states, seem willing to help the GOP's attacks in different ways. One is Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who chimed in after the GOP attacks on Murtha by publicly reiterating that Democrats have no position on Iraq, and won't have one until he deems it politically opportune - a move that unnecessarily reinforces the idea that some Democrats are still governed more by tactics than conviction, even on issues of war and peace.

Now, after finishing reading In These Times new cover story, I see that another Democrat is making a new kind of destructive, pathetic, and deliberately dishonest claim. As the magazine reports, Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Paul Hackett (D) is attacking his Democratic primary opponent Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) for supposedly supporting the 2003 decision to invade Iraq. How could that be, you ask? Didn't Brown vote against the war, aggressively organize opposition to the war after the invasion, challenge Secretary of State Colin Powell to provide answers about the President's lack of national security credentials, and support legislation demanding an exit strategy? Yes, he did. But according to Hackett, Brown supported the war. Here is his positively outrageous and slanderous claim:

"Hackett says that because Brown voted for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which expressed 'the sense of Congress' that the United States should 'support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq' and 'promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime,' Brown voted for the war...[Hackett said] 'Sherrod Brown voted for regime change; he voted for military intervention in Iraq.'"

The author of the article, Christopher Hayes, goes on to point out just how slanderous a statement Hackett is making. He notes that the Iraq Liberation Act "explicitly contradicts that logic" because the bill specifically said "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces” with the exception of training and weapons for Iraqi opposition groups. In other words, the bill specifically went out of its way to make clear it was not endorsing U.S. military action against Iraq or a U.S. invasion of Iraq. That's why anti-war heroes like Reps. Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich voted for the legislation in the House, and why it passed with unanimous consent in the Senate, meaning people like Senators Ted Kennedy and Paul Wellstone supported it.

Yet, incredibly, Hackett's comments mean he is actually claiming that anti-war heroes like Sanders, Kucinich, Kennedy and Wellstone supported President Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. No matter whether you support Hackett or Brown in the primary, there is no debate that Hackett's comment is a disgusting lie that every progressive should be outraged by. How dare anyone make such a slanderous claim. How dare someone insult the intelligence of progressives by trying to pawn off such a ridiculous, patently dishonest lie for his own political purposes.

What is so troubling about Hackett's statement is the deliberate, premeditated nature of the dishonesty perpetrated against a progressive movement he claims to champion. This is not a misstatement. It is not an accident. The guy actually went out and looked for a way to attack his opponent on the Iraq War, despite his opponent's stellar record opposing the war from the beginning. And when he came up with nothing, he made a conscious decision to deliberately lie. This lie was not only patently dishonest, but destructive to his party as a whole, in that it echoed the same B.S. right-wing talking points about all Democrats always supporting invading Iraq because they said in the late 1990s they didn't like Saddam Hussein (even the very logic of this lie is ridiculous - you can clearly support regime change without supporting a military invasion - just ask any Member of Congress who wants to see various dictators like Kim Jong Il deposed through economic/diplomatic/political sanctions, but clearly aren't ready to support an invasion of countries like North Korea). And yet Hackett is peddling this lie all while trumpeting himself as a "straight-talking, straight-shooting" candidate.

But, then, that seems to be more and more the norm with Hackett - a guy who swaggers around like a straight shooter, but can't give a straight answer even on the biggest issues. Remember, Hackett has continued to change his position on the Iraq War every time it suited him politically. When he was running in a conservative congressional district, he was against withdrawal, using President Bush's language in likening withdrawal to a "cut and run" strategy. Then, when he announced he would run in a Democratic primary for Senate, he claimed he was for a timetable for withdrawal, even sending out an email through Democracy for America urging folks to sign a petition demanding a timetable. Now, though, as In These Times notes, he is calling a timetable "absolutely ludicrous." In short, the guy says different things to different people about his positions, raising very serious questions about how he would vote and what he would be like in elected office. Regardless of what he says to any given audience at any given moment, does this guy have any clear positions on any issues at all that we as progressives can rely on?

Remember - the point of noting this kind of disgusting lie is not to go after any one candidate in any one given race (there are things I actually happen to admire about Hackett). The point is much bigger - namely, to remind progressives that we should always be on the lookout for candidates who trumpet themselves as progressive champions, but who are quietly trying to have it both ways when it comes to all sorts of important issues. We've been duped before by candidates who promise to be the next great progressive leaders, only to watch them become serial capitulators and not stand up for the progressive agenda when it might be politically risky.

Ohio is just one of a number of Democratic primaries where we have an obligation to demand the candidates tell us where they actually stand on issues, and reject candidates when they regurgitate dishonest right-wing talking points, or try to fool us with insultingly dishonest tactics. These primaries, in other words, are opportunities to find out who these candidates really are, and rather than shy away from that exploration, progressives must engage in it wholeheartedly. And while it may be easy to simply focus on candidates' charisma, style, coolness and flair, ultimately we must remember that these folks are running for office - and no matter how great they look, or smoothly they talk, the only thing that ultimately matters is how they will vote.

In Ohio, there is one candidate, Hackett, who continues to flail around, unable to articulate where he actually stands on issues while lying about his opponent's very clear record. And there is Brown, who has one of the strongest progressive records in Congress. The choice for progressives in this race, then, should be clear - and we should strive to make it equally as clear in every other race across America. Democratic primaries during mid-term election cycles provide progressives a particularly powerful opportunity to hold all candidates' feet to the fire on the issues - and to reject those who are willing to sell out or lie about issues for their own personal ambition. That is the way you build a long-term ideological movement for the future.

P.S. One note - I don't work, nor have I ever worked, for either Brown or Hackett (Some - but certainly not all - of Hackett's supporters like to spread wild, hysterical lies about anyone who actually substantively questions their candidate on the issues). And whoever wins the primary will have my support against Republican Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH). That said, the reason it is important to analyze these candidates - and expose their inconsistencies - is because it is absolutely critical to expose candidates actual stands on issues before we give them our support. If we as progressives don't do that, then we truly have no real convictions undergirding our movement.