As much as I admire Chris Dodd's efforts to preserve the Constitution and oppose the circumvention of the courts as they examine whether or not U. S. telecoms broke the law by aiding the administration as it spies on Americans without a warrant, his performance at the end of this week's debate was abysmal.
I didn't watch the whole debate, but I've read (and annotated!) the 40 page transcript.
There's a lot I can say about the Brian Williams/Tim Russert misogynistic tag team questions apparently written by Pills Limbaugh, or about the various ways the candidates flirted with and sometimes repeated outright right wing attacks and talking points against fellow democrats, but all that will have to wait, because something else really pissed me off: Chris Dodd used several talking points right from Lou Dobbs' nightly coded racist rants:
MR. RUSSERT: An illegal immigrant should not have a driver's license.
SEN. DODD: This is a privilege. And look, I'm as forthright and progressive on immigration policy as anyone here, but we're dealing with a serious problem here, we need to have people come forward. The idea that we're going to extend this privilege here of a driver's license, I think, is troublesome. And I think the American people are reacting to it.
We need to deal with security on our borders, we need to deal with the attraction that draws people here, we need to deal fairly with those who are here; but this is a privilege. Talk about health care, I have a different opinion. That affects the public health of all of us. But a license is a privilege, and that ought not to be extended, in my view.
MR. WILLIAMS: Who else? Senator --
SEN. CLINTON: I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it. And we have failed --
SEN. DODD: Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it.
SEN. CLINTON: No, I didn't, Chris. But the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are (driving ?) -- (inaudible)?
SEN. DODD: Well, that's a legitimate issue. But driver's license goes too far, in my view.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, you may say that, but what is the identification if somebody runs into you today who is an undocumented worker --
SEN. DODD: There's ways of dealing with that.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, but --
SEN. DODD: This is a privilege, not a right.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, what Governor Spitzer has agreed to do is to have three different licenses; one that provides identification for actually going onto airplanes and other kinds of security issues, another which is an ordinary driver's license, and then a special card that identifies the people who would be on the road.
SEN. DODD: That's a bureaucratic nightmare.
SEN. CLINTON: So it's not the full privilege.
Dodd pretends not to know that under our system, health care is also a "privilege," so the standard he sets out is a dishonest one, not to mention paternalistic as hell. He claims health care is different, but does not explain why, or how. He also says "there are ways to deal with that" but his campaign has refused to elaborate on what those ways might be, or to offer any statement of clarification of these remarks at all. I've asked for follow up and have gotten none.
Dodd has some good history in dealing with issues of interest to the latino community, which makes it all the more puzzling that he uses what clearly can be construed as dog whistle signals to any xenophobic working class whites in Iowa who may blame their economic insecurities on migrants and latinos. While these statements may seem innocuous to many of the rest of us, these are specific talking points, like the "welfare queen" label of a generation ago, that xenophobic bigots recognize as consistent with their own irrational fears and racist inclinations.
Elliot Spitzer's original plan was a very good one. It would have saved New York taxpayers a lot of money due to accidents by uninsured drivers while simultaneously bringing many more people into the system where they can be counted. Unfortunately, Spitzer has modified his plan in such a way that it could place migrants at significant risk of federal persecution through tracking by Homeland Security.
He knuckled under to extreme right wing pressure by the astonishingly corrupt Republican Joe Bruno* in New York, under simultaneous attacks from his flank by machine Democrats in Albany like Andrew Cuomo who don't like Spitzer's independence or tendency to shake up the status quo with his progressive, outsider's agenda. Meanwhile, Spitzer should fix his plan to ensure protection of migrants and prevent the targeting of latino minorities through profiling and harassment by a hostile federal bureaucracy (here's but one casualty of the right wing's attrition, harassment and deportation strategy. . . and what it does to families of people who participate in the American dream and contribute to the economy). The governor's approach was right the first time.
Unfortunately, from what I can tell, the progressive grass roots in New York are currently more consumed with anger over poor communications and outreach from Spitzer's office than they are focused on helping him advance his most preferred agenda, and unintentionally, their lack of open support and their barely whispered fury are playing in to Joe Bruno's slimy hands.
There's a reason New York Democrats fail to advance strong leaders, and why NYC in particular ends up electing Republican mayors, giving the rest of us people like Rudy Giuliani: it's because the state party gets too embroiled in political fiefdoms and personality feuds to let a strong progressive leader emerge. Spitzer's driver's license policy retreat should be an occasion for new grass roots leadership to engage in progressive organizing, not recrimination that ultimately empowers progressive enemies. Having grown up and spent my grad school years in New York, the pattern to me is all too familiar.
Time will only tell if New York Democrats will gather round Spitzer to promote a sustainable progressive agenda for the long term, or if hacks like Andrew Cuomo will gain in power. . . with the tacit "let"s do business" cooperation with GOP crime bosses like Joe Bruno.
Though Clinton got tangled up on the driver's license issue during the debate, she had the right instinct to defend Eliot Spitzer, rather than throw him under the bus. She would not commit herself to the specifics of Spitzer's current plan, which is indeed flawed, even as she endorsed its goals, both during and after the debate. Her position on the policy is, to my eyes, the same one John Edwards is cited as having after the debate, and is like the one Obama made more explicit during the debate.
Dodd, on the other hand, seized the opportunity to shame himself in front of the very progressives who otherwise have begun to give him a strong, second look.
Note to Chris Dodd: just as it was wrong for Obama to throw gay folks under the bus for crass political advantage, you don't get a pass for signaling a willingness to throw immigrants and latinos under the bus for cheap political gain and for the love of Lou Dobbs.
* For more on the scummy Joe Bruno, check out here, here, here, here and here, for a start. It would be a great service for someone to create one single summary source with links to tell the full story of the corrupt Bruno and his machine as it continues to evolve. Focused, consistent, coordinated effort on this front would seem to be a good investment of grassroots time. The story needs lotsa telling, even beyond New York, where "everyone knows" he's scum, but the story is not well enough documented and collected to make for easy telling.
Pachacutec blogs at Firedoglake.