Gary Hart, Ned Lamont, Tim Johnson, and George Miller Endorse Obama

While the big news of the day has been the endorsement of Barack Obama by John Kerry, Obama has also received some other notable endorsements over the past couple of days. Gary Hart endorsed Obama yesterday:

I have personal experience of the Democratic party at a generational crossroads. In the mid-1980s the Democratic party could play it safe and stay with a candidate they knew and with whom they were comfortable and familiar. Or they could take a chance with a new generation of leadership with a new understanding of a new age and new policies and ideas. They chose the former and they lost.

Democrats and Americans are faced with a big decision. Will we play it safe? Or will we embrace the future? This is not a time to put gender or race above what is best for the country or to make superficial choices. We have huge debts and deficits. The climate is rapidly approaching a tipping point. We are stuck in the Middle East. Most of the people in the world do not like us or trust us. Our education system is declining. And the list goes on.

Only a new generation of leaders can solve these new challenges, because only a new generation of leaders is unbound by old policies, old commitments and arrangements, old deals and old friendships. This is a time when America must leave old politics behind. This election is about transition not power. We will either move forward or we will go back.

Ned Lamont has endorsed Obama today:

We have seen that Sen. Obama has the wisdom and judgment to get the big decisions right – as he did on Iraq more than five years ago. And when President Obama steps out of Air Force One in countries around the world, he will represent a fresh start with friends and allies. He will end the war in Iraq, work for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and start investing in America again – and we will be safer and stronger for it.

We Democrats are fortunate to have had many strong candidates running for President. As you may know, I was proud to work hard for Chris Dodd during his campaign. I have the deepest respect and admiration for Sen. Dodd – especially for his powerful calls to defend our constitutional freedoms by restoring habeas corpus, closing Guantanamo, and living up to the spirit of the Geneva Conventions. I know that Sen. Obama, a former professor of Constitutional Law, has been and will continue to be Chris’ ally in fighting to protect our Constitution.

As Barack often says on the campaign trail these days, “with the challenges we face at this moment, the real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result.”

South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson has endorsed Obama. According to AP, “Johnson says he’s backing Barack Obama because he’s bi-partisan and wants to bridge differences between the two parties.” Obama has also received the endorsement of California Congressman George Miller. These endorsements follow two recent union endorsements.

Chris Dodd Questions Republicans About Defending the Constitution

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Chris Dodd, like many other Americans, has posted a question on YouTube (video above) which he would like to be asked at Wednesdays’ CNN/YouTube debate. He asks the following question:

Hi I’m Chris Dodd. I’m from East Haddam, Connecticut and my family and I are spending a little time in Iowa these days.

I have a question about the Constitution.

Many Americans are concerned that the administration seems to be making a false choice, that is, to be safer we have to give up rights. I don’t believe that, I wonder if you do.

And if you believe that we ought not give up our rights, then what would you do in order to protect our Constitution?

Why I Have No Confidence Hillary Clinton Will Do Anything of Value To Change Things

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The video shows Hillary Clinton answering a question about medical marijuana. It’s just one more example of why I don’t have much hope that Clinton will stand up for principle. Many of us have hoped since the Republicans have been taken over by the authoritarian warmongers that the Democratic Party might fight them on the side of freedom. There are some somewhat libertarian attitudes in some Democrats. Hillary Clinton is not one of them.

I’m still hoping that the conventional wisdom is wrong and Iowa or New Hampshire shake things up enough to give candidates such as Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd a chance. I might even take another look at Joe Biden after hearing him speak against mandates as part of his health care plan. However, if we are really limited to the three candidates now on top, there’s little choice other than Obama. There’s still a lot more I’d like to know about how Obama really views the issues, and there are areas where I disagree with him, but Hillary Clinton and, even more so, John Edwards, are unacceptable to those who want to move the country in a direction towards greater freedom after eight years of George Bush. Fortunately, while far too early to make any predictions, Obama appears to increasingly look like a the front runner while Edwards is in danger of a collapse.

Candidates Vow Not To Use Signing Statements To Ignore Law

George Bush has used signing statements as a means to disobey laws and expand the powers of executive branch. Earlier this year Ron Paul stated that if elected he would not use signing statements and has written about how they erode the Constitutional balance of power between the executive and legislative branches. Chris Dodd has called signing statements “antithetical to our Constitution.” Two additional candidates have made similar pledges this week. John McCain denounced the use of signing statements while campaigning in Nashua, vowing not to use them if elected. McCain’s concern over the abuse of signing statements likely stems from Bush’s use of signing statements following the passage of anti-torture legislation he sponsored. Bill Richardson quickly responded to McCain’s pledge stating, “I will eliminate them.” Will there be a show of hands on this issue at the next debates?

Clinton Makes Mistake Planting Question In Year When Voters Want Change

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has admitted that they planted a question which was asked by a college student at a recent campaign event.

Grinnell College’s “Scarlet and Black” newspaper reported a student’s account of being pulled aside before a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa and asked to pose a specific question.

“They were canned,” Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff claimed in an interview with the newspaper. “One of the senior staffers told me what [to ask].”

Gallo-Chasanoff said she was told that the campaign wanted the question, about what Clinton would do for the environment, to be asked by a college student. She said Clinton was prompted to call on her as well as another student seen in conversation with staffers prior to the event.

This follows a recent poor debate performance and a tightening in the New Hampshire polls. Clinton certainly remains the front runner but her nomination cannot be assumed to be inevitable. As we saw in 2003-4, early polls, including in the early primary states, mean little. Many voters are paying far less attention to the election that blog readers and many of those who are paying attention have not made up their minds.

Sometimes there is almost a default candidate for those who have not really decided but prefer to give a name to pollsters. In 2003 those who opposed George Bush and opposed the war typically gave Howard Dean’s name to pollsters after he received all the media hype but this does not mean they necessarily voted for him when given other choices. Similarly Hillary Clinton’s name may be first to come to mind by many voters who want a Democrat to win in 2008, but that does not mean that other Democrats cannot win their votes.

While I continue to think that second tier candidates such as Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd might be better choices than those in the top tier, events such as this demonstrate that Barack Obama might be positioning himself best as a candidate of change. After eight years of George Bush, many voters will prefer an alternative who does not attempt to manipulate the public in this manner, or one who so transparently is willing to change his positions and say anything to get votes such as John Edwards while lacking any signs of integrity or conviction.

Obama and Clinton Back Dodd’s Filibuster of Telecommunications Immunity

Last week Chris Dodd received a tremendous amount of favorable comments in the blogosphere after stating his intention to filibuster the telecommunications immunity bill. There’s been a lot of pressure being placed on Obama and Clinton, and both have now announced they will support the filibuster.

From Obama:

“Senator Obama has serious concerns about many provisions in this bill, especially the provision on giving retroactive immunity to the telephone companies. He is hopeful that this bill can be improved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But if the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it.”

From Clinton:

Q: Can you discuss your position on the reauthorization of the FISA bill?

HRC: I am troubled by the concerns that have been raised by the recent legislation reported out of the Intelligence Committee. I haven’t seen it so I can’t express an opinion about it. But I don’t trust the Bush Administration with our civil rights and liberties. So I’m going to study it very hard. As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently.

Dodd Places Hold on Telecom Immunity

TPM Election Central reports that Chris Dodd is placing a hold on the telecommunications immunity bill. Glenn Greenwald provided background:

Let’s just describe very factually and dispassionately what has happened here. Congress — led by Senators, such as Jay Rockefeller, who have received huge payments from the telecom industry, and by privatized intelligence pioneer Mike McConnell, former Chairman of the secretive intelligence industry association that has been demanding telecom amnesty — is going to intervene directly in the pending lawsuits against AT&T and other telecoms and declare them the winners on the ground that they did nothing wrong. Because of their vast ties to the telecoms, neither Rockefeller nor McConnell could ever appropriately serve as an actual judge in those lawsuits.

Yet here they are, meeting and reviewing secret documents and deciding amongst themselves to end all pending lawsuits in favor of their benefactors — AT&T, Verizon and others. Let me quote again from that 1998 Foreign Affairs essay by Thomas Carothers helpfully outlining the steps required to install the “rule of law” in third-world, pre-democracy countries:

Type three reforms aim at the deeper goal of increasing government’s compliance with law. A key step is achieving genuine judicial independence. . . . But the most crucial changes lie elsewhere. Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making and accept the judiciary as an independent authority.

The question of whether the telecoms acted in “good faith” in allowing warrantless government spying on their customers is already pending before a court of law. In fact, that is one of the central issues in the current lawsuits — one that AT&T has already lost in a federal court.Yet that is the issue that Jay Rockefeller and Mike McConnell — operating in secret — are taking away from the courts by passing a law declaring the telecoms to have won (“Senators this week began reviewing classified documents . . . and came away from that early review convinced that the companies had ‘acted in good faith’ in cooperating with what they believed was a legal and presidentially authorized program”). They are directly interfering in these lawsuits and issuing a “ruling” in favor of AT&T and other telecoms that is exactly the opposite of the one an actual court of law has already issued…

Just think about what is really happening here. AT&T’s customers sued them for violating their privacy in violation of long-standing federal laws and for violating their Fourth Amendment rights. Even with the most expensive armies of lawyers possible, AT&T and other telecoms are losing in a court of law. The federal judge presiding over the case ruled against them — ruled that the law is so clear they could not possibly have believed that what they did was legal — and most observers, having heard the Oral Argument on appeal, predicted that they will lose in the Court of Appeals, too.

So AT&T and other telecoms went to Washington and — led by Bush 41 Attorney General (and now Verizon General Counsel) William Barr, and in cooperation with their former colleague, Mike McConnell — began paying former government officials such as Dan Coats and Jamie Gorelick to convince political officials to whom they give money, such as Jay Rockefeller, to pass a law declaring them the victors in these lawsuits and be relieved of all liability — all based on assertions that a court of law has already rejected. They are literally buying a judicial victory in Congress — just like Carothers warned that third-world countries must avoid if they want to become functioning democracies under the “rule of law” (“Above all, government officials must refrain from interfering with judicial decision-making”).

Dodd caught my attention towards the end of the New Hampshire debate when he mentioned restoring our Constitutional rights as a top priority and I was hoping to hear more from him on this subject. I can’t help but wonder if this is an election year ploy, including the increasingly common web site petition or if he does have a longer history on Constitutional issues. I will need to take a closer look at his record, including when he was not a running for the presidential nomination. Glenn Greenwald did write that , “Chris Dodd has been, by far, the most vocal Democratic presidential candidate on the issues of executive power abuses and restoring our constitutional framework.” Hopefully I can find more evidence of this.

Obama Leads in Iowa Poll Among Likely Caucus-Goers

Iowa determined the outcome of the nomination battle in 2004 and very well could do so again, making national polls meaningless. Even polls from Iowa have limited predictive value as caucus voters typically make up their minds in the final days. Today’s poll out of Iowa must be evaluated with that in mind. It provides a snap shot of where the race is, but doesn’t predict the outcome.

For quite a while Edwards led in Iowa. This was due to a combination of Edwards having practically lived in Iowa after the 2004 election and having adopted a populist platform which is attractive to many Iowa Democrats. Edwards also had the benefit of name recognition, much as Joe Lieberman had in the early 2003 polls. Like Lieberman, Edwards support has fallen as the other candidates have been campaigning.

This trend is also seen in the latest poll from Newsweek:

Among all Iowa Democrats surveyed, Clinton enjoys a 6-point lead over her nearest rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. But among likely Democratic caucus-goers, she is locked in a three-way race with Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, with Obama enjoying a slight edge…

Among all Iowa Democratic voters, Clinton draws 31 percent, followed by Obama (25 percent) and Edwards (21 percent). But among likely caucus-goers, Obama enjoys a slim lead, polling 28 percent to best Clinton (24 percent) and Edwards (22 percent). Bill Richardson is the only other Democratic candidate to score in the double digits (10 percent).

To remain a viable candidate, Edwards must not only reverse his downward trajectory but come back to win decisively. Without a sizable win it is unlikely Edwards would get enough of a bounce to win in New Hampshire, where his populist agenda is not received well as favorably as it is in Iowa. Without an impressive victory, Edwards would also have a difficult time raising enough money to mount a national campaign for the multi-state February 5 primaries, and he is also at a disadvantage from the restrictions due to accepting federal matching funds.

Obama could benefit tremendously if his lead holds. Clinton’s strength comes from the perception of inevitability, and this could be shattered if Obama beats her in Iowa. It would still be a tough fight, but Obama might have the edge following a win. On the other hand, a Clinton victory in Iowa would make it very difficult for anyone else to challenge her.

John Kerry came back from fourth place in the Iowa polls to win, and an upset win by Bill Richardson cannot be ruled out. Richardson does much better on the stump than in the debates and he has an outside chance to win with a strong ground game. It is looking increasingly hopeless for the remainder of the candidates. Chris Dodd deserves more attention than he receives, but if he has not been able to move from single digits yet I doubt he will be able to do so unless he gets some major breaks such as more than one high profile endorsement. As we saw in 2004, even this wasn’t enough to give Howard Dean the victory despite a strong lead in the polls.

Dodd Receives Endorsement, and Needed Boost to Campaign

The Democratic race has felt like the top four in terms of the national polls are virtually written in stone with everyone else barely registering. The question today is whether a major endorsement will give Chris Dodd the attention he needs to increase his support. As it isn’t even Labor Day yet, there certainly is plenty of time for the dynamics of the race to change. Four years ago the endorsement from the firefighters helped Kerry, but there were also many other factors which contributed to Kerry’s victory. It is premature to evaluate Dodd’s chances, but at least this endorsement gives his long shot candidacy more credibility. The Washington Post quoted IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger:

Schaitberger said Dodd won the union’s support because of an unmatched record over 30 years of “carrying the water” for the union in Congress. But equally important, he said, is his union’s belief that Dodd has the leadership skills to keep the country safe during an era of terrorist threats.

“We believe Chris has the experience we need right now in a pretty tough world,” he said in a telephone interview.

Schaitberger said he and his members were not daunted by the long-shot character of Dodd’s candidacy. “Yes, right now he’s not polling,” he said. “It would be facetious to suggest anything else. But I don’t think the polling is worth spit.”

Schaitberger said firefighters play an integral role in communities across the country and, perhaps more significantly, understand the caucus process in Iowa “better than all the highly paid Washington types.”

Hillary Clinton also received a union endorsement from the United Transportation Union.

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

In a two party system different people will vote for one or the other party for different reasons. Many people have supported the Democratic Party for years because of what they thought the government could do for them. In recent years an increasing number of people have voted Democratic in protest over what the government is doing to them. Yesterday at Huffington Post Dave Johnson quoted Chris Dodd as to what he believed it took to get support. The post was discussing impeachment, but my interest in this post isn’t specifically impeachment but the role of government on all issues.

One subject we talked extensively about was impeachment. He said something that will shape my views and helped me understand how a politician at his level has to think about serving the public. I’ll characterize it here. He said that when he considers how he should be spending his time a key question that he has to ask is how is the average person understanding this. The average person might not be paying very much attention to the news, might not consider him or herself to be “on the” left or right. That person is trying to get by and deal with life’s problems, like paying the mortgage, getting health care, etc. So when THAT person looks at what the Congress and Senate are doing, the question is, “How does this help ME?”

And if the Democrats spend time on impeachment they are open to the Republican lie and spin machine telling the public they are not serving THEM.
So Dodd says that unless the average person understands what HE OR SHE GETS out of Congress spending time on impeachment instead of all the other important things, he doesn’t think we should aim for that.

This sounds like a the stereotypical Democratic special interest politics. On the surface it appears logical. Offer people enough from government and they’ll vote for you. John Edwards is basing his entire campaign on this premise.

If this really worked, why have the Republicans been the majority party for so many years? The Republicans have won by understanding something that too many Democrats to not. Republicans have tapped into a common belief that the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

Chris Dodd underestimates the average American. The average person is not simply looking for what they can get out of the government. The Republicans won with Ronald Reagan making a promise, even if he didn’t deliver, to get the government off people’s back. The Democrats lost control of the government when they went too far under Bill and Hillary Clinton in offering universal health care with an overly complex system which most found far worse than the status quo.

Obviously this view of government does not apply to all Republicans. The reality of the Republican Party is far different than their rhetoric as they use government to provide benefits for their allies. However Republican corporate welfare benefits a much smaller number of people than those who vote have voted Republican.

This also isn’t to say that the government should never be there to help. There are few left who disagree that the government is needed to assist in extraordinary situations such as Katrina. Some problems, such as achieving affordable health care coverage and energy independence, require government action. This does not mean that all decisions by the voters come down to “what’s in it for me?”

The Democrats need to apply another principle that the Republicans understand far better–getting people to vote based upon their values. While readers here would find their values rather depraved, preventing a woman from receiving Plan B, keeping people from benefiting from stem cell research, and keeping two people from the same sex from marrying is seen by many as a reason to vote Republican. The people who vote this way do not benefit personally, but they vote Republican because they enforce their values system.

Democrats need to trust that people will also vote based upon liberal values. There are people who will vote for a candidate who will really get government off people’s back, and keep them out of personal decisions of religion and morality. Fighting for separation of church and state, preservation of civil liberties, and reducing the power of the Executive Branch doesn’t benefit us in the way Chris Dodd discussed, but these are values worth fighting for, and worth voting for, if only Democratic candidates would really stand up for these values.

Even impeachment might remain on the table if Democrats the values upon which this nation was founded as worth fighting for. While there are many arguments pro and con, impeachment can be seen as a method demonstrating the values we hold with regards to defending the Constitution and fighting excessive centralization of power in a corrupt Executive Branch which has done so much harm to the country since 2001.

Most likely the Democrats will take control after the 2008 elections. Hopefully they will understand the values which caused many people to abandon the Republicans and vote Democratic. Just as importantly, they must understand the values which caused a majority to vote Republican for many years. They must avoid returning to special interest politics and thinking that throwing around taxpayer’s money is what voters necessarily want. Many voters ask neither “what your country can do for you” or what they can do for their country. It is time to really get government off people’s backs whenever possible, while avoiding the Republican mistake of not allowing the government to act when really necessary.