Shortly after the November 2006 election the Democracy Alliance, an exclusive group of about 100 Democratic Party millionaire activists, met in Miami, Florida. Members and their guests heard their keynote speaker and liberal legend Mario Cuomo analyze the Democratic Party in the wake of its stunning electoral victories that had given Democrats control of the US Congress. Cuomo criticized the Democratic Party for lacking vision, big ideas and a winning political argument. His recipe for future Democratic victories was simple: "You seize the biggest idea you can, the biggest idea you can understand. And this is what moves elections."
Cuomo then dared to voice an inconvenient truth: "Now it's 2006 and we're all rejoicing. Why? Because of Iraq. A GIFT. A gift to the Democrats. A lot of whom voted for the war anyway." The former New York governor challenged his partisan audience, "If Iraq is not an issue, then what issues do we have to talk about? … Where does that leave you? It leaves you in the same position you were in in 2004 – without an issue. Because you have no big idea."
The story of Cuomo's speech is from the concluding pages of Matt Bai's new book The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics. Bai writes, "An uncomfortable silence hung over the ballroom. No one had yet expressed the situation quite that crassly, although everyone knew it was an accurate accounting."
The Argument is an important book but Bai muffed the title. He should have titled it "The Gift," because as Cuomo points out it was primarily the political gift of voter anger and revulsion over a horrific, continuing war that caused them to oust Republicans.
And how have the Democrats treated their gift now that they control Congress? The Democratic House and Senate have continued to fund the war while posturing against it. For example Hillary Clinton, who pollsters regard as the Democratic frontrunner for her party's presidential nomination, told the New York Times that when she is elected she would keep troops in Iraq but run a smarter operation. The public's opinion of Congress has plummeted with no end in sight to the bloody occupation.
Bai's book is the first since the 2006 election to examine the new power alliance within the Democratic Party composed of the organizations referenced in his long subtitle. They include the "billionaires" such as George Soros and other members of the Democracy Alliance; the major liberal "bloggers" such as "Netroots Nation" guru Markos Moulitsas Zúniga with his Daily Kos blog and the Yearly Kos conventions; and the related "battlers" re-making the Democratic Party such as party chair Howard Dean. Bai devotes an entire chapter to MoveOn, the Netroots money and messaging machine controlling an email list of 3.3 million Americans built in large part on their opposition to the Iraq war. MoveOn's political action committee has become one of the top contributors of money to Democratic candidates.
These various players participated in the recent Yearly Kos bloggers convention in Chicago, a partisan event that FOX's Bill O'Reilly attacked and most of the Democratic presidential candidates attended. My organization, the Center for Media and Democracy, organized an unofficial last minute event at the Yearly Kos, a "Coffee with the Troops" featuring the leadership of the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Extensive video of our event can now be viewed on YouTube.
We organized our event because, in my opinion, there was a lack of opportunity at the Yearly Kos for meaningful discussion and debate of how bloggers can best help end the Iraq occupation. Markos himself and his co-author Jerome Armstrong identified opposition to the war in Iraq as the over-arching issue uniting Netroots activists, writing in their 2006 book Crashing the Gates. As one of the IVAW soldiers told me in advance of our Coffee with the Troops, "we need bloggers to interview and tell the stories of Iraq veterans; it's essential to publicizing the truth about this war."
Leaders of the new Democratic power alliance examined in The Argument spoke prominently at Yearly Kos, including Andy Stern of the labor union SEIU and Tom Matzzie, the chief lobbyist for MoveOn. In January these two groups and others had launched Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), directed by Matzzie. Some fifteen million dollars has reportedly been spent by this lobby effort that failed to prevent President Bush's "troop surge," and then failed to stop the Democratic Congress from funding the war.
The AAEI has hired over 100 young organizers for its "Iraq Summer" campaign that is hounding targeted Republicans in their districts, but avoiding any similar tactics against pro-war Democrats. Matzzie and MoveOn's pollster Stanley Greenberg shared a panel at the Yearly Kos convention examining how Democrats are doing in the polls. Matzzie exudes gung-ho confidence that AAEI's tactics will bring about a "responsible" conclusion to the war.
Iraq Veterans Against the War expressed a different opinion during our event. "What will end this war?" asked Aaron Hughes, an Illinois National Guardsman who drove trucks in Iraq in a mission he once supported. "I'm not waiting for an election to end this war. We elected candidates to Congress and we really had faith that funding would be cut and they played this line that said 'we can't cut funding because that would mean we are not supporting the troops.' Excuse me? We can't keep listening to these politicians and believing in them. We need to listen to each other."
As you can imagine, for Hughes and other Iraq veterans the war is something less than a "gift." At our Yearly Kos event, Hughes and his IVAW colleagues -- Garett Reppenhagen, Josh Lansdale and Geoffrey Millard -- answered questions for more than an hour. These vets study how the Vietnam War was ended, and they well know the power of their words and actions.
IVAW was founded in 2004 and today it is a rapidly growing, grassroots, independent anti-war group with members active in 43 states and deployed on bases in Iraq. These rank and file soldiers are not partisans; they are Americans who have seen first hand the greatest political betrayal of our lifetime, the US attack on Iraq and the long occupation.
Iraq Veterans Against the War are not the concoction of a liberal think tank or PR firm; they have very little funding; they are not avoiding criticism of Democrats; and they are not playing political games trying to bank-shot Democratic candidates into the White House and Congress in 2008. They are in open non-violent revolt against US foreign policy, criticizing politicians of all stripes who would exploit the war for political gain.
Many IVAW soldiers are on active duty opposing the war openly and at personal risk; such is their conviction. On Saturday August 18, 90 IVAW soldiers demonstrated in St. Louis against a recruiting exhibit at a business expo, conducting the largest single action yet organized by anti-war veterans of Iraq. IVAW is stepping up its "truth in recruitment" efforts this September.
IVAW was in St. Louis to plan strategy to end the war. How do soldiers end a war? By refusing to fight. Garett Reppenhagen told journalist Aaron Glantz, "Iraq Veterans Against the War decided to make support of war resisters a major part of what we do. There's a misconception that they're cowards. Most war resisters have already gone on a tour in Iraq. They've seen the war firsthand and have come to the conclusion that it's morally wrong. This is something we all should support. So to break that timidness of how we view war resisters in America, IVAW decided to embrace them."
Watch the YouTube video of Iraq Veterans Against the War speaking out at Yearly Kos. Go to the IVAW website at IVAW.org and contact them directly. Support our own troops' opposition to the war. These American soldiers are determined to end the war. For them it has never been a "gift." They are not waiting for an election, nor should anyone else.
This article is the analysis and opinion of John Stauber, the founder and executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. He is the co-author with Sheldon Rampton of 2003's Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, a New York Times bestseller, and five other books.
Coffee with the Troops is now viewable on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/CMDAug5wIVAW thanks to filmmakers Martha Spiess and Chris Thomas.