Accountability Now and Strange Bedfellows: The strategy and rationale

A new campaign devoted to civil liberties, core Constitution protections and the rule of law is designed to change the incentive scheme of the Beltway establishment.

Published July 14, 2008 12:10PM (EDT)

In the 2006 mid-term elections, Americans handed The Democratic Party a sweeping, staggering, and historic victory -- as the GOP was removed from power and Democrats given control over both the House and Senate. It marked only the third time in the last 60 years that there was a change in control of the Congress. The Democrats defeated six GOP Senators, and picked up 31 House seats. Six Governorships switched from the GOP to the Democrats. Not one single Democratic incumbent in Congress and not one Democratic Governor lost -- only the second time in U.S. history in which one of the major parties failed to defeat even a single Congressional incumbent from the other party.

Since that overwhelming Democratic victory, this is what the Democratic-led Congress has done:

This wretched state of affairs was succinctly summarized by this single cartoon this weekend by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mike Luckovich, examining, with depressing accuracy, how American history would have been different had Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller been running the Congress in 1974 rather than in 2008.

All of this highlights the central political dilemma in the U.S. The Bush-led Republican Party, marching in virtual lockstep, has been the author of the radicalism, extremism and lawlessness of the last seven years, presiding over an endlessly expanding Surveillance State and accompanying war-making machine, and the dismantling of numerous core Constitutional principles. While numerous individual elected Democrats have opposed many of these measures, the Democratic Party's leadership, and the Party collectively, has done nothing to stop it and much to support and enable all of it.

As the 2006 election and these subsequent events conclusively demonstrate, mindlessly supporting and electing more Democrats for its own sake doesn't solve or even mitigate anything. But it's also true that actions which result in handing Republicans control over any branches of the Government -- including supporting third-party candidates or abstaining from the process altogether -- makes matters worse still. Nobody who finds the above-documented events objectionable can rationally embrace a course of action that directly or indirectly empowers those who are the prime forces behind these events: namely, the mainstream GOP in its current incarnation.

All of that, in turn, leads to this pressing question: what is the best course for those who want to battle against these civil-liberties-destroying, rule-of-law-trampling, war-making policies that the GOP leadership pushes and the Democratic Party leadership supports, enables, and/or passively accepts? In a two-party system where blind support for either party will do nothing but perpetuate these policies, how can they be undermined?

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The campaign we announced back in March to target "Bad Democrats," which has now evolved into Accountability Now and the Strange Bedfellows coalition, is designed to develop strategies for addressing that dilemma (I first announced and detailed how that coalition works here). Grounded in the premise that the Democrats are going to control both houses of Congress for the foreseeable future -- a premise virtually nobody disputes -- the primary objective has to be to alter the behavior of those who control the Congress.

Increasing the Democrats' margin of control doesn't achieve that goal. It does the opposite. Conveying to Democrats that you will support all of them no matter what they do, no matter how egregiously they trample on your values, only ensures that they will ignore your political priorities and values even more. Working to expand the margin of control Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel and Harry Reid already enjoy -- further entrenching them in power -- only ensures that they will be less responsive and accountable. Only by attaching a serious price to their enabling of these extremist, destructive policies will their behavior change. If they are rewarded with greater control and greater comfort for doing what they've been doing, then it's just guaranteed that they'll continue to do the same thing. Only if they suffer losses and have their power threatened from this behavior will the behavior change.

In the past few months, we've raised almost $350,000 with our old FISA-specific fund -- the vast bulk of that amount being raised in the last several weeks. And in just the last week alone, more than 2,000 people have already pledged to donate to the Strange Bedfellows' August 8 Money Bomb. And that's before most of the efforts on behalf of the Money Bomb campaign have begun. It is virtually certain that the August 8 Money Bomb will generate at least as much as the amount raised already for the prior fund, and it's very likely that it will produce far more than that amount. Thus, this Constitution-defending, civil-liberties campaign will be one of the most successful short-term political fund-raising campaigns on the Internet, demonstrating that there is a very real, intense, active and substantial constituency for these civil liberties, Constitutional rights and rule of law issues.

In the last couple of months, we have done the following as part of our campaign, in several instances in partnership with Color of Change, the African-American grass-roots group devoted to compelling greater responsiveness among the Beltway class:

  • newspaper ads in every newspaper in Steny Hoyer's district, along with a full-page ad in the local section of The Washington Post, exposing to his constituents his lead role in engineering the Bush-enabling FISA bill;
  • a massive robocall campaign in Hoyer's district, narrated by respected Pastor Lennox Yearwood from that district, exposing how Hoyer's work in Washington is so out-of-step with the political values of the constituents on whom he relies for re-election;
  • an ongoing multi-media campaign -- involving TV, radio and newspaper ads -- aimed at vulnerable "Blue Dog" Rep. Chris Carney, who worked with Doug Feith at the Pentagon to disseminate pre-war "intelligence" and now is one of the most vocal pro-Bush Democrats in Congress;
  • a full-page ad in the "A" section of The Washington Post, the day before the Senate's approval of the new FISA bill, demonstrating what a profound assault on the rule of law the Congress was waging, and how it further cements the two-tiered system of justice the political establishment enjoys;
  • donations to 12 members of Congress and Congressional candidates who, at political risk, vigorously opposed the new FISA bill;
  • newspaper ads aimed at vulnerable "Blue Dog" Rep. John Barrow, who proudly runs for re-election by denouncing "cut and run" Democrats and who supports one radical Bush measure after the next, despite representing a +2 Democratic district.

This campaign, just in its incipient stages, has already been covered by numerous news outlets, including The Wall St. Journal, Politico, Wired, and numerous others. All of this is intended as just a start. We will spend the entire $350,000 already raised for the Blue America fund between now and November by targeting selected, vulnerable Democratic members of Congress who supported this FISA bill and who generally have enabled Bush radicalism.

The August 8 Money Bomb is intended to be used to fuel a long-term campaign and an enduring organization devoted to changing the behavior of the political class with regard to these issues. We intend to begin now actively recruiting and promoting credible primary challengers against the likes of Steny Hoyer and other key culprits; to target for defeat those members of Congress who continue to support policies of this sort, Democrat or Republican; and to find ways to affect the public discourse on these issues, which are jointly distorted and ignored by both the so-called "liberal Beltway establishment" and the crux of the Republican Party.

* * * * *

While there are substantial, important differences between Republicans and Democrats, critical political debates are at least as often driven not by the GOP/Democrat dichotomy, but by the split between the Beltway political establishment and the rest of the country. As the above-chronicled events demonstrate, all of these assaults on our core civil liberties and the rule of law are not Republican attacks with Democrats fighting against them. They are attacks launched by the political establishment against the citizenry, and they ought to be responded to as such. That's the core premise of the Accountability Now/Strange Bedfellows campaign we've launched -- that these battles have to be waged by an ideologically diverse group of citizens devoted to a defense of the Constitution and the rule of law against a political establishment which has proven it is hostile to those values.

Just to highlight a highly illustrative example from today of how the Beltway establishment works and to whom they actually listen (it isn't you), The New York Times has published a profile of Steve Farber, the lead fund-raiser for the Democratic Party's 2008 National Convention. The article describes Farber this way: "In terms of lobbyists, few are more connected -- both west of the Mississippi and in the corridors of power in Washington -- than Steve Farber." With the recent vote on telecom immunity in mind, consider how the Democratic National Convention is being financed:

As a result of Mr. Farber's efforts, dozens of organizations have signed up as corporate sponsors of the Denver convention, including six that are lobbying clients of his firm: UnitedHealth Group, AT&T, Comcast, the National Association of Home Builders, Western Union and Google. In return for these donations, which can go up to $1 million or more, sponsors are promised prominent display space for corporate marketing and access to elected officials and Democratic leaders at a large number of parties and receptions.

Mr. Farber is now going through his client list -- and also approaching nonclients -- in his search for cash. Conventions are one of the last remaining ways for corporations to put big money into politics, since they are banned from giving directly to candidates and parties. . . .

"Farber has a dual role," said Steve Weissman, a policy analyst at the Campaign Finance Institute who has studied convention finances. "He is a businessman and a community activist, and yet he is connected to a law firm that is one of the biggest in Washington. When any of Steve Farber's clients have a problem, federal elected officials will feel obligated to listen to him if he approaches them later on federal policy interests."

These are the people who run both parties -- the ones who dictate what they do -- and they have no allegiance at all to any ideological or even partisan agenda, but only to their own unified, trans-partisan interests. As the recent partnership between Mark Penn and Karen Hughes demonstrates -- just like those between Trent Lott and John Breaux and so many others -- the people who run both parties are far more part of the same unified Establishment than they are devoted to any particular issues or caring in the slightest about the agenda of voters:

Although he is a Democrat, Mr. Farber's firm draws political talent from both sides of the aisle. Its lobbyists include Jim Nicholson, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee; former Senator Hank Brown, Republican of Colorado; and Judy Black, wife of Charlie Black, Senator John McCain's chief adviser, and a major bundler of donations for Mr. McCain.

That is the person financing the Democratic Party's Convention and ensuring access to the most powerful Democratic leaders. They're listening to everyone except you. Here's how Farber himself conceives of what he's doing when raising money from his lobbying clients:

In the absence of that help, Mr. Farber said he was "still talking to the corporate community."

"What I am now selling is Senator Obama and the excitement he has created in his candidacy," he added.

Long-time conservative (and former National Review writer) Rod Dreher -- discussing Jane Mayer's extraordinary revelations that the Bush administration knew that at least 1/3 of Guantanamo detainees were wrongfully imprisoned yet subjected detainees to methods that the International Red Cross called "categorically torture"-- puts it this way:

The thing that gets to me is that it's possible, even probable, to make mistakes in a time of war. But in this case, the White House didn't even want to know if it had made mistakes, and innocents were suffering. That's not tragic; that's malicious.

Where do we go from here? Don't simply say, "Elect Obama." That might be part of the solution -- but how do we reverse the damage, moral and legal, that the Bush cabal has done? You read this stuff and it makes you sick. It ought to make us mad. Again: what can we do about this? Why has two years of Democratic control of Congress failed to stop it or reverse it?

That last line is the central question. And the primary answer is that the Democratic Party as a whole (with many individual exceptions) supports those policies and/or believes in nothing other than the perpetuation of their own power, which they perceive is advanced by supporting those policies. That is the perception, the incentive scheme, that must be changed. Extending GOP power in any way -- particularly with a John McCain administration -- would be disastrous on every level. Speaking only for myself, anyone devoted to these issues ought to prefer an Obama presidency to a McCain presidency, and those are the only two choices. But, as Dreher points out, a Barack Obama presidency would, at best, be but one small step in addressing these issues.

As I've detailed before, a grass-roots coalition of citizens from the Right and Left has spontaneously arisen in Britain to combat their political establishment's bipartisan endless efforts to seize more unchecked power for itself and erode away basic liberties. The British Conservative MP who resigned his seat from Parliament in order to run for re-election exclusively on the basis of his opposition to the Government's growing detention and surveillance powers, David Davis, just won his race overwhelmingly. The fact that he -- a hard-core Tory -- was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and numerous factions on the British Left -- against the establishment leadership of both the Tory and Labour Parties -- has sparked a true debate for the first time in Britain over these issues. A similar coalition can work here.

These assaults on core Constitutional freedoms and the rule of law are coming from a toxic union between the radical neoconservative, Bush-loyal Right (represented in every meaningful way by John McCain) and craven, principle-free leaders of the Democratic Party establishment and their dominant "Blue Dog" contingent. Meanwhile, huge numbers of citizens across the ideological spectrum vehemently oppose these assaults, but have had no mechanism for being heard.

The Accountability Now PAC and Strange Bedfellows coalition we've created is designed to change that. Its fundamental purpose is to find ways to force accountability on these issues and to stop the political establishment from continuing to trample on these political values. Immediate contributions can be made here, and pledges to donate to the August 8 Money Bomb can be made here. Having a very successful initial Money Bomb to fuel the organization is vital to announcing in a very loud and aggressive way the arrival of this new, enduring campaign to take a stand for these political values and to threaten the political security of those who violate them.

Become a StrangeBedfellow!

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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