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Why I Oppose the Filibuster

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Before you post any searing criticism of me in response to this post, I ask you to at least give me the decency of actually reading my analysis below. Then go for it. Thank you, JOHN

I understand that my friend Cenk at the Young Turks radio show is taking me on, on the air, about why I have concerns about the effectiveness and wisdom of John Kerry's filibuster of Alito. Now, if I were going to be a prissy queen I'd point out that I was against Alito's confirmation while the Young Turks were still undecided. But I'm not that bitchy of a queen :-) Anyway, I was going to hold off on any detailed analysis of the wisdom of this particular filibuster campaign until after the vote was over, as I didn't want to all-out criticize a campaign my friends were working on, but since I'm already getting heavily criticized publicly by a number of folks on the Web for my lack of joy over this effort, I feel my hand has been forced. You want to know why I'm not thrilled about this filibuster? Fine, you're gonna find out.

So here goes:

1. I want a filibuster of Alito. He's a terrible nominee, he's bad for America, he's going to overturn Roe v. Wade which will overturn rulings in favor of gays, women, and more, and thus I want to see his nomination go down in flames.

2. But, it is bad politics, and dangerous, to launch a filibuster if you do not have a campaign in place to get the votes you need, and equally important, if you do not have a separate public relations/grassroots campaign in place to get public opinion on your side.

3. Why is it bad politics? Why not just go ahead anyway? Isn't it better to fight and lose than do nothing at all?

a. If you launch a filibuster and don't complement it with a smart well-funded campaign to get the public on your side, the public will think even less of the Democrats than they do now, and that will hurt us in the polls now and in November when we want to take back the Congress. Why will they think less of us? Because they'll see us as obstructionist rather than as standing up to defend a noble cause. The only way they'll see us as noble is if we have a public relations campaign to educate them to that fact. But we don't have that campaign, so the public will likely not agree with what we're doing. That will hurt our standing in the polls, and could hurt us in November. And doing something today that hurts us in November is not helpful.

Oh, and the conventional wisdom criticism against the Democrats is already beginning. This from Newsweek's Periscope "conventional wisdom" meter:
Ted Kennedy and John Kerry's quixotic Alito filibuster campaign is typical Democrat slapdash failure. Next time, try planning.
And before you say you don't care if Newsweek likes what you're doing. You'd better care. They influence a lot of people, and their conventional wisdom meter is quite often spot on. In politics, the public's perception matters. And that doesn't mean you don't do something just because the public doesn't agree with you YET, but you most certainly don't do it when you have NO PLAN whatsoever to win the public over.

b. If you launch a filibuster and don't get the public on our side, you give Senator Frist a perfect opportunity to launch the so-called "nuclear option" where he takes away our right to filibuster, permanently. Frist has threatened before to launch the nuclear option, but then backed down, because he didn't have the public's support to go ahead and kill the filibuster. If we launch a filibuster without also launching a campaign to convince the public we are right, we are handing Senator Frist the perfect opportunity to kill the filibuster once and for all. It is counterproductive to make a move that helps Frist take away the filibuster.

c. If you launch a filibuster without getting the public on your side, the public will very likely savage the Democrats who support the filibuster - per se if we don't win the public over, they're not on our side. That makes it much less likely that the Democrats (who are already pretty spineless to start with) will support a filibuster in the future, even if sometime in the future we actually have a REAL campaign to make that future filibuster work.

Why? Because those Democrats won't realize that the filibuster failed this time around and blew up in their faces in terms of public opinion because we didn't have a real public relations campaign supporting the filibuster. Rather, those Senators will conclude that it was supporting a filibuster per se, ANY filibuster, that did them in - i.e., they'll conclude that it's dangerous to support filibusters, as a rule. And that will make them less likely to support filibusters, or fight back more generally, in the future - even less likely than they already are now. How it's a good strategy to do something that convinces Democrats to be even MEEKER in the future?

d. By launching a campaign that isn't well thought out, that doesn't have a public relations plan supporting it, and therefore, ultimately, won't have the support of the public, you set the Democrats up for a public relations disaster. And who do you think the Democrats are going to blame afterwards? Those "crazy bloggers" and their crazy "far left" followers.

Now, I couldn't give a damn if someone criticizes me or us or you. That's not the point. The problem is that the right, and many inside the Democratic party, are hell-bent on portraying the Netroots as a bunch of far-left kooks. They want to make YOU the third rail of politics. Crazy people who shouldn't be listened to. This kind of a campaign, where the Netroots forces the Democratic party into fighting a battle it isn't prepared to fight, only helps convince the party, the media, and the rest of America that working with us, listening to us, is dangerous. And that doesn't help us accomplish our agenda one bit. Again, it's not about winning a popularity contest, it's about our voices and our concerns being taken seriously. I think this effort undercuts that.
4. So the question remains, what possible good comes from the Democrats launching THIS filibuster now? No one has been able to answer that question for me. If you are going to support a filibuster, you support it because you think it is going to, on average, help and not hurt Democrats, when all is said and done. You do not do it just because it feels good. That's political masturbation. It's not politics. It's not smart. It achieves nothing, other than an endorphin high.

I'm here to make a difference in the world, not get high, and not base my political moves on what feels good. I support filibusters, or any other in-your-face political move, when they accomplish something beneficial for our side. I don't support them simply because John Kerry wants to be president, and decides to use the Netroots in a futile, unwise, half-cocked effort that he knows is bad politics, but that he runs with anyway because he wants to win the hearts of the Netroots in order to get our support for his future run at the presidency - to hell with how much damage he does to us.

The man announced the filibuster from Switzerland, people? What, he couldn't get a camera on his windsurfer? If John Kerry were serious about this filibuster he wouldn't go off gallivanting to Swizterland in the middle of it. He'd have stayed in DC, met with the million-dollar groups, met with the blogs and the grassroots, and coordinated a REAL campaign to win this, a REAL campaign to win public support, or at the very least he'd try to lose this in a way that's still "a win."

5. You don't have to win to win, but...
And let me expand a little on that last point. It's not always necessary to win in order to win. You can win by losing. Democrats have a big problem with the public. The public thinks we stand for nothing, and even if we do believe in something, we have no backbone. So, yes, I can see why some people might think this filibuster at this time meet both needs - shows we stand for something and shows we have backbone. But I'd submit to you that neither need is being met by this particular campaign.

Tell me exactly what clear message John Kerry, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the million-dollar non-profits are telegraphing to the public about why Alito is bad? Tell me, seriously, because I haven't heard any clear message at all from any of these people. We know Alito is going to overturn Roe, but the Dems and the groups are terrified to talk about abortion - even though the majority of the public supports OUR position on abortion - so that issue is gone from the debate. So again, tell me, what's the clear anti-Alito message the Dems and the groups are channeling to the public right now - the clear standing-up-for-something position they're standing up for? I can't enunciate it, and neither can you, because they don't have one.

As for showing you have a backbone, great, I'm all for showing backbone, otherwise I wouldn't have taken on (successfully) both the Vice President of the United States and the richest man in the world last year. BackboneRUS, I'm all for it. But how does it show backbone to launch a half-assed campaign that the public will likely interpret as shrill, extremist, and ill-planned? How does that make us look strong in the eyes of the public?

6. I get the desire to do something, but...
I understand the anger out there. The frustration. The desire to do something, ANYTHING. Our party stinks. Our groups are horrible. Yet our rich donors continue to give money to the same failed politicians and the same failed advocacy groups.

Far too many in the Netroots think that the choice before us is fighting for this filibuster or doing nothing. And in the grand scheme of things, they're tired, we're all tired, of sitting back and watching the Democratic party do nothing. Therefore they're excited to at least try the filibuster because at least they're doing something. I hear ya.

7. There is a third option...
But, you need to recognize that those are not the only two options available to us. There's a third. Destroy the Senate Democrats who did nothing to launch a REAL campaign to convince the American people that Alito must be defeated. Destroy the traditional non-profit advocacy groups who took our millions of dollars and did NOTHING to launch a real campaign to win the public to our side. And go after the rich donors who continue to enable these failed Democratic politicians and these failed advocacy groups like some addict who only needs one more fix, then promises he'll get better. If we do not go after them, if we do not force them to change or get out of the way, the same problem, the same failure, the same ineffectiveness will continue to plague our party and our movement, with no change in sight.

We have a choice. We have the ability to make change in our party. We have the power to make the Democrats stand up and fight like real Americans for real principles in a way that shows how fierce and tough and committed we can be.

8. John Kerry is using you.
A leader who uses you for his own personal gain - who plays on your understandable angst and tricks you into supporting a filibuster with no plan whatsoever for victory, who has no plan to win the war of public opinion regardless of the outcome of the vote, who simply is doing this because he wants to win the Netroots' support for his 2008 presidential campaign, to hell with how much it hurts the very goals that Netroots wants to achieve - is no leader in my book.

Tell me WHY a filibuster done RIGHT NOW and in the manner Mr. Kerry is proposing actually MAKES SENSE, actually BENEFITS the Democratic party and the goals of the Netroots, and you'll have my support.

But don't expect me to jump on the bandwagon when that bandwagon is running off a cliff, simply because it would make some of you more comfortable to have me join you on the way down.

(Read Matt Stoller's further analysis here.)

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