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December 18, 2005

Fighting Dems to the Rescue?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

This article on helicopter pilot and Army major L. Tammy Duckworth who has now declared her candidacy for the Chicago Congressional seat that Henry Hyde will vacate next year got me focused on something the MSB (mainstream blogosphere, i.e. DailyKos) has been onto for months:   Fighting Dems.

Fighting Dems are the nine and counting Iraq military vets who are running for Congress as Democrats, following in the footsteps of Paul Hackett.  Kos and Air America have teamed up to profile one a week.  Here's the list along with links to each campaign website.   A few weeks ago I met Patrick Murphy who is challenging a first-term Republican in Pennsylvania's 8th District.   He's bright, but as green as they get when it comes to campaigning.  Nonetheless, when he talks about Iraq he held an audience of long-time donors and operatives better than any career politician could have.

The theory behind the Fighting Dems and the reason the DNC and DNCC are working so hard to find these people is obvious, but compelling:  these candidates can take the Republicans on where they are now weakest, but without exposing traditional Democratic vulnerability on security.   Moreover, they have interesting life stories, have endured hardship (Tammy Duckworth lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down), and generally exhibit qualities like patriotism and courage that we Americans admire.

I'm getting ahead of myself, but here are a couple of things I find interesting about this:  One is that it may offer the beginnings of the overarching narrative progressives will need in 2006 in order to make major gains.   To retake more than a handful of seats, progressives will have to do more than run a series of individual campaigns.  To defeat incumbents, we will need to explain why people need to begin to turn out the current leadership nationally and what the alternative - writ large, not just in the form of one representative - will offer.  Ideas like a National Security Contract with America can help do that.  So will a group of young, gutsy veterans with a shared vision.   

The Fighting Dems also have the potential to help us fill the genuineness gap:  those creeping suspicions that John Kerry's every word - even about his own military service - was crafted by a political spin-meister.  The spin machine hasn't (yet) taken over the Fighting Dems, and it shouldn't.  They speak from the heart, and from the pain of real and recent experience on the battlefront.   If they are indeed seen as the new voice of the party, this could begin to help counter the McCain factor, which is driven by his own direct, unscripted quality.

Relatedly, the Fighting Dems can help convince the public that a thoughtful Iraq policy does not amount to a bowl of mush.   There are differences among the Fighting Dems over Iraq.    Charles Brown wants redeployment now.  Andrew Duck wants to stay in and fight better.  But there's a lot the candidates agree on:  the utter mismanagement of the war, the dangerous strains on our military, the tarnishing of America's image abroad, and the failure to provide adequate support for servicemembers and their families back home.   

Whereas the Hill Democrats have struggled to make the above sound like a leadership position on the war, the Fighting Democrats can do so.  In this way, they may help us out of the mire of seeming indecisive, and inarticulate, stepping into the gap and offering something that, however untutored, may come across as more clear and compelling than what progressives have been able to offer so far.

If the Fighting Dems win in significant numbers, we may be looking at the face of the future of the Democratic party.   


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Suzanne is on to something preeminently important here. We have been nailed with so many wedge issue, so successfully, but these fighting Dems are an organic, authentic harbinger of a new generation of candidates with bite. The tip of that spear. When Hackett famously called Bush a “Chicken Hawk” and the liberal blogosphere fell into an epic swoon - it was because of the next part of that quote, “but I was willing to lay my life on the line for him.” Hackett and the other fighting Dems are able not just to whine about lethally ill-considered bellicosity on the Republican right, but they can do the most elemental thing in politics: show contrast. Bush failed to show up for a fight he vehemently supported in Vietnam. Hackett showed up for a fight he did not support politically in Iraq, but refused to sit safe in Cincinnati while fellow Marines did battle. The contrast could not be more stark or telling, and he used it to great effect. John Bolton, a passionate supporter of the idea of sending other men and women to die in Vietnam said this to the Yale Daily News about why he joined the National Guard during Veitnam, quoted in the New York Times: “I confess I had no desire to die in a South East Asian rice paddy.” So that means, Mr. Ambassador, that someone else died in that rice paddy for an idea you supported, but were, by your own admission, afraid to serve in combat. What do you think the Republicans would have made out of this quote if it were made by a Democratic UN Ambassador (inter alia) during an unpopular Democratic war? The problem is, few in the party, it seems, have had the chutspa to lay in on the line. Well, these vets don’t have that problem. It sounds cliched but it’s true: they’ve seen battle, they’ve watched buddies die in the sand, in Duckworth’s case, she lost limbs. Mustering the juice for a little straight talk on security issues is not beyond these folks, it’s their instinctive vernacular. Suzanne is dead right. The problem here is that when they come home, they have not spent fifteen years ingratiating themselves with party elites, party infrastructure and generally have no money of their own. So if they are in primaries they are at a huge disadvantage to party regulars. Also they are often quite green, as Suzanne notes. Folks who care have to figure out a way to funnel support, expertise and money their way IN THEIR PRIMARIES. What do you think Republicans would be doing if they had this opportunity?

As someone working the campaign of one of the Fighting Dems, Andrew Duck of Maryland, I urge each and every one of you to get active. We're running a campaign against an entrenched Republican and it will take money, volunteers and organization to mount an effective challenge. If we're going to TAKE BACK THE HOUSE, we've got to cross state lines and help each other.

Uh, no. This is a terrible idea wedging no one but our own party.

The Fighting Dems Fatal Flaw

And the swiftboating of us all has already begun. Who'd a thunk it?

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