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Let’s Grow Up, Progressives!

Posted on May 25, 2007

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

WASHINGTON—“Let’s grow up, conservatives!”

    Barry M. Goldwater’s declaration at the 1960 Republican National Convention was designed to quell a rebellion against Richard M. Nixon, whom conservatives saw as selling out to liberals on various platform planks. Goldwater’s next line was uncannily prophetic: “If we want to take this party back, and I think we can some day, let’s get to work.” Forty-seven years later, the conservatives whose cause Goldwater championed still dominate the Republican Party.

    The Democratic Party’s progressive wing, furious at what they see as the capitulation of their congressional leaders to President Bush on the Iraq war, should remember this history. The decision to drop withdrawal timelines from the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill is not a decisive defeat. It is a temporary setback in a much longer struggle for minds and votes that the administration’s critics are actually winning.

    The progressives’ anger is not hard to fathom. Bush’s botched war has been immensely harmful to our country. Polls show that most Americans want out. Democrats won the 2006 midterm election in significant part because of the public’s exhaustion with the war and with the Bush presidency. According to the Real Clear Politics website, the president’s disapproval rating across a series of polls averages 61 percent. Opponents of the war feel the wind at their backs. Why, they ask, did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cave in?

    Pelosi is surprisingly calm in the face of the assault from the left. The speaker, whom Republicans love to attack as an off-the-charts liberal, is regularly confronted with anti-war demonstrators outside her San Francisco home. (Their activities, she says with a smile, are “making me an unpleasant neighbor to my neighbors.”)

    “I understand their view,” she said during an interview at her Capitol office on Wednesday, even as the liberal websites were burning with scorn for the Democratic leaders. “I’m one who voted against this war in the first place.” She argues that the war’s opponents are “relentless, dissatisfied and persistent,” and thus “play an important role.” But she adds: “My role is different.”

    Pelosi’s case is that the war’s congressional opponents have already helped move the debate by passing anti-war measures and by prying Republicans loose from the president’s policy. “It is just a matter of time,” she says, before Republicans can “no longer stay with the president.”

    She gets support in this view from one of the House’s most vociferous opponents of the war, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the lead sponsor of the strongest House withdrawal proposal. McGovern sees Pelosi as a passionate opponent of the war who is in it to win in the legislative process. “For her, it’s not therapy,” he says.

    He notes that the agreement to go forward with the war funding bill on Thursday included a promise for another vote on his withdrawal amendment this fall. This gives teeth to Pelosi’s pledge—“we’ll see you in September”—to continue to battle Bush on the war. 

    As a tactical matter, it could have been useful for the Democrats to move another bill containing timelines to Bush’s desk for a second veto, simply to underscore the president’s unwillingness to seek bipartisan accord on a change in policy. But these are the brute facts: Democrats narrowly control the House, but don’t have an effective majority in the Senate since Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., votes with the Republicans on the war and Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota is still too ill to vote.

    Democrats, in short, have enough power to complicate the president’s life, but not enough to impose their will. Moreover, there is genuine disagreement even among Bush’s Democratic critics over what the pace of withdrawal should be and how to minimize the damage of this war to the country’s long-term interests. That is neither shocking nor appalling, but, yes, it complicates things. So does the fact that the minority wields enormous power in the Senate.

    What was true in January thus remains true today: The president will be forced to change his policy only when enough Republicans tell him he has to.  Facing this is no fun; it’s just necessary.

    Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., the chair of the Appropriations Committee, said recently that no one remembers how long it took to reverse the direction of American policy in Vietnam. Obey is hunkered down for a lengthy struggle.

    In a system of divided power, democracy can be frustratingly slow. But it usually works. Critics of the war should spend less time mourning the setbacks of May and begin organizing for a showdown in September. They would profit from taking Barry Goldwater’s long view.   

    E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is postchat(at symbol)   

    © 2007, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Ga, May 25, 2007 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

Conservative pundits turned on Reagan in the end too for “selling out to liberals on various platform planks.”

Bush will burn in the hell of history as a failure if the U.S. “loses” the war in Iraq. (It is already lost, but that is beside the point as this is all about perceptions now.)

If the U.S. were to pull out of Iraq while Bush is in office and the violence continues—even at the same level as now—Bush becomes a “loser” president. It is not inconceivable that a man like Bush would rather let thousands more U.S. soldiers and a hundred thousand more Iraqis die just to avoid this label.

So, the Republican stance is, only, simply, “If we pull out now the Terrorists win.” Who can say that this will happen? Upon what do you base your evidence, I would ask? History? Speculation? Wishful thinking?

We have broken Iraq. We fucked up. This nation has done a horrible thing by invading Iraq. Supporters of this war must be either like the fact that Iraq is full of misery or are in deep denial.

However, we cannot pull out without an honest reason why. We can’t just withdraw for the reason that “our troops are dying.” This reason would make things worse as our standing in the world will crumble further.

Yet if we were also to admit that we made a mistake—obviously we would not use that particular word but would come up with some niceer sounding (but weasel sounding) face saving phrase—and allow for other Middle East countries (there are several, remember?) to actually get together to quell the violence, we could find a real way of getting out.

But pulling out—or however you want to call it—is an action that Conservative people will abhor. Conservatives are arrogant and aggressive people—and will do anything to make sure that in other people’s minds they appear “strong.” The only solution for Conservatives is “complete success.” They just do not understand that, as in Vietnam, “success” will only come to Iraq, if we stay there, after many, many more years of terrible violence and thousands dead.

And the Iraq people still will not have electricity and clean water.

We shall stay in Iraq and like Vietnam we will eventually and inevitably withraw while Iraq is under a shadow of horror—4, 8, 10 years from now.

Unless some people decide to admit to having made a mistake.

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By Pablo, May 25, 2007 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment

Timelines? Just cut the funding, period. I am extremly upset that the Dems caved. Enough of the lesser of two evils nonsense.
The party has been sold to corporate interests seen in the pro-war machinations of Hillary.

Progressives should abandon the party. Yes, things will get worse before they get better.

Progressives in congress should quit the party en masse and join up with the greens.

The progressive agenda will never be adopted by the Dems.

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By Lee, May 25, 2007 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If George Bush is an incompetent bungling fool and the worst president we’ve ever had, what does it mean when he’s able to lead the entire Democratic Party around by the nostrils?

The only honest thing for the Democrats to do is to change party affiliation and all become Republicans. At least that would leave room for a third party. And since most Americans hate both Democrats and Republicans, the third party would probably win.

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By THOMAS BILLIS, May 25, 2007 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with with you about 95% of the time Mr Dionne but on this point you have missed it.Tne democrats just continue to feed the narrative that when it comes to a fight with the opposition the democrats will back down.
You would think with the history of Viet Nam as Mr Obey said in terms of time to shut it down we would have learned something not to emulate a previous disaster.
Of course the democrats will win eventually but these three month delays add 300 dead to our list of heroes in Iraq.As I recall when Goldwater spoke of taking the long view I do not beleive lives were in the balance.
I am sure if PVT 1st class Dionne had to risk his life for three more months while all the politicians took the long view I wonder how philosophical you would remain?

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By steve, May 25, 2007 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Dionne makes his case gently and patiently. What few in his place have realized is that, for the people running this horror show, patience and compromise are weaknesses, not strengths. It buys the more time, money and deaths. Such people respond only to action. That’s what the law used to be for.

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By Tony B., May 25, 2007 at 2:17 pm Link to this comment
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Barry Goldwater?  Are you kidding me?  This isn’t a game to those who actually work for a living, EJ.  Not to mention the folks who have to die (American and Iraqi) due to crass, political maneuvering of those who’ve claimed to protect them.  Which is more frightening to you, EJ:  a cold, calculated acceptance of continued death and mutilation or political disaster?  Your argument is morally reprehensible and intellectually dishonest. 

Side note:  The Barry Goldwater camp gained influence in the Republican party by drawing support from international corporate oligarchs and fringe neo-fascist, European ex-patriates.  By your flawed logic, I guess you suggest the Democratic Party do the same.

Here’s a link to a vid of your beloved Barry Goldwater in action, EJ:

You can lead a boy to Oxford but you can’t force him to think.

Welcome to the web…

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By aaron l., May 25, 2007 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your rationale says that we have to accept this corrupt and decayed 2-party system. We do not. The democrats in congress will realize in the future what this vote cost them. I agree with Mr. Shields about how the democrats are treating this war as more of a nuisance than the real disaster it has become. I think it’s about time they grew up.

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By Roberto, May 25, 2007 at 11:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maybe progressives = pussies.
Or maybe they just don’t care that is peoples’ lifes they are playing long term politics with. What are Dems so afraid of?

The lifes that are lost from the passage of this bill till the next vote should huant the nightmares of every Dem who bitched out.
Where do these politicians come from? I mean Really! Is D.C. part of Earth?

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By Vandrop, May 25, 2007 at 11:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The stupid Dems put themselves in a box with their idiotic pledge to “pass something” before Mem Day.  Dumb.  They should have been out in full force “framing” the thing and making it abundantly clear to all that no troops will go without food or bullets if they take time to regroup and put it to Bush.  Sigh.

Oh, and about growing up?  That’s silly.  What are we going to do, quit?  Back off?  Give up?  Our voices ARE democracy in action.  Anger is our only weapon now.  Congress must hear us or face the consequences.

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By James K Power, May 25, 2007 at 11:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So, we’re taking lessons on how to deal with the lunatic regime in Washington that is completely indifferent to American opinion by following Barry Goldwater? GOLDWATER? How long until Richard Nixon gets quoted? And then, once Kissinger meets his maker in hell, will Mr Dionne be advising us what “Kissinger so wisely said” about dealing with adversity?

Maybe Mr Dionne doesn’t see a universe of difference between the internal struggles of the Republican party of 1960 and the problem the US faces today with messianic end-timers controlling US foriegn policy (in a way that makes their Middle Eastern equivalents green with envy), but I think most Americans with a deeper sense of world history (one where Goldwater is not held up as a paragon of wisdom - for chrissakes!) see it differently!

The question needs to be asked: If the Democrats in congress are as beholden to the military industrial complex and their ultra-elite benefactors as the Republicans - and there is no such thing as an opposition party in the United States - then what are the citizens of this country to do about it?

The American people are being played for chumps whose opinions (and votes) are not only irrelevant, but whose lives are also completely expendable! And people like Mr Dionne continue to hobnob with this scourge on our country, while dismissing the majority who have a huge problem with this setup, by quoting another inside the beltway lunatic (Barry Goldwater) who is being quoted in essense to say: shut up America!

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By Inherit The Wind, May 25, 2007 at 10:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why is that Democrats make a zillion excuses not to follow the conservative and fundamentalist christo-fascist path?

What have they been? Relentless, that’s what. They lost, lost, lost, and lost some more, then they won a little here, a little there, and before we knew it, Ronald Reagan was President. Then in 1994, Newt Gingrich was Speaker and Dole was Majority Leader.

How did they go from a flat-earth medival superstitious laughing stock to power? They were relentless.

Only now that so many of their leaders are corrupt and perverted and failures are they finally losing traction.

Now is the time for Progressives to be relentless.

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By thebigerns, May 25, 2007 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The best way to have prepared for a September showdown would have been NOT to capitulate NOW. But because they caved, proponents of the war only have to point out that Dems already supported the funding in May - so continuing to support it in September isn’t any different. “No, really - we promise this is the last time baby, please, just give us a couple hundred billion more?”

We need political first responders - Not this stupid idea of letting the nation burn to the ground while Do Nothing Dems stand around invoking the ghost of Barry Goldwater!

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By James, May 25, 2007 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
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2 points

1 The problem isn’t a veto proof majority or peeling off enough Republic Party votes. The problem is the split in the Democrats. The Republic Party is peeling off Democrats. Pelosi may have had to cut deals to get the first bill passed. She may have promised not to out everyone of the Democrats who won’t cut off the funding. She probably had the choice of this bill or have the party siding with the Republic Party to pass it anyway. She probably wont be able to lead if she whips the Democrats by outting them. She could use her bully pulpit to bemoan the state of fear in the Democrats that they will be labeled soft on terror in the 08 election. She could be willing to lose an election in order to represent the views of the Majority. It would have been difficult for Democrats to vote for the war funding if the Left leaning leadership decided to abandon funding. Pressure perhaps needs to be put on the Democrats instead of the former Governer of Texas who is not going to be persuaded.

2 The stakes are high. Political parties have been destroyed by positioning themselves strongly in the wrong direction. Apparently this happened in the War of 1812. And really aren’t we one terror attack away from Dictatorship? Perhaps the Dems are considering issues of Political Life and Death. Afterall 80, 90 percent supported the War to begin with. How hard is it going to be to pull those numbers up when we get hit again which to quote many republic party members ” is 100 percent certain ” I wonder how they know that.

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By Rob Petretti, May 25, 2007 at 9:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ah. It’s just a matter of time. Of course. I must “grow up” and realize that politics is a complicated process, perhaps too complicated for me to fully comprehend. Whew. Now I can take that summer vacation I’ve been planning on and not worry about all of this unpleasantness until September. Or November. Or May 2008…

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By Max Shields, May 25, 2007 at 8:58 am Link to this comment


You’ve missed the whole point - and it’s not just about progressives (a neat little box you feel the need to place the movement to end the occupation of Iraq into).

No, the point is the escalation continues, the murder continues in the name of you and me. Maybe you don’t mind that. But your “grow up” declaration is aimed entirely at the wrong folks.

Howard Zinn had it right the first go ‘round. We are citizens and our job is not to be patient. It is to be IMPATIENT with this the pull of conservative Dem. who don’t have the wherewithall to re-frame the discussion and so cave in to this Commander In Chief. And while this occupation may go on into the next decade, it will not be because those of us who struggled against it lost, but because of you folks who think this mindless war is just something we need to deal with until the stars and moon are aligned just so.

So, stop feigning maturity, Mr. Dionne; and get with activist democracy - the stuff this nation was built on. Read a little Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Thoreau….the list goes on and no where will you find your sanctimoneousness mentioned - to the contrary - with your talk we’d still be umbilically attached to the Queen of England.

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By skyrider, May 25, 2007 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Permanent US Bases in Iraq are supported by the Democratic Party Leadership!

ASK THEM!  I have asked and received the answer that Permanent US Bases in Iraq are needed for the trading and support of the Iraqi military. If the Democratic Party Leaders will not say they are against Permanent US Bases in Iraq, they are for them!

There are at least four “super-bases” in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with “withdrawal” from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases have been constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and Democratic Party leaders say - and they always deny that the US seeks “permanent” bases in Iraq - facts on the ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream “permanency”. One of the enduring mysteries of this war is that reporting on US bases in Iraq has been almost non-existent these past years

The Permanent US bases fit snugly with other Pentagon plans. For instance, Iraq’s 400,000-man military has been replaced by a 100,000-man, lightly armed military without armor or an air force. (In an otherwise heavily armed region, this ensured that any Iraqi government would be almost totally reliant on the US military and that the US Air Force would, by default, be the Iraqi Air Force for years to come.)

As long as KBR keeps building them, making their facilities ever more enduring and ever more valuable, there can be no genuine “withdrawal” from Iraq, nor even an intention of doing so. The administration does not discuss them (other than to deny their permanency from time to time). No presidential speeches deal with them. No plans for them are debated in Congress. The opposition Democrats generally ignore them and the press won’t even put the words “base”, “permanent” and “Iraq” in the same paragraph. It may be hard to do, given the skimpy coverage, but keep your eyes directed at our “super-bases”. Until the administration blinks on them, there will be no withdrawal from Iraq.

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.    Mark Twain

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By Martin R. Schmidt, May 25, 2007 at 8:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks for this article.  I found some comfort in it after the let down I had when I learned the Dems caved in the other day to the king.

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By Tom Semioli, May 25, 2007 at 7:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh stop this BS! The Democrats and Republicans are owned and operated by the same corporate interests that profit from war. Patience? Yeah that reminds me of when MLK proclaimed ” I HAVE A DREAM—BUT LET’S NOT ROCK THE BOAT.” Remember on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery when Rosa Parks sat in the MIDDLE OF THE BUS because she didn’t want to push the issue of racism? Puh-leeeze! I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but you’re insulting my intelligence…

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By Hank Van den Berg, May 25, 2007 at 6:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How can serious people be satisfied with the Democrats’ complete cave-in on the war funding bill?  The fact is that the Democrats’ justifications for their decision to give up on troop withdrawal show that they are just as dishonest and deceptive as the other party. 
First, the Democrats claim credit for inserting benchmarks in the war funding bill.  Wow!  These benchmarks only cover $1.6 billion in aid to Iraq out of the total of nearly $100 billion in funding for the war.  On top of that, the benchmarks include the requirement that Iraq pass the new oil law that mandates complete privatization of the Iraqi oil reserves.  This is not progress.
Second, the Dems claim they got the minimum wage hike passed as part of the deal.  Well, why didn’t they get that passed as a separate bill much earlier this year?  Worse, why do the Dems continue with the ugly practice of bundling unrelated issues in messy bills?
In good Washington form, the Dems then immediately shift the discussion to next September.  “You just wait, we’ll stop this war tomorrow!”  No thanks.  I wanted the war stopped several years ago, and even yesterday was really already a bit late.
And then that slimeball Murtha has the gall to state that the troops were in danger because the money was about to run out within the next week.  Give me a break!  The Pentagon has a full budget for the year to pay and take care of the troops.  That funding certainly includes enough money to transport the troops home.  Mr. Murtha, this new bill provides money for the surge, and no matter how you word it, you voted for the surge!
Mr. Dionne, we are grown ups, and we can see what is going on here.  Asking us to “grow up” and tolerate the lies and deceptions of the Democrats is like asking us to substitute the childish belief in Santa Claus with the “grown up” belief in the immaculate conception or the rapture.  I think I will go down to the election commission’s office today and change my voter registration back to the Green Party.  My shift to the Democrats last fall was the only act of immaturity on my part.

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By anonymous, May 25, 2007 at 6:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Republicans needed to build their movement because it’s bullshit designed to benefit people who don’t need help.  They can get people to believe anything.

Democrats who take care of the people who need it should win because of the demographics.  They can’t even get people to believe the truth.

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By Marjorie L. Swanson, May 25, 2007 at 6:22 am Link to this comment

Absolutely mikehear! How many more will have died by September?

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By Skruff, May 25, 2007 at 6:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This piece of tripe is the biggest misreconstruction of history I’ve witnessed on this site.

Barry Goldwater’s conservatives would not recognise the GWB administration as “conservative” not on the Medicare part D plan, on the No Child Left Behind legislation, nor on the Iraq war.  Barry was marginally regilous, but Fically parsimonious. He would be horrified at the red ink spilling from Washington.

May I also point to the final interview given by Goldwater on McNeil Leahr where he was seated as an opposite to George McGovern.  It seemed to me that Goldwater and McGovern agreed more ofter than not, and Goldwater was addament that far too muich money and lives had been wasted in Vietnam. 

IMHO were Goldwater alive and an Arizona Senator today, the anti war forces would have one additional vote.

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By John Lowell, May 25, 2007 at 6:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And now come the councils of patience from professional Democratic apologist, E.J. Dionne. What could be more transparent than much of the liberal press is part of the problem. It was in advance of the war and is now.

This outcome was predicted when the Democrats took control of the Congress after the last election yet schlemiel bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and other terribly ambitious commentators thought such dire predictions were fevered if I recall. Don’t count on them to eat their words, just don’t pay much attention to them anymore.

The right path here is to back someone like Ron Paul for the top office, not Dennis Kucinich, a clown who bancrupted Cleveland in the late 1970s or Chuck Hagel who never had a bad word to say about the war until recently. Paul has a decent chance of being nominated by the Libertarian Party to run as their candidate for president in 2008 when the Republicans select chamelion Romney and the Democrats Brezhnev-like Clinton. Left wing voters sound hollow in their denunciations “mindless” fundamentalist support of the Cheney/Bush Regime. No one’s political allegiances are more lockstep than theirs. There’s an old saw that if you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you’ve always gotten. And you’d deserve it.

John Lowell

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By mikehear, May 25, 2007 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

“Critics of the war should spend less time mourning the setbacks of May and begin organizing for a showdown in September.”

We are not mourning setbacks, I’m mourning the 3441 US military lives lost and 25,000 injured with 600,000 plus Iraqi deaths. I’m not critiquing the war I want to stop it f…ing NOW.

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By Hammo, May 25, 2007 at 5:51 am Link to this comment

The Dems need to be more forceful. There are many aspects of corruption in the Bush-Cheney bunch that need to be addressed in an aggressive manner. The Dems risk losing the trust of many Americans.

If strong and legitimate third-party or independent presidential and congressional candidates were to run for office on the solid promise to end the occupation of Iraq in some intelligent way, they could be elected.

Many Americans want a “third way” or some kind of reasonable alternative to the Repubs and Dems. The Greens, Libertarians and others have not provided a solid alternative in the past.

Maybe in 2008 some new developments will emerge. See:

“A much-needed new path for 2008: Time for independent and third-party candidates to emerge, transcend and unite?”  
Populist Party of America
March 5, 2007

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By Sang Ze, May 25, 2007 at 5:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Democrats have lost all credibility when they caved in to Bush as Cheney forecast they would. Why should anyone support a party which was elected to office based on promises made which are not being kept? Obviously the Democrats are not the solution to the nation’s problems created by a Republican administration. The citizenry is irate with the failures of both parties and waqnts change. There is a dire need in the U.S. for a third party, perhaps more. Action is needed now, before another one of the absurd yahoos craving the presidency is elected to the office.

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By Peter RV, May 25, 2007 at 4:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dionne’s recommendation that we should be patient as our “bi-Party” is preparing an extended and likely Nuclear War- is dead wrong.
  On the contrary, we must be extremely impatient with and suspicious of the bi-partisan crooks who are trying to cheat us into this deadly adventure,through the back door -despite the fact that over seventy percent of Americans are against it.
  “Be patient” slogan is clearly an attempt to field the anti-War mass into a Democratic Party, which, itself, has no guts to end this immoral war. Dionne is trying to incourage appearance of some sort of Howard Dean of 2008.
    No deal this time.
    The Progressive is the one that ends the War - Period.

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By Marjorie L. Swanson, May 25, 2007 at 4:16 am Link to this comment

Maybe angry voters would like to see the Democrats fight and lose than never fighting at all. Grow up? Well there will be a whole lot of Americans that will certainly not grow any older thanks to the endless occupation of Iraq that is now the property of both parties thanks to the ever spineless Democrats. I cringe thinking that I actually sent money to gutless Claire McCaskill. And I cheered when Jon Tester and Jim Webb won their respective elections. Grow up? I guess that means just accepting the status quo and all who die, needlessly in the meantime.

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By NHB, May 25, 2007 at 4:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Democrats won’t have the benefit of the doubt anymore.  They’ve just lost a group of voters next year.

There was no reason to even submit a bill.  They can’t even do that correctly.

A viable third party is on the way so the choice won’t be between two wings of the same corporate party.

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