Democratic Party Leaders Attempted to Rig a Pro-War Democratic Congress

Authors: John Walsh

John Walsh is a scientist who lives in Cambridge, MA and is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch magazine. A pre-general-election version of this article ran on Counterpunch's website.

Full Article:

"In 1964 Barry Goldwater declared: ' Elect me president, and I will bomb the cities of Vietnam, defoliate the jungles, herd the population into concentration camps and turn the country into a wasteland.' But Lyndon Johnson said: ' No! No! No! Don't you dare do that. Let ME do it.'" -- Characterization (paraphrased) of the 1964 Goldwater/Johnson presidential race by Professor Irwin Corey, "The World's Foremost Authority."

"Democrats Split Over Timetable For Troops; In Close Races, Most Reject Rapid Pullout," the headline atop page one of the Sunday Washington Post informed us as the election season got underway (8/27). Stories like this abound, and they should all be prefaced with the single word, "betrayal." Only 17% of rank and file Democrats are for "staying the course," 53% want immediate withdrawal and another 25% are for gradual withdrawal. Among all voters, only 30% want to stay the course, 37% want immediate withdrawal and 26% a gradual withdrawal (Gallup poll -- 9/24/06). According to recent Pew Polls, 52% of voters want a timetable for withdrawal while only 41% oppose setting a timetable.

In contrast to voters' sentiment, 64% of the Democratic candidates in the 45 closely contested House Congressional races opposed a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Note carefully: not only do these Democrat worthies oppose the Murtha or McGovern bills for rapid withdrawal or defunding the war; they oppose so much as a timetable. (The number of Democratic candidates supporting the Murtha or McGovern proposals is vanishingly small.) The position of these Democratic candidates is indistinguishable from that of George W. Bush. How did this betrayal of the Democratic rank and file come about? Who chose these Democratic candidates who oppose rank and file Democrats on the number one question on voters' minds: the war on Iraq? How could such candidates get elected in the primaries? Two primary campaigns, now largely forgotten, give us the answer. They are near perfect case studies, and they deserve some reflection even though the Democratic Party establishment would dearly like us to forget them.

The first case is the Democratic primary race between Christine Cegelis and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois' 6th Congressional District, a Republican district, which has elected the conservative Henry Hyde from time immemorial. Then in 2004 Christine Cegelis, who is only mildly antiwar, ran as the Democrat with a grassroots campaign and polled a remarkable 44% against Hyde in her first run. It was not too long before Hyde decided to retire, and the field seemed to be open for Cegelis in 2006.

Cegelis was against the war on Iraq but only in a very timid way. She opposed it before it started, but she was not for immediate withdrawal. Here is what she said on her website at the time of the primary. "I have opposed this war from the start. But revisiting what brought us to this disastrous point does not solve the problem. It is time for us to bring our troops home. The Bush Administration must provide a comprehensive timetable for withdrawal of the majority of our combat troops at the earliest possible date." Notice she leaves it all up to Bush to set a timetable, which is the standard cop-out for pro-war Democrats. Even this position was too much for Rahm Emanuel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Emanuel dug up a pro-war candidate, Tammy Duckworth.

Although both her legs were blown off in Iraq, she has remained committed to "staying the course" in Iraq. Duckworth says of Iraq on her website: "The fact is we are in Iraq now and we can't simply pull up stakes and create a security vacuum. It wouldn't be in our national interest to leave Iraq in chaos and risk allowing a country with unlimited oil wealth to become a base for terrorists." There is not even a mention of a timetable.

Duckworth had no political experience and did not live in the 6th District, but Rahm Emanuel raised a million dollars for her and brought in Democratic heavyweights Joe Lieberman, Barak Obama, John Kerry, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton to support her.

Despite all this help and with the Cegelis campaign virtually penniless, Duckworth barely managed to eke out a victory in the Democratic primary by a measly four percentage points. During the general election campaign, Duckworth was pushed onto the national scene to help her campaign, providing the "rebuttal" to Bush's weekly Saturday radio address. The AP, in its story on the exchange, concluded that Duckworth, far from differing with Bush on Iraq, "offered no proposal for an immediate withdrawal or a timetable for withdrawal." The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent at least $2.3 million on TV ads for Duckworth's campaign. By not offering an alternative, Duckworth ended up losing the seat to Republican rival, Peter Roskam, by 2%.

In one case, and sadly in only one of the 22 districts which the DCCC selected for intervention, Emanuel did not prevail; but that is also instructive. The second case study is CA's 11th Congressional District Democratic primary. Emanuel poured in money, much of it apparently coming from his own district in Illinois, to bankroll Steve Filson, essentially a political unknown, who opposed withdrawal from Iraq. But in this primary battle the grassroots prevailed and the strongly anti-war candidate, Jerry McNerney, a wind-power consultant who supports the Murtha bill for phased withdrawal from Iraq, defeated Emanuel's pick, Filson. It is noteworthy that McNerney, strongly anti-war, won, whereas Cegelis, weakly anti-war, lost. In the general election campaign, McNerney was outspent $3.5 million to only $1.5 million. McNerney did get $250,000 from the DCCC at the last minute, after his poll numbers looked too good to ignore. McNerney ended up winning the seat against seven-term Republican, Richard Pombo, with 53% of the vote.

You get the picture. If you toe the line for Rahm on the war, the money rains on you like manna from heaven and you are elevated to national celebrity status. But if you are anti-war, Rahm cuts you off at the wallet. Note that in each of these two cases Emanuel did not pick candidates based on a proven ability to raise money. Nor did he pick them for their ability to win. In Duckworth's case she almost lost in the primary despite the cash infusion, and McNerney did win despite the money that Emanuel funneled to his primary opponent. Emanuel did not choose proven fundraisers or winning candidates; he chose pro-war candidates.

Rahm Emanuel himself wants to increase the size of the Army by 100,000 troops, and supports the US war in Iraq, even echoing Bush's claim that it's part of the "war on terror."

If we group the Democratic candidates in the 21 House districts which the DCCC calculated were most likely to switch parties, and to which they decided to funnel the lion's share of their money, the results are illuminating. The following summarizes the candidates' positions on the war, and the final results in the general election.

" More troops should be deployed in Iraq (1 candidate): Diane Farrell (CT). She lost her race to Republican Christopher Shays with 48% of the vote.

" US must "win" in Iraq (9 candidates): John Cranly (OH); Jill Derby (NV); Tammy Duckworth (IL); Brad Ellsworth (IN): Teresa Hafen (NV); Baron Hill (IN); Ken Lucas (KY); Lois Murphy (PA); Heath Schuler (NC). Six of these candidates lost, and three: Ellsworth, Hill, and Schuler, won.

" Bush (or Congress or Bush and Congress or someone other than the candidate) must develop a plan or timetable for exit. This means that the candidate does not offer a timetable or other withdrawal plan (5 candidates): Francine Busby (CA); Joe Courtney (CT); Kirsten Gillibrand (NY); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH); Patricia Madrid (NM). Courtney and Gillibrand won; Busby, Madrid, and Kilroy lost, although a recount is in process in Kilroy's very close race.

" Biden's 3-state solution (1 candidate): Phyllis Busansky (FL). She lost with 44% of the vote.

" Unspecified phased withdrawal (4 candidates): Steve Filson (CA) (He lost the Democratic primary. See above.); Ron Klein (FL) (won the seat with 51% of the vote); Harry Mitchell (AZ) (won the seat with 51% of the vote); Chris Murphy (CT) (won the seat with 56% of the vote).

" Withdrawal in 2006 (1 candidate): Peter Welch (VT). In VT, you probably couldn't get elected dog catcher without calling for withdrawal from Iraq.

Only one of Emanuel's candidates favored prompt withdrawal from Iraq. Fascinatingly, even though these were swing districts, defined as politically moderate, the candidates who took stronger anti-war stands won their general election races at a higher rate than more pro-war candidates.

Despite the clear anti-war voice of the electorate, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party leadership has understood the message. It is up to the peace movement to make it plain.

Editor's Note: The information about electoral results and the three final concluding sentences were added by Peacework to the original article. For further analysis, please also see Walsh's post-election commentary on Counterpunch, Rahm's Losers.