Monday, April 30, 2007

News Roundup from California Democratic Convention

"California Democrats Cheer Talk They Sought 4 Years Ago" (NY Times):
When John Edwards attended the California Democratic Party convention as a presidential candidate four years ago, he was heckled with shouts of “No war” as he struggled to defend his support of the Iraq invasion. That tense weekend in Sacramento crystallized how divided Democrats were over a war that overshadowed the presidential race of 2004.
Mr. Edwards returned to the convention here on Sunday, this time as a presidential candidate firmly opposed to the war. He heard cheers when he demanded a withdrawal of the troops, and again apologized for his original position. Indeed, all the presidential candidates who spoke here Saturday and Sunday were cheered as they denounced the war, suggesting that the candidates and the Democratic base are now in line on this critical issue.

But in fact, as the weekend here made clear, the Democratic presidential field, like Democratic leaders in Congress, is divided over how to respond to President Bush’s expected veto of legislation setting a timeline for removing troops from Iraq. While the candidates and party activists agree that the war should end, they differ over how quickly troops should be withdrawn, over whether the withdrawal should be accomplished by cutting off financing for troops in the field, and over how forcefully to react to a veto.

Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York described the bill Congress passed and sent to Mr. Bush as the best possible road map to ending the conflict. In separate speeches, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton said that if Mr. Bush vetoed the bill, Democrats should try to find enough votes to overturn the veto, a prescription that — if highly implausible at the moment — was a clear winner with this crowd, probably as perfect a snapshot of the party’s liberal base as could be found anywhere in America.

If Mr. Bush refuses to sign the bill, Mr. Obama said, Democrats will find the votes “we need to end this war without him.”

He added: “We will turn up the pressure on all those Republican congressmen and senators who refuse to acknowledge the reality that the American people know so well, and we will get this done. We will bring our troops home.”

Mr. Edwards, of North Carolina, suggested another course of action to his former colleagues in the Senate. “We need the Congress to stand firm and strong,” he said. “If the president vetoes this bill, they should send him back another bill with a timetable for withdrawal. If he vetoes that bill, they should send him back another bill with a timetable for withdrawal.”

By contrast, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio all suggested that the bill being sent to the president was too leisurely in its deadlines and urged Congress to adopt even tougher legislation by cutting off financing for the war.

“Democrats need to speak loudly and clearly on this issue,” Mr. Dodd said. “The American public is so far ahead of the political leadership on this issue. They want this war over with.”

For the presidential candidates in the Senate, who must cast votes on the issue as they campaign for the presidential nomination, this is complicated terrain. At a time when Republican presidential contenders have been portraying the Democratic Party as the face of weakness in a dangerous world, Democrats are wary of supporting a bill that could be portrayed as cutting off money for the troops or forcing a precipitous end to the conflict.

Mr. Obama may be particularly vulnerable to this line of attack after the Democrats’ first debate last week. In responding to a question about what he would do as president if two American cities were attacked by terrorists, he did not mention a counterattack as an option. He later amended his remarks to say he would advocate retaliation, echoing what Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards had said in response to the question.

As it was, Mr. Obama had been attacked by Democrats on the left after suggesting almost a month ago that Congress should respond to Mr. Bush’s almost certain veto with legislation that would ensure continued financing for the troops.

Amid all the attention here to the Democratic field and its response to the war, one of the most intriguing dramas involved the return of Mr. Edwards. His speech showed how much his view of the war has changed as he tries in his second bid for the presidency to capture the support of the party’s left which eluded him in 2003.

Four years ago, Mr. Edwards was heckled here as he defended his vote in favor of the war. He presented his position as one of principle as Democrats rallied around the antiwar candidacy of Howard Dean, who is now the party’s national chairman.

“I have the responsibility to have the backbone to tell you directly what my position is and what my beliefs are,” Mr. Edwards said.

Sunday, he brought the crowd to its feet with some of the toughest antiwar language heard this weekend. He said he would withdraw 50,000 troops immediately, and remove the rest within 18 months.

“They should not back down from this president and let him continue on this terrible course in Iraq,” he said. “We have to show strength and courage. This is about life and death. This is about war.”

The sentiment of Democrats in this hall was clear from the moment the convention opened Friday through Sunday morning, when Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, led the crowd in a chant reflecting a decidedly unnuanced view of what the United States should do in Iraq: “Not another nickel, not another dime, not another soldier, not this time.”

When Mrs. Clinton recounted the history of the war and asked, “What do we do now?” the crowd interrupted, shouting, “Bring them home!” before she got to talk about her idea of pressing Republicans in the Senate to join in overriding the expected veto.
"Obama wows California Democrats" (Stuff, NZ):
Barack Obama wowed California Democrats at their annual convention on the weekend, drawing a more passionate welcome than Hillary Clinton received hours earlier in this state that carries new clout in the presidential primaries.
More than 2000 party activists frequently rose to their feet in cheers as Obama, who has served just two years in the US Senate, talked about his desire to end the war in Iraq and usher in a new political era in Washington.

"It is time to put an end to this war," Obama, of Illinois, said at the convention centre in San Diego shortly before many started chanting his surname.

Even Clinton supporters recognised Obama's speech - full of generalities such as the need to "turn the page" - had tapped into the crowd's emotions.

"It was the same thing in 2003 for Howard Dean," said Andrea Dew Steele, 38, referring to the former Vermont governor who made a strong showing early in the last presidential race largely because of his opposition to the war.

"We have a very progressive left-wing constituency here in California. Obama's extremely talented, but this is Hillary's time," said Steele, who wore a Clinton sticker on her lapel.

Democrats were making their pitch to a state that has become key in the primaries since California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last month signed a law moving up its primary to February 2008 from June to give the state a greater role in the presidential selection.

In recent years, California has served as a vital source of fund-raising, but the national contest was already decided by the time the state held its primary. New York has also moved up it primary to the same day in February 2008, which could make it the earliest and biggest test of candidates' strength.

California Democrats gave Clinton a warm if not overly effusive welcome, with a few shouting out for an immediate end to the Iraq war. "The first thing I will do upon taking office is to end the war in Iraq," Clinton said.

During her speech, a small minority held signs or called out for the US Congress to cut off funding for the Iraq conflict, a move that could undercut President George W Bush's plans to continue military involvement there.

"She is pro-war," said Patrick Tate, 59, who loudly booed the New York senator. Clinton has refused to apologise for her 2002 vote authorising the war or call it a mistake.

"I am proud that I stood up in 2002 when it wasn't popular to take a stand and urged our leaders not to take us down this dangerous path," Obama said, contrasting himself with Clinton and others. Obama was not in the Senate at the time.

Clinton, considered a front-runner in the primary contest, got cheers with calls for universal health insurance and support for what she termed the invisible people of society.

At a news conference, the wife of former US President Bill Clinton said the crucial early contests in California and New York have changed the dynamics of the campaign.

"It's added to the mix in an extraordinary way. You know, we've never had a primary process like this," she said. "It puts an enormous burden on me and my campaign. Obviously, you know we have to cover a lot more ground and raise a lot more money to be able to compete in all these states."

Caitlin Harvey, 20, a university student, said other candidates were stirring more passions than Clinton, adding she preferred Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. "Obama, he's new and fresh, he makes people excited about politics again," she said. "Hillary, she doesn't excite people as much."

"So far, vision trumps experience among Democrats" (Reuters):
As they consider filling the world's most powerful job in 2008, many Democrats appear to prefer presidential candidates with the most inspiring vision to those with the widest experience in elected office.
At their annual meeting in San Diego, more than 2,200 California Democrats gave an especially enthusiastic welcome this weekend to Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record), who has served in the U.S. Senate little more than two years in his first national office.

"People are looking for fresh faces, they are looking for real change," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has not endorsed any candidate, told Reuters. "It just shows how fed up people are."

"I think it is healthy," he said from the floor of the convention center before the crowd erupted into wild cheers as Obama was introduced.

The son of a Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, Obama has raised lots of money and generated considerable publicity in recent months ahead of the 2008 presidential primaries despite a resume thin in historical terms.

Front-runner Hillary Clinton has worked six years in the U.S. Senate -- less than many candidates in past years -- but has years of behind-the-scenes experience as first lady in Bill Clinton's White House.

John Edwards, whom polls suggest is in third place among Democrats, served one term of six years in the U.S. Senate.

By contrast, Christopher Dodd has represented Connecticut in the U.S. Senate since 1980, and had previously worked for six years in the House of Representatives; his father was also a senator. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware has had the same job since 1972.

Bill Richardson, now serving his second term as governor of New Mexico, was in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1982-97 and also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy. To date, those three men have lagged in polls.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a long-shot anti-war candidate who has served for decades in local, then state and national government, mocked those with lesser resumes.

"It would be interesting, okay, if we put a sign in front of the White House that said 'Vacancy, 2009, no experience needed," he told reporters.


Obama has portrayed his lack of experience as an opportunity to erase cynicism toward politics.

"People tell me I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I promise you this -- I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change," Obama told delegates to cheers.

Voters have sought a fresh face in past U.S. elections -- but rivals to perceived front-runners have often had more years in public office than some of the current Democratic candidates.

Howard Dean generated early enthusiasm during the 2004 campaign, but had served a dozen years as governor of Vermont. Gary Hart represented the new voice during the 1984 Democratic primaries after nine years in the Senate.

In 1968, with public sentiment against the Vietnam War swelling, Sen. Eugene McCarthy attracted considerable attention, yet had served many years in the House and Senate.

"It's kind of outdated to think that you need that much experience," said Bill James, 42, a Silicon Valley lawyer and local Democratic activist. "The experience you gain in legislative bodies like that is different from what you need to be an effective president."

Sen. Dodd said polls today mean little as the primaries are so far in the future, although he knows the public has not always embraced a politician's long service in government.

"In almost any other race I can think of, if I stood up in front of you and said I've spent 26 years in the United States Senate, that would disqualify you immediately," he told reporters. "Having had six years on-the-job training with George Bush, I think experience is now looming as an issue that people care about."

Such thinking has yet to convince Lonnie Sanders, 65, who said he liked both Clinton and Obama. "Biden, those guys, forget it, they've had their shot," he said.

"Democrats woo voters with Bush attack" (AP):
Wooing influential California Democrats, presidential contender Barack Obama (news, bio, voting record) vowed to "turn the page on this Iraq disaster" while Hillary Rodham Clinton denounced President Bush's conduct of the war as "one of the darkest blots on leadership we've ever had."
California, long a major cash source for candidates of both parties, is poised to become more influential in the electoral process as well, having moved its primary to next Feb. 5. As a result, the state Democratic weekend convention was expected to attract all the party's major presidential contenders except Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who was campaigning in South Carolina.

Saturday's program featured appearances by front-runners Clinton and Obama, as well as Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

Clinton unleashed an unusually personal critique of Bush, accusing his administration of ignoring scientific evidence about global warming and stem cell research and lying about the effects of toxic dust at the World Trade Center site.

Her voice hoarse from days of campaigning, Clinton brought the 2,000 delegates to their feet when she said she wished she could turn the clock back to a different time.

"Somebody said to me that he wished we could just rewind the 21st century and just eliminate the Bush-Cheney administration, with all their mistakes and misjudgments," she said to cheers. "People are ready for leaders who understand it is our votes who put them in power, our tax dollars that pay the bills."

Obama, who has made his early opposition to the Iraq conflict a central theme of his campaign, told delegates he was proud to have bucked popular opinion at the time. It was a subtle but direct jab at Clinton, who voted in 2002 to grant Bush authority to invade Iraq.

He also renewed his call for the political parties to find common ground where they could and declared it was time to "turn the page" on issues like health care, education and energy independence.

But he, like Clinton, also leveled a sharp critique of Bush, saying "the president may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open." And he characterized the administration's foreign policy as "bluster and bombast."

Obama and Clinton both called on Bush to sign legislation passed by Congress last week tying funding of the war to a timeline for removing troops. Bush has indicated he will veto the bill.

Both Obama and Clinton were received warmly by the left-leaning, activist crowd — a stark contrast to the same convention four years ago, when the party was bitterly divided over the Iraq war.

There, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean — then a little-known figure in the 2004 Democratic field — thrilled delegates with his fiery denunciation of the conflict. His rivals at the time, including Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who eventually won the nomination, were loudly booed for defending their 2002 vote to authorize the war.

Clinton cast the same vote in 2002, but met with only sporadic heckling during her speech.

The New York senator also promised to "treat all Americans with dignity and equality no matter who you are and who you love." The pledge was a clear bow to California's politically active and influential gay community.

She lambasted the speech nearly four years ago, in which Bush — under a "Mission Accomplished" banner on an aircraft carrier returning to home port — declared an end to major military actions in Iraq.

That speech, Clinton said, was "one of the most shameful episodes in American history. ... The only mission he accomplished was the re-election of Republicans."

Dodd echoed the day's anti-war sentiment in his remarks.

"My friends, this is not about cutting and running," he said, accusing the White House of trying to police a civil war.

Earlier Saturday, candidates who attended South Carolina's party convention said they thought the United States has lost its global standing during Bush's presidency. America, they said, needs a Democratic commander in chief to restore its place in the world.

"We are today internationally and domestically a nation that is no longer a leader," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said.

Former Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, said the world needs to see that "America can be a force for good."

"What their perception is that America is a bully and we only care about our short-term interests," Edwards said. "The starting place is to end the bleeding sore that is the war in Iraq."

Richardson, Edwards and Biden said they would make ending the war a priority.

"The American people are looking for us as Democrats," said Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "They're looking for someone literally, not figuratively, to restore America's place in the world."

"Edwards remains true to his roots" (Joel Connely's column today in the Seattle P-I):
He preaches a message of social justice and is the first marquee candidate since Lyndon Johnson to stress the plight of America's poor, yet John Edwards has lived and obviously enjoyed the American dream.

"I have a blessed life now, at least in material things," Edwards said in an interview. "It's not the place I come from. I remember vividly the place that I come from."
The presidential candidate, due in Seattle and Everett on Tuesday, grew up in rural South Carolina as the son of a textile worker and letter carrier. He was the first in his family to go to college, working on a loading dock to pay the bills.

He was a vastly successful trial lawyer, persuading juries to grant huge damage judgments against makers of shoddy products.

Yet, at 53, Edwards has experienced life-challenging jolts.

The devastating death of an achieving 16-year-old son, in a freak Jeep accident, inspired a Wade Edwards Foundation to honor the boy's causes, and helped prompt Edwards to make a successful run for the United States Senate.

The recurring breast cancer of his wife and confidante, Elizabeth Edwards, produced a decision by the couple to stay on the campaign trail and homeschool their two young children on the campaign trail.

Edwards is preaching compassion, but also promising a presidency of crispness -- one that will display firing power.

The former North Carolina senator said he is "appalled" that scandals have not produced the removal of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.

"It is the responsibility of a president of the United States to take action in the case of subordinates, whatever their position, who are not doing their jobs," Edwards said.

Edwards described as "deeply troublesome" the sudden firing of eight U.S. attorneys -- including John McKay in Seattle -- with unfolding evidence of political and ideological motives.

"It's clear the decisions to fire were based purely on political motivation," Edwards said. "Part of that motivation was their decision not to prosecute so-called 'voter fraud,' which is a code word for voter suppression.

"What they really want to do is to suppress turnout by Democrats and (minority voters) at the polls. Is that justice?"

Edwards decried what he sees as another affront to justice in America -- the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Terrorism suspects have been held at the remote base in eastern Cuba, often without legal proceedings or access to counsel.

Edwards would shut "Gitmo" down.

"Why? It's an incredible open sore for America," he said. "We're supposed to be a great defender of civil liberties and civil rights in the world, yet we have been holding these people under very difficult conditions and not giving them a hearing."

Edwards believes one vital task of a post-Bush presidency will be to restore America's political and moral standing in the world.

"I think a new president needs to travel the world and speak to the people of the world -- not just the leaders -- about who we are as a people," he said. And, Edwards argued, America needs to "do things beyond our selfish motives." He would launch a program to provide primary schooling to an additional 100 million of the world's children.

Edwards is acutely sensitive to the subject of wealth. Sifting through the recent financial filings of his campaign, the Associated Press discovered two haircuts by Torrenueva Hair Designs of Beverly Hills. The pricetag for each cut: $400.

The candidate has since reimbursed the campaign. But the episode has brought out the snippiness of the Washington, D.C., media.

"Cosmetics are part of the equation," Chris Matthews of MSNBC intoned after Thursday's Democratic candidates debate. Edwards was asked about the haircut in the debate. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd revived a Bush campaign nickname -- "the Breck girl" -- and labeled Edwards "the material boy" in a put-down column.

"Voters don't care about this," insisted Edwards.

He shouldn't speak so fast, especially if superficial impressions are all the media provides.

Aboard the San Diego trolley on Friday night, en route to a Padres-Dodgers game, fans that recognized Edwards' name did so for two reasons.

"He's the haircut guy, isn't he?" asked a fan named Bruce Miller. A legal secretary, Janice Harwood, wondered how anybody could pay $400 to get locks shorn and shaped. Still, she added, "I really admire how they're standing up to her (Elizabeth Edwards) health situation."

Maureen Dowd is much too catty to provide context, but ... . The American presidents who took a crack at poverty, and sought to promote and shore up the middle class, have tended to be rich guys.

Franklin D. Roosevelt lived on a family estate at Hyde Park, New York. John F. Kennedy had his own plane and pilot for the 1960 campaign. Lyndon Johnson built a Texas media empire.

"Would it be better if I didn't care about the people around me?" Edwards asked Sunday.

The plight of middle-class Americans losing ground in the global economy is "critical to our security," he argued. And reviving the labor movement is "a crucial component, not just for the unions but for the country."

It's a salient message for Seattle and Everett, once blue-collar towns where the middle class is being squeezed out the door.

Note: John Edwards will participate in an AFL-CIO Town Hall Forum at noon on Tuesday, at the Machinists' Local 751 Hall, 9135 15th Place S., Seattle. He will hold a second forum at 2 p.m. at Everett Community College.

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