The Forgotten War (UPDATED)

Cross-posted at Daily Kos

The war in Iraq seems to have dropped off the national radar, replaced by the economy, the horserace, and the ominpresent celebrity scandal. It seems that–since violence is down in Iraq–the traditional media has decided that the war is no longer worth covering.

Well, if current trends continue, Iraq may end up on the front page again pretty soon:

“There are growing signs of backsliding in Iraq,” writes Spencer Ackerman today. According to “Iraq security statistics over the past 13 weeks,” roadside bomb explosions in Baghdad “have ticked up slightly to 131 in January from 129 in December — and the last week of January is not included in these latest figures.” Additionally, “the week ending on January 25 saw seven suicide explosions Iraq-wide, the most since the week ending Dec. 21, 2007.”

While American casualties are occurring at half the rate they were a year ago, they’ve started to go up: there were 24 casualties in December and 37 in January. Not only that, but if history is any indication, it’s more than likely that violence will increase in the spring–last year, American casualties climbed throughout the spring, peaking in May at 131, making that the deadliest month in Iraq since 2004. It’s clear that, while casualties might not climb that high this year, they’re already climbing.

Despite the modest gains we’ve made in Iraq, poll after polls shows that the war is as unpopular as ever–the most recent survey from Polling Report shows approval for the war at it’s lowest ever–32%–while disapproval is at it’s highest–59%.

Why is approval so low? Well, two reasons–first, the surge hasn’t succeeded, and second, Iraq is still a failed state. Remember, the goal of the surge was to give the Iraqi government enough room to come to a political solution. Right now, there is no political solution, nor is there one on the horizon–Iraq’s government is as divided as ever. Meanwhile, violence–both against Americans and Iraqis–remains extremely high; it’s not as high as it was, but it’s still up there. Iraq’s government, infrastructure and economy are all in shambles, and will require untold years to rebuild back to prewar levels.

So while Republicans like John McCain may be doing a victory dance over the surge, American soldiers are still dying at a rate of one a day. They pretend that Iraq’s problems are solved or that the war is over, forgetting–or ignoring–the 130,000 soldiers who will remain in Iraq until the end of the Bush Presidency.

There’s a war going on, but you wouldn’t know that by reading the news–the media’s silence on Iraq is deafening. For hundreds of American soldiers, that silence will be the last thing they ever hear.

UPDATE: With forgotten wars come forgotten soldiers:

Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980, according to a draft internal study obtained by The Washington Post. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006.

At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide, compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan. […]

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe stress on the Army, caused in part by repeated and lengthened deployments. Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas, but that trend has reversed in recent years. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 — the lowest rate on record — the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006.

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Davis Out

Surprising news out of Virginia:

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said today he will retire from Congress at the end of the year, bringing to a close a 14-year stint in the House of Representatives during which he rose rapidly through the ranks of Republican leadership and championed such issues as D.C. voting rights and a vibrant defense-contracting industry.

“It’s time for me to take a sabbatical,” Davis said. “I would say I’m not ruling out future public service, but it’s time to be refreshed, to see what it’s like in the private sector. That doesn’t mean I will or won’t come back.”

Davis, 59, a self-described political wonk and former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman who has wanted to serve in Congress since childhood, said the decision was remarkably difficult. He said that even as some media outlets were reporting this week that he would retire, he had not made up his mind.

“Jeannemarie and I were still chewing on this last night,” he said. He noted that he has had multiple conversations with employers and expects the opportunities for private work to be rich and rewarding. Davis said he plans to fill out his term and to stay in the area after stepping down.

Davis’s career in Congress has come to a close with great swiftness, underscoring how uncertain political life can be. Just a few months ago, he was viewed as a natural contender to replace U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who also retires at the end of this year. But a series of events pushed Davis to withdraw from consideration and then, this week, to leave elective office altogether.

There’s one reason Tom Davis is retiring: The Virginia Republican Party.

Davis has been positioning himself to run for the Senate for a long time–he built a strong and mostly-moderate record, not a hard task for a Republican Congressman representing liberal Northern Virginia.  In addition, he has been raising tons of money–Davis has more than $1 million in his war chest, despite the fact that he’s popular and would likely have been re-elected handily. Davis’ Senatorial aspirations were pretty clear.

After waiting patiently for years, Davis finally had a crack at the senate when longtime Republican Senator John Warner announced his retirement in 2007.  Davis was fully prepared for the primary, ready to duke it out with former Virginia Governor and failed GOP Presidential candidate Jim Gilmore (who was also running).

Unfortunately for Davis, the VA GOP stepped in and decided to choose the nominee themselves instead of holding a primary–they picked Gilmore, leaving Davis with no way to become the GOP nominee.  Thus, his longtime dream of running for Senate was killed before it even began, snubbed by the party he served for so long.

Being in Northern Virginia, Davis’ district is pretty liberal–Kerry won 49% and Bush won 50% in 2004, and Davis’ was re-elected by only 55% in 2006.  There’s a chance that the Democratic candidate will have a good shot at winning this one.  The Politico has a list of the candidates currently running for this seat:

Former Rep. Leslie Byrne and retired Naval officer Doug Denneny have also announced their candidacies on the Democratic side.

Businessman Keith Fimian is a leading candidate on the Republican side; he has already raised over $350,000 in individual donation over the past six months.

Davis’ retirement is a testament to Republican ineptitude and the conservative disdain for democracy.  And now that we have an opening, we’re going to have to work hard to win this newly-open Congressional seat.

BREAKING: Edwards Out (UPDATED)

CNN reports:

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is dropping out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, CNN has learned.

The former senator has told top advisors about his decision. It is expected he will announce it at a speech in New Orleans, Louisiana, at 1p.m. Wednesday.

Edwards’ campaign Web site said he was to deliver an address on poverty and work on a Habitat for Humanity project in New Orleans on Wednesday.

Edwards has trailed former first lady Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the early primaries.

This was surprising–I figured that Edwards would stay in as long as he could, hoping to be a Kingmaker at the convention. It was a plausible scenario–if Clinton and Obama split the delegates while Edwards won just enough, he could have held both of them below the 50% mark and thus had a huge amount of influence in deciding who the nominee would be.

Edwards has no political office to return to, and it’s unlikely he’ll run for anything in his native North Carolina. With nothing else but his poverty center, I thought he would make the most of the Presidential race. Still, it’s hard to deny the harsh reality–Edwards only ever beat either of the two front-runners once, beating Hillary Clinton in Iowa to take second place. Ever since, he has finished third in every primary; his campaign was hoping to capture the silver in Florida, but they just couldn’t pull it off.

How will this affect the race? Good question–Edwards consistently pulls in a pretty big vote share, meaning that his support could give a big boost to either Clinton or Obama. On one hand, I always believed that Edwards and Obama both portrayed more progressive, idealistic visions than Hillary Clinton, thus appealing to the same demographic. On the other hand, I think Edwards has significant appeal among the Democratic rank-and-file, who would be more likely to back Clinton–the establishment candidate–than Obama–the underdog.

To some extent, it may depend on who Edwards endorses, if he endorses anyone–it seems likely that he would support Obama, though I wouldn’t bet on it just yet. If Edwards’ supporters were to go to Obama, they would easily put him on par with Clinton in a lot of states, turning this into a real two-way race. If his supporters were to go to Clinton, they would give her an even bigger lead, making her nearly unbeatable. Thus, Edwards’ decision could end up deciding this campaign.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the media’s shameful coverage of John Edwards–they decided a long time ago that this was a two-way race between Clinton and Obama, and Edwards often got pushed to the side. The media has a lot of power–they’re the prism through which Americans see their world–and they can influence a race like this through who they cover (or don’t cover). Edwards had a significant amount of support, but he rarely got the spotlight in proportion to his support; the media did not cover the candidates fairly, and that hurt the Edwards campaign.

Personally, I’m sad to see Edwards go. I think he had a great message, and he focused on some extremely important issues that were typically neglected. John Edwards spoke for a lot of people who typically had no voice, and his presence in this campaign will be sorely missed. He injected a healthy amount of populism and progressivism into the Presidential race–both elements that Clinton and Obama have picked up on and since used. He ditched his sunny-but-empty approach from 2004 and took a grittier, more determined, more effective style of campaigning, which made him a stronger and more compelling candidate.

So go with God, John Edwards. You told us some inconvenient truths and you gave hope to millions of people. Keep fighting the good fight–our country and our party needs good people like you.

UPDATE: Here’s Obama on Edwards’ departure:

John Edwards has spent a lifetime fighting to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the struggling, even when it wasn’t popular to do or covered in the news. At a time when our politics is too focused on who’s up and who’s down, he made a nation focus again on who matters – the New Orleans child without a home, the West Virginia miner without a job, the families who live in that other America that is not seen or heard or talked about by our leaders in Washington.

John and Elizabeth Edwards have always believed deeply that we can change this – that two Americans can become one, and that our country can rally around this common purpose. So while his campaign may end today, the cause of their lives endures for all of us who still believe that we can achieve that dream of one America.

And here’s Clinton:

Well, Sen. Edwards is a friend of mine, he was a colleague in the Senate, and I have the highest regard for him, and I’m really admiring of what he has done to make sure that poverty was on the agenda here in America. He encouraged all of us in his passion and advocacy, and I hope he will continue that work because it is really important that we stay focused on what we’re going to do to help people.

You know, I’m out here talking about making the economy work for everybody. And it needs to work for the middle class, working people, it needs to give a life line to poor people like we did in the 1990s, so in any way that I can be part of this effort to try to target poverty I am going to be.

They’re both pulling hard for Edwards’ endorsement–and with the economy as bad as it is, both of them will have ample opportunities to prove their mettle on economics and poverty.

The Florida Primary: Review

Here are Florida’s results, via TPM:

Republicans (94% reporting) Democrats (94% reporting)
candidate
votes
percentage
candidate
votes percentage
Giuliani 274,244
15%
Clinton 832,107 50%
Huckabee 252,098 14% Edwards
242,057 14%
McCain 673,414 36% Obama 552,004 33%
Paul 60,201 3%
   
Romney 579,437 31%  

Keep in mind that the Democratic results are, since Florida’s delegation was stripped by the DNC and none of the candidates were allowed to campaign in that state.

On the Republican side, where there were some delegates in play, John McCain emerged as tonight’s big winner.  He vindicated his successes in New Hampshire and South Carolina with a victory in Florida, which will award him 57 delegates, enough to make him the new GOP front-runner.

The exit polls give us some interesting information about how people voted– conservatives supported Romney, while moderates (who knew there were any moderate Republicans left) went for McCain.

I  thought that the GOP primary would become a three-way race, each candidate supported by one Republican faction–Huckabee would get social conservatives, McCain would get foreign policy hawks and Romney would get corporate conservatives.

Now, though, Huck is fading fast, which leaves Romney and McCain to split the GOP between moderates and conservatives.  Huckabee needed a win tonight, and now he’s going to have a difficult time moving forward–his unexpected win in Iowa set some high expectations which he hasn’t been able to meet since.

It was widely known that New Hampshire, Nevada and Michigan weren’t fertile ground for him, but South Carolina and Florida were both firmly within his reach, and his losses there are huge setbacks.  Huck says he’s staying until the end, but that may not be in his control–with nothing standing between now and Super Tuesday, Huck doesn’t have the support or the momentum to become the Republican nominee.

A bigger loser than Huck, though, is Rudy Giuliani.  After his chest-thumping going into Florida, there is nothing left for him to do now but drop out.  Early on, he benefitted from  McCain’s collapse to become the national front-runner.  Later, Rudy began bleeding support for a variety of reasons–non-conservative positions on various social issues, exploitation of 9/11, foreign policy uberhawkishness, and scandal after scandal after scandal. The more people got to know Giuliani, the less they liked him–as the campaign progressed, his support dropped lower and lower.

Rudy invested heavily in the early states–particularly South Carolina–without a single decent showing anywhere; Florida was his firewall, and all he could manage to was a distant third place.

Currently, CNN is reporting that Giuliani will drop out and endorse McCain, ostensibly with the hope of getting a position with his campaign and holding on to the national spotlight for a little longer.  With him out of the picture, the GOP race is down to four candidates–Romney, McCain, Huckabee and Ron Paul.

Up next is Super Tuesday on February 5th.  A week from today, a huge number of delegates will be awarded on both sides–not enough to decide the nominees, but enough to put some candidates well on their way to the nomination.

On the GOP side, McCain will be riding high off of his recent victories, while Romney will be touting his conservative credentials and trying to recover from tonight’s defeat.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama will have his resounding win in South Carolina and his impressive lineup of endorsers on his side, while Clinton still maintains a sizable lead in the most influential February 5th states.

And, as always, I’ll bring you the results as they become known.  For now, we have a week to get ready–it’ll be interesting to see how things go.

The Florida Primary: Preview (UPDATED)

Voting is underway in Florida for both the Republican and Democratic primaries. Today in Miami, it’s going to be partly cloudy with a high temperature of 73 degrees; in Tallahassee, it’s going to be mostly cloudy with a high of 68 degrees.

On the Republican side, Pollster shows Florida to be a mess, with Romney maintaining a slight lead over McCain and Giuliani placing a very distant third. The latest poll from SurveyUSA shows the race in a virtual tie, with McCain getting 32% and Romney getting 31%; Zogby’s final poll out of Florida shows a slightly different race, with McCain getting 35% and Romney getting 31%. It’s clear that this is a close race, with perhaps a slight edge for McCain.

Florida has a winner-take-all system, so their 57 delegates–half of their normal delegation, since they were penalized by the RNC for moving their primary up–will go to whoever wins tonight. That would give the victor a serious boost in what has been a pretty close race–CNN shows Mitt Romney with 73 delegates, John McCain with 38 delegates and Mike Huckabee with 29; RealClearPolitics shows Romney with 59, McCain with 36 and Huckabee with 40. If Romney wins, his margin of victory will be solidified even more; if either McCain or Huckabee pull it out tonight, they will automatically end up in first place.

Both Romney and McCain are showing strong in FL–Romney is coming off of wins in Mighican and Nevada, while McCain has New Hampshire and South Carolina under his belt. Both of them are putting up a strong fight in Florida, which has lead (inevitably) to mudslinging:

Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, began attacking at dawn, accusing McCain of allying himself with liberal Democrats in the Senate and betraying conservative principles on legislation involving immigration, the environment and campaign finance.

“If you want that kind of a liberal Democratic course as president, then you can vote for him,” Romney said at a Texaco gas station in West Palm Beach at 6:30 a.m. “But those three pieces of legislation, those aren’t conservative. Those aren’t Republican.”

McCain volleyed back by describing Romney as a serial flip-flopper who had taken multiple positions on a variety of issues, including gay rights, global warming and immigration. “People, just look at his record as governor,” McCain said at a shipyard in Jacksonville. “He has been entirely consistent. He has consistently taken two sides of every major issue, sometimes more than two.”

No matter who wins tonight, expect this level of nastiness to continue.

There are two candidates who stand to lose a lot tonight–Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani. Huckabee hasn’t won since Iowa, and his path to the nomination is disappearing fast–his Iowa victory is starting to look like a fluke, and two successive losses in South Carolina and Florida would seriously hurt his campaign. Without any momentum going into February 5th, it’s likely that the GOP primary will become a two-man race between Romney and McCain, leaving bad luck Huck out in the cold.

Rudy Giuliani also needs Florida, but he won’t win it. He hasn’t lead in the polls in FL for months, and after today his delegate count will remain at a pathetic “0.” Giuliani’s original strategy was to become the chosen candidate of the conservative Republican base, winning South Carolina and Florida and going strongly into Super Tuesday. Unfortunately for him, other candidates won the hearts and minds of the GOP faithful, leaving Rudy without very little support. After his loss today, there’s a good chance he might pack it in and drop out:

The mayor’s own rhetoric in recent days has suggested that he considers second place to be a worthless prize in Florida, where the winner will collect all 57 delegates and a hefty dose of momentum going into Feb. 5.

“I think the winner in Florida will win the nomination, and we’re going to win in Florida,” he told reporters.

Giuliani staggered through a listless, final day of campaigning by hopscotching across the state in a private jet and greeting small groups of supporters on airport tarmacs.

Reporters covering his campaign returned to their plane seats after one leg to find a going-away present of sorts: a signed baseball from Giuliani (worth $11.99 on eBay).

In Fort Myers, there were no more than 75 supporters waiting for Giuliani, whose speech sounded more like an appreciation than a call to arms.

“We are really thankful for all of the work you’ve done,” a subdued Giuliani told the crowd before turning to his wife, Judith, and thanking her for “all of her help and her assistance and her partnership.”

Giuliani’s super-hawkishness, pandering, revisionist history and 9/11 exploitation have both added to the unpleasantness in the Republican race and left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ll be glad to see him drop out of the race and step out of the national spotlight once and for all.

On the Democratic side, there isn’t much to talk about. Much like Michigan, Florida has no delegates and the candidates are forbidden to campaign there. The outcome of today’s primary won’t affect the delegate count, and it won’t even reflect the accurate will of the voters.

Unfortunately, that won’t stop the media from obsessing over which Democrat wins Florida, which could impact the media narrative going into Super Tuesday. Personally, I wish the media would focus more on the delegate count–which actually decides the nominee–and less on the incidental horserace; perhaps they’ll surprise us tonight.

I’ll bring you more as it happens.

UPDATE: AMERICAblog brings us some early exit polls (which are hardly reliable, but I figured I’d put them out there):

The National Review, which as a right wing publication really, really cares about the GOP nomination, posted early exit polls from Florida:

The first wave of exit poll numbers, including absentees: McCain 34.3 percent, Romney 32.6 percent, Giuliani 15.3 percent, Huckabee 12 percent.

Given these are exit polls, caveat emptor. That’s all I’m saying.

Identity Politics

In response to Sen. Ted Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama, the New York chapter of NOW sent out a scathing press release. CNN brings us more:

In a sharply critical statement, the New York state chapter of NOW took aim at Kennedy Monday for what it called an “ultimate betrayal,” and suggested the Massachusetts Democrat “can’t or won’t” handle the idea of Clinton becoming President of the United States.

“Sen. Kennedy’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s opponent in the Democratic presidential primary campaign has really hit women hard,” said the statement. “Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him, hushed the fact that he was late in his support of Title IX, the ERA, the Family Leave and Medical Act to name a few.”

“And now the greatest betrayal! We are repaid with his abandonment!” the statement continues. “He’s picked the new guy over us. He’s joined the list of progressive white men who can’t or won’t handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton.”

[…]

“This latest move by Kennedy is so telling about the status of and respect for women’s rights, women’s voices, women’s equality, women’s authority and our ability – indeed, our obligation — to promote and earn and deserve and elect, unabashedly, a president that is the first woman after centuries of men who ‘know what’s best for us.’”

Meanwhile, the national chapter of NOW sought to distance itself from the state chapter’s comments, issuing a statement Monday evening that praised Kennedy’s record with respect to women’s rights.

Can you believe that?

NYNOW is basically saying that if you don’t support Hillary Clinton, you don’t care about women0–it insinuates that if you’re a woman, a feminist, or just not a misogynist, you have to support Hillary Clinton. If you don’t, NYNOW implies that you’re either a closet patriarch or too weak to “handle the prospect” of a female President, or perhaps both.

This is identity politics at it’s worst. Identity politics is destructive and idiotic, and it reduces our candidates to one-dimensional caricatures representing their respective groups. It takes away everything a candidate has done, leaving behind simply everything a candidate is. It leads us to abandon judgment, experience, vision, and every other aspect of our candidates to focus on aspects of them that they had absolutely no control over.

There are plenty of reasons to vote for someone–vote for them because they have the best ideas; vote for them because they’ll do the best job; vote for them because they have the most experience; vote for them because they have the best vision; vote for them because of their leadership, etc. But don’t vote for a candidate because you’re part of Group X and they’re part of Group X, because that cheapens their candidacy hurts the democratic process.

Leave craven identity politics to the Republicans–we’re used to seeing it from them. But we’re Democrats–we’re supposed to choose the best candidate for the job regardless of their race, gender, religion, ethnic background or anything like that. We’re supposed to nominate great leaders regardless of their background, not because of it; we’re supposed to see more in a candidate than where he/she came from or what group he/she belongs to.

Because it’s not who we are underneath, but what we do that defines us.