On Leadership, or Lack Thereof

As Jeff mentioned last night, Clinton and Obama have finally issued statements in support of Chris Dodd's promise to do everything in his power to stop the FISA bill in its current incarnation. The mealy-mouthedness of those statements, however, is embarrassing—and indicative of the stark difference between Dodd, who was both willing and eager to be passionately and unapologetically out front on this issue, and the two frontrunners, who once again waited to test the direction of the wind before ever-so-hesitantly stepping out onto the blustery moor.

Glenn Greenwald contrasts "Dodd's leadership and conviction on this matter with the complete passivity and invisibility of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama" and then parses the depth of fence-straddling unsurety found within their respective statements: "While both of them suggest that they might support a filibuster to stop telecom amnesty, both statements are couched in the sort of amorphous, equivocating hedging that is the currency of the principle-free, cynical-game-playing Beltway insider."

Obama said only that "if the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it" -- a transparent hedge given that it is virtually certain that the bill (being marked up this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee) will not come to the floor in its "current form." That makes Obama's statement virtually worthless, filled -- as intended -- with plenty of room for him to vote for amnesty if and when the Senate votes on it.

Clinton's statement was just incoherent -- claiming first that she hasn't seen the bill (which has been available for many days now) and thus "can't express an opinion about it," then vowing (so inspirationally) that she is "going to study it very hard," and then surrounding her "support" for a filibuster with multiple conditions: "As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently."

These statements are just manipulative and woefully insufficient. Leadership is about standing and galvanizing support for fundamental principles. And there just is no more fundamental issue than the rule of law principles and basic constitutional guaranteees that will be eviscerated -- still further -- if telecoms are granted retroactive amnesty and relieved of all obligations from having broken the law for years.

…The issue here for Clinton and Obama is clear and simple and permits no equivocation: Will you support a filibuster of any bill that grants retroactive immunity to telecoms for enabling the Bush administration to spy illegally on Americans? There is absolutely no reason why they should be unable to answer that question in a clear, straightforward and unconditional manner.
Sing it, brother.

As Glenn quite correctly points out, the bigger problem is that Clinton's and Obama's equivocation here is merely indicative of their lack of leadership across the board. Clinton's compulsive triangulation on everything from abortion to the Iraq war and ludicrous forays into rightwing culture vulturism does not draw the picture of a inspiring leader, and Obama's leadership credentials are a fucking joke at this point. Not only does he hesitate to lead; he also regularly avoids votes on important issues, presumably lest his stand prove unpopular down the line one day in the future and come back to haunt him. (Either that, or he's too busy campaigning to be an effective senator for the state of Illinois—still an indictment of his leadership ability, though a different one.)

To wit—Obama's decidedly unimpressed constituent Paul the Spud compiled this list of recent votes that his senator has missed, in a frustrated email to me:

No vote on SCHIP (Although he did vote to reauthorize before)

No vote on No Confidence for Gonzo (Come on! How easy would that be?)

No vote on Student Loans and grants

No vote on Guantanamo Bay detainees

No vote on the implementation of recommendations of the 9/11 commission

No abortion votes, nothing on stopping the drum beat towards Iran, no vote on the ridiculous Border Fence legislation, no vote on bridge repair funding (!) ...

Remind me again why I should want to vote for this guy?

Returning to Glenn now for a moment, who notes in his piece that "it is this passivity and amorphous, shapeless, inspiration-free invisibility that has come increasingly to characterize both of their campaigns, along with the leadership of their party. That is why Dodd's relatively mild actions have generated such intense enthusaism and support—a drop of water to someone stranded in the desert will seem like a royal feast."

Absolutely right. And the Democratic frontrunners have given us nothing but a sustained drought of leadership, with no end in sight.

Progressives would do well to consider why they yet allow to lead their candidates two people who have seemingly no will to do so.

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