Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Democrats: McNerney and Schakowsky

Progressives were recently chagrined over the remarks of newbie California Congressman Jerry McNerney upon his return from a Congressional trip to Iraq. He was elected as a progressive, anti-war Democrat, defeating a DCCC-backed candidate in the Primary and Richard Pombo, the only Republican Committee Chair to lose re-election in resolutions, to be more conciliatory with Republicans who might also be looking for a way out of the war.
2006.

McNerney's election was a huge victory for the netroots, as they wrote extensively about the race and steered significant amounts of money from readers to his campaign. He was expected to be a solid anti-war vote, but he has turned out to be a mixed bag.

During the August 2007 recess, McNerney traveled to Iraq to gain firsthand knowledge of the situation and receive briefings from military officials. The Washington Post quoted McNerney upon his return, giving reason for Progressives to be concerned.
But in an interview yesterday, McNerney made clear his views have shifted since returning from Iraq. He said Democrats should be willing to negotiate with the generals in Iraq over just how much more time they might need. And, he said, Democrats should move beyond their confrontational approach, away from tough-minded, partisan withdrawal.

"We should sit down with Republicans, see what would be acceptable to them to end the war and present it to the president, start negotiating from the beginning," he said, adding, "I don't know what the [Democratic] leadership is thinking. Sometimes they've done things that are beyond me.

Contrast this with remarks by Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. She has been in the Congress since being elected in 1998 and has, shall we say, considerable more experience than McNerney. The Washington Post also asked her about her impressions when she returned from Iraq.
But the military presentations left her stunned. Schakowsky said she jotted down Petraeus's words in a small white notebook she had brought along to record her impressions. Her neat, looping handwriting filled page after page, and she flipped through to find the Petraeus section. " 'We will be in Iraq in some way for nine to 10 years,' " Schakowsky read carefully. She had added her own translation: "Keep the train running for a few months, and then stretch it out. Just enough progress to justify more time."

"I felt that was a stretch and really part of a PR strategy -- just like the PR strategy that initially led up to the war in the first place," Schakowsky said. Petraeus, she said, "acknowledged that if the policymakers decide that we need to withdraw, that, you know, that's what he would have to do. But he felt that in order to win, we'd have to be there nine or 10 years.

In this comparison, it seems to me that McNerney is the victim of inexperience. It's almost as if he's a young, impressionable teenager. I'm sure it's quite convincing to sit across the table from General Petreus and listen to him assure you that progress has been made. Couple that personal meeting with all of the nuances of being a part of a Congressional trip to Iraq and you can feel pretty darn self important. No wonder he's strayed from his original position. He was under the influence of the ultimate propaganda: a Congressional junket.

McNerney would do well to go back home and listen to his constituents on the subject of the war in Iraq. That was the top reason he was elected.

He would also do well to consult with more senior members of his party. Maybe it is a little unreasonable to suggest this, but I think he needs a 'Congressional mentor'. Normally, a seasoned Chief of Staff would fill this role until a Member became accustomed to the demands of office. However, McNerney has his own impressionable newbie Chief of Staff.

Perhaps Jan Schakowsky will take McNerney under her wing and show him the way. Otherwise McNerney could end up on the wrong side of the biggest and most important issue of our time.

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