There may be some abstract level where the American people are really with the progressives on the issues. For example, if you poll them on health care, education, stem-cell research, gay rights, reproductive rights, and foreign policy and you ask the questions the right way, you’ll discover that the people prefer the Democrats’ positions, and often the progressive Democrats’ positions. Part of the problem is that the business of politics does not allow for the questions to be asked in the right way. Instead of asking people whether they want the United States to have a reputation for brutality and violating human rights, they ask them what they would support in some ticking bomb scenario. The media never frames the issues in a way favorable to the progressive point of view. And, candidly, people running for office have to take this into account when they develop their rhetoric.

If part of our problem is that the Democrats we choose to represent us don’t really share our values, another problem is that even those that do are afraid to make their argument in an hostile environment.

Part of what the blogosphere does is make arguments in a way that is unafraid and that frames the issues in a way favorable to our candidates.

But we’ve run into a stone wall because our leaders either do not share our values or they do not share our courage. They are either disingenuous or they have a political version of battered wife syndrome.

At this point, progressive Democrats are somewhere between furious and despairing when it comes to our own leadership. And there is no better way of demonstrating this than to look at the Democrats that are in key leadership positions within the party.

Unhappiness with Harry Reid is widespread and the causes are growing daily. To take one example, Harry Reid was widely applauded in 2005, when he shut down the Senate. Reid was objecting to Sen. Pat Roberts’ refusal to investigate the prewar ‘fixing of the facts around the policy’ of invading Iraq.

Despite the fact that the chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee publicly committed to examine these questions more than a year and a half ago, he has chosen not to keep that commitment. Despite the fact that he restated the commitment earlier this year on national television, he has still done nothing. …

Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren’t being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that Senate go into closed session.

But, once Harry Reid became Majority Leader, he did nothing, as well.

Moreover, Harry Reid readily admits that he has the power to end the war in Iraq, but simply refuses to do so. Here he is on the Ed Schultz radio show:

Schultz: But you could say we’re not bringing [supplemental war funding] to the floor, the funding’s over, correct?

Reid [very slowly]: Yes, we could do that, yes.

Schultz: Why don’t you do that, the American people want you to do that?

Reid: Ed, it’s a situation where we have to do what is right… I say that Feingold and Reid are right. We say there should be immediate redeployment, set a deadline that everybody should be out except a limited number. That means they’re gonna have to have some money… the troops there fighting counterterrorism, which we need, that is going to be some money, we have to do that.

One could argue about the wisdom of Reid’s position, but one cannot argue that the Dems are not disingenuous when they repeatedly argue that the reason they do not end the war is because they do not have 60 votes in the Senate. The clear fact is that the Democrats do not want to end the war…at least not in the way that Ed Schultz suggests.

Nancy Pelosi has been better. But Pelosi has disillusioned many with her decision to take impeachment off the table. Again, one can argue the wisdom of that decision, but one cannot argue that there haven’t been negative consequences. One consequence became painfully clear when the Senate felt compelled to confirm Mike Mukasey as attorney general even though, as Sen. Schumer admitted, he is dead wrong on torture. When Congress decided to give the president and his quail-hunting sidekick a pass on their manifest crimes, it opened the nation up for spectacles like this:

[The most amazing quote was from chief Mukasey supporter Chuck Schumer, who, before voting for him, said that Mukasey is “wrong on torture — dead wrong.” Marvel at that phrase: “wrong on torture.” Six years ago, there wasn’t even any such thing as being “wrong on torture,” because “torture” wasn’t something we debated. It would have been incoherent to have heard: “Well, he’s dead wrong on torture, but . . . “

Now, “torture” is not only something we openly debate, but it’s something we do. And the fact that someone is on the wrong side of the “torture debate” doesn’t prevent them from becoming the Attorney General of the United States. It’s just one issue, like any other issue — the capital gains tax, employer mandates for health care, the water bill — and just because someone is “dead wrong” on one little issue (torture) hardly disqualifies them from High Beltway Office.]

And Schumer isn’t just any Democratic senator. For the second cycle in a row, he is the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), and he is the Democratic Conference Vice Chair (effectively, the third ranking Democrat in the Senate).

Schumer has influence over not only Senate policy but what kind of Democrats will become new senators after next year’s elections. He is effectively in a position to suffocate any progressive backlash in the cradle.

If he has a true congressional counterpart, it isn’t DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen…it’s Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. All you need to know about Hoyer can learned in Zachary Roth’s Novermber 2006 Washington Monthly piece, The Establishmentarian. Nothing reflects Hoyer better than his position on the Bankruptcy Bill:

Hoyer noted to me that he had voted for the bill when it had come up several times in previous years, and said his decision was based on a belief in personal responsibility. “The argument that bankruptcies were becoming simply a way to excuse irresponsible behavior had validity to it,” he told me. “I believe that personal responsibility expectations are very important. No Child Left Behind, the accountability of students and teachers and parents and administrators to provide taxpayers their value … The core value of personal responsibility is what I felt was manifested in the bankruptcy bill.” But Elizabeth Warren, an expert on bankruptcy at Harvard Law School, points out that 90 percent of families who file for bankruptcy do so after a job loss, a serious medical problem, a divorce, or a death.

It’s quite obvious that Steny Hoyer is an enemy of progressive thought. And that is before we even get to the war in Iraq.

Then, last November [2005], after Murtha—a longtime Pelosi ally who had run her whip campaign in 2000—called for an immediate withdrawal, Hoyer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) urged Pelosi not to join Murtha, arguing that doing so would hurt Democrats politically.

Speaking of Rahm Emanuel, he is another Democratic leader that is currently infuriating progressives. Just this past Friday, Emanuel’s support for Tom Tancredo-sponsored anti-immigration legislation led Markos Moulitsas to ask Is Rahm racist, or merely scared?.

Americans don’t want hate-based anti-immigration rhetoric and action, they want comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders and provides a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Yet there’s Rahm, with a big chunk of the Democratic caucus, making common cause with racist Tom Tancredo.

The Latino vote is volatile. It swings. And Democrats can’t afford to lose 10 percent of their margin over stupidity like this.

Emanuel was in charge of the congressional midterm election effort and his net plus-thirty victory certainly entitles him to some gratitude. But Emanuel’s decision making and recruitment preferences were hardly progressive. In some cases, Democrats won primaries over Emanuel-anointed candidates (McNerney)…in others they won despite getting no help from the DCCC (Shea-Porter)…and in others, conservative Democrats that Rahm heavily invested in went on to lose their elections (Duckworth). The record of Rahm-recruited candidates in the current Congress has been disappointing…to say the least.

The cumulative effect of this poor leadership has been devastating. Frank Rich points this out this morning.

To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal….

…What makes the Democrats’ Mukasey cave-in so depressing is that it shows how far even exemplary sticklers for the law like Senators Feinstein and Schumer have lowered democracy’s bar. When they argued that Mr. Mukasey should be confirmed because he’s not as horrifying as Mr. Gonzales or as the acting attorney general who might get the job otherwise, they sounded whipped. After all these years of Bush-Cheney torture, they’ll say things they know are false just to move on.

To return to the main point of this essay, we can now easily see fissures that were once obscured. Do our leaders lack our courage or do they not share our values?

In some cases, as in our 2000 vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, it’s become obvious that he never shared our values (at least on national security). But it is now dawning on most progressives that our values are not shared by most of the people in leadership positions.

On some things, like illegal warrantless surveillance and torture, most Democrats have their heart in the right place, but what can we say of Diane Feinstein, who is for immunizing the telecommunications corporations and cast the vote allowing Mike Mukasey to become attorney general?

There are real costs to all of this Democratic appeasement, not least of which is a strong uptick in cynicism and apathy among the activist class of the Democratic Party.

We are not seeing any leadership on these issues from Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. How can they inspire us? Even when they take our position on an issue, like opposing the nomination of Mukasey, they allow Harry Reid to schedule the vote when they are out of town. And they don’t protest.

The Democrats are probably going to win the White House and gain seats in both houses of Congress. But they will not solve our problems, not bring us progressive policies. That’s clear now. When the Democrats take complete control of Washington, they’ll look around and discover that their erstwhile allies are now their harshest critics. And the reform movement will continue.

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