Thursday, July 10, 2008

Speaking Merkally

I was invited to a candidates' forum this evening at the local Friends meeting house. First to address the assembled was Candy Neville, who recently ran for the Democratic nomination to unseat Oregon Senator Gordon Smith (R). Having lost the election to Jeff Merkley (and Chuck Schumer's cronies in DC) she has joined forces with Oregon's House Speaker to chair the newly created "Merkley Campaign to Bring Troops Home."

The townhall style meeting was organized by a local 911 truth group and all candidates or party representatives were asked to address the following four issues:

  • The events of 9/11
  • Afghanistan and Iraq
  • The war on terror
  • Impeachment
Candy Neville first spoke to the issue of 9/11. Here she seemed to share exclusively her own sentiments, rather than speaking for the Merkley campaign. She called the attack "avoidable" and attributed it to a government which was "acting ill-informed and unprepared."She then went on to address Iraq and Afghanistan, referring to the military interventions as a "travesty of justice." The "wrong" wrought by America's engagements was said by Neville to "falling on deaf ears" with regard to the "multitudes." I quite agree. Even most progressive Americans seem content to wait for the Democrats to seize the White House before correcting our suicidal course in Iraq. As much as I respect Candy's work to end the Occupation, I have to say I bristled a bit when she expressed the US troop death toll in a round figure... "4000 plus Americans," she said. The last current figure I was aware of was 4116. At the time of this post, the death toll has risen by two. I don't quote these figures by way of statistics. On the contrary, I hope to illustrate that owing to our collective pause, two more families are mourning the loss of someone who died in service to their country, because too many of us are willing to wait.

In this new coalition of the willing (to wait) I count Rep. Jeff Merkley. According to Neville, Merkley agrees "We need to get out of Iraq" but "Afghanistan is something we deal with after we get out of Iraq" (reminiscent of his stance at the launch of America's pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, when he stood up on the House floor presumably to explain why he had just voted in favor of a GOP driven resolution which acknowledged "the courage of George W. Bush. Merkley said at the time:

Colleagues, I have not been and am not today persuaded that Iraq was a significant threat to the United States or that the war we fight today is the best strategy to fight terrorism or the wisest application of our superpower resources. But that is a conversation or a debate for another day.

In a subsequent Q&A session I asked Candy Neville what Jeff Merkley could have said to her to convince her that he had become a peace and justice candidate (given his continued exaggerated anti-war record and his moderate, establishment stance on holding the Bush administration accountable for its high crimes. In her initial comments Neville had echoed Merkley's stance on impeachment, articulated first in public in September 2007 that it "should never be off the table" and that Congress should conduct "investigations" into the possible misdeeds of Bush/Cheney & Co. (Thank you very much to the Department of Too Little, Too Late.)

Neville spoke of outreach made by the Merkley campaign toward the close of the Primary and shortly thereafter. Simply put, Candy Neville is a tremendous woman of faith. She has been both an educator and lay minister. She remains an entrepreneur and an activist. Jeff Merkley told her that he wants to hold Bush accountable and bring the troops home. He chose the name "Merkley Campaign to Bring Troops Home." "I do believe and hope he will," she responds.

I have lost my faith. Neville said of Merkley, "I expect him to keep his word." I reminded her of his recent broken promises made to the Palestinian activists in Oregon and by extension how failed to keep his word with the Muslim community. He broke faith with the peace community when he failed to use speak out against the war when it was most critical. Merkley chose instead to hide his light under a bushel, pretending to give Bush advice, when in reality his milquetoast musings were merely placed in an internal newsletter for what would generously be called a think tank.

In an attempt to rewrite recent history, Jeff Merkley would go on to boast:
"I am the only candidate in this race who published a column against using force in Iraq before Bush launched the invasion. I am the only candidate in this race who rose to speak against the use of force two days into the invasion." - Jeff Merkley, live blogging, November 17, 2008
Because of these and other lies, I told Candy Neville that I did not believe in Speaker Merkley's conversion and that I could not support his candidacy. I didn't tell her that I thought she was just being used by the Merkley campaign. As Chair of the "Merkley Campaign to Bring Troops Home" she functions effectively as the Speaker's beard, or perhaps not so effectively.

With the same sense of passion (if not courtesy) that Neville and I share for removing Bush and Cheney from office and thus ending the Occupation, there were also so-called "9/11 truthers" who had their axe to grind. They were expecting I guess that Neville, speaking for Merkley, would declare the attacks on 9/11 to have been an inside job. "You don't know the first thing," one man scolded.

I felt like jumping to her defense, but had had my say and I didn't want to appear pushy, which in retrospect make me a little ashamed. I mean to apologize to her the next time I see her, which I imagine will be again soon. We are fellow travelers even as she takes this minor detour with Team Merkley. She wants to make the Democratic party stronger and who can blame her. I gave it my best shot too. I fought the lawmakers in DC, but the lawmakers won. I wish her only success where I failed. It's that important.

For my part, I thanked her for her response as well as her own candidacy. She garnered 7% of the vote in the Primary and there certainly is a case to be made that Merkley owes his own continued candidacy to Candy (if not a lot of sugar from Chuck Schumer and the DSCC. ) Full disclosure, I contributed to her Senate race (although I was a staunch Novick supporter). Her erstwhile campaign as well as that of Republican turned Independent John Frohnmayer raised the profiles of peace and impeachment, although I struggle to believe any good was wrought.

For Candy's part, she cast a glimmer of crisis of faith. One of her parting comments was, "I can't believe there aren't more people in this room." Welcome to the fold of the faithless. I too find it unbelievable that America is willing to wait another 6 months.

I can't hardly wait. (But we'll see.)

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