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December 25, 2006

Al Wynn and John Edwards

By Ezra

I'll have a lot more to say about Edwards related issues later in the week, but Stoller is playing fast and loose here:

I once asked his communications director who his allies in the House are regarding povery, and she said 'Al Wynn', who is one of the key right-wing Democrats pushing through the Bankruptcy Bill, the Energy Bill, and the COPE Act, and who stole an election from a real progressive, Donna Edwards.  It was a thoughtless, stupid comment, but it was a comment borne of a genuine illiberal instinct, a desire to suck up to existing power centers.

I was sitting at the table when Matt asked Kim Rubey who Edwards' allies were.  Al Wynn was, indeed, mentioned.  And Al Wynn does, indeed, suck.  But Stoller is excising or forgetting the rest of that conversation.  He pressed on the Wynn issue, arguing the guy's corrupt, corporatist instincts, and Rubey ceded the point.  But Wynn wasn't advising them on bankruptcy, she explained (indeed, Elizabeth Warren is advising them on bankruptcy, and does Matt really have a problem with her?).  Instead, he's deeply committed to asset-building strategies as an anti-poverty strategy, and that's what their consultations focus on.

Now, you don't have to like Al Wynn.  I don't.  But consulting with him on asset-building is, we're supposed to believe, "a desire to suck up to existing power centers?"  Wynn doesn't chair a committee, doesn't come from an important primary state, isn't a particularly legendary fundraiser, and doesn't hold outsized sway amongst any voting constituency.  If that's the campaign's idea of a power center, progressives should abandon them on grounds of rank incompetence. 

By mentioning Wynn, Rubey struck one of Stoller's exposed nerves.  That's fine -- it happens.  And Stoller may not want campaigns consulting with Wynn, even where Wynn's right, even where he's helpful. That's a defendable position.  But the mention of Wynn had a context and a purpose beyond signaling that the Edwards camp seeks support from "illiberal" power centers.  Wynn isn't a power center, save in that he repelled Donna Edwards' primary challenge, and thus represents establishment politics to Matt.  To the Edwards campaign, he was a useful ally on a particular anti-poverty policy.  And, to be sure, the merits of that choice are up for debate.  But the campaign's thinking should reported in full.

Meanwhile, Stoller's demand for Edwards to pick a fight belies the fact that every time Edwards stands up for organized labor or walks a picket line or joins the Hotel Workers Rising campaign or attacks Wal-Mart or lambastes Donna Shalala, he's taking on the titans of the corporate world and the current structure of American capitalism.  In what sense is that not "picking a fight?"  And what's our definition of "progressive" or "populist" if such acts don't qualify?

Update: I think Matt's right about one thing.  I insinuated too much intentionality here, saying Matt "deliberately excised" that bit from the conversation.  He argues that he doesn't remember it, and I have no reason to question that. The Edwards folks, with their demonstrated commitment to Labor and poverty, deserve a bit of good faith regarding their anti-poverty efforts, and Matt shouldn't have substituted such malicious intent for their reasoning, whether he remembered it or not.  That said, I owe Matt the same leeway.   A big piece of Christmas coal for me.

December 25, 2006 | Permalink


This is beneath you, Ezra. I asked specifically what the coalition was and Elizabeth couldn't answer. Then I asked who the allies were on the House side and the communications director said Bobby Rush and Al Wynn. She did not mention asset building.

Calling me a liar when neither of us took notes is way below the belt and I expect an apology.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Dec 25, 2006 1:28:14 PM

I was sitting at the table when Matt asked Kim Rubey who Edwards' allies were. Al Wynn was, indeed, mentioned. And Al Wynn does, indeed, suck. But Stoller is deliberately excising the rest of that conversation. He pressed on the Wynn issue, arguing the guy's corrupt, corporatist instincts, and Rubey ceded the point

I also didn't ask about his allies on Bankruptcy, I asked specifically about the anti-poverty coalition. You are WAY out of line here.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Dec 25, 2006 1:30:54 PM

Wynn is one of the main forces behind the corruption of the CBC. He has a lot of power in certain quarters. He also sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the major House committees.

You're wrong on the facts here, and you're covering yourself by trying to make this about me.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Dec 25, 2006 1:39:41 PM

Meanwhile, Stoller's demand for Edwards to pick a fight belies the fact that every time Edwards stands up for organized labor or walks a picket line or joins the Hotel Workers Rising campaign or attacks Wal-Mart or lambastes Donna Shalala, he's taking on the titans of the corporate world and the current structure of American capitalism. In what sense is that not "picking a fight?" And what's our definition of "progressive" or "populist" if such acts aren't even noted??

This is pathetic. I pointed out his fights with labor in my post, the fact that he stands with unions, as a reason that he might be a progressive candidate. Yet here you seem to imply that I ignored his record. Whatever.

Also, it's not picking a fight in the sense that it's NOT PICKING A FIGHT. He joined other peoples' fights. I don't have a problem with that, but he wasn't the driving force behind any of those fights.

I'll remind you that Lieberman stood with antiWalmart groups during the primary, as did many many other Democrats. In what sense is this Edwards' fight? And I'll also point out that Hillary Clinton has done a lot for labor behind the scenes. Edwards doesn't own any of these fights, they aren't his because he didn't pick them or push them through. He's just sort of a cheerleader.

He could get there, but he's not there yet.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Dec 25, 2006 1:51:35 PM

Matt, the substance of what Ezra is saying seems to be that Al Wynn only consults with them on a narrow topic -- asset-building antipoverty strategies, an area where Wynn is apparently on the right side. I don't think you've explained why that should be a problem.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 25, 2006 2:16:04 PM

Sorry you think this is so unfair. You're certainly right that you asked about coalitions (though not in a way that made particular sense to me). And then you asked about congressional allies. And they answered Wynn. And you responded arguing his corruption. And they responded that he was very good on asset building, and that's what they were working on him with. I can't possibly fathom how you don't think that relevant information in this exchange, nor why you think you deserve an apology because I pointed it out. If you don't remember the exchange, you shouldn't report it. If you're denying that Rubey answered how she did, you can call me a liar and I guess we'll end there. But the way you represented the exchange, as "a comment borne of a genuine illiberal instinct, a desire to suck up to existing power centers," specifically leaves out their explanations in favor of your own. And yes, I think you owe them, and your readers, better than that.

Indeed, your argument in the comments here undercuts your point. You say you weren't asking about bankruptcy. You're right, you weren't. But you responded to their mention of Wynn, both at the time and right now, by attacking his vote on the bankruptcy bill. As I mention here, if you're worried about bankruptcy, their advisors on that are Warren and Hacker. But if you're worried about poverty -- which you agree was your question -- working with Wynn on asset building programs is a perfectly fair answer, and one that in no way merits accusations of illiberality or sucking up to power bases. They had an explanation for why he was part of their poverty coalition. I pointed that out. This is "out of line?" Yikes.

As for Wynn's power, your evidence is that he "sits" on an influential committee and is also influential in the CBC. I don't think that qualifies him as a power center, or someone Edwards is obviously talking to out "illiberal" motives.

You brought up the "picking a fight" thing there and now, and I think you've missed the point. Becoming a fighter for labor is picking a fight -- indeed, it's the very definition of it. Taking on establishment folk like Shalala, taking on Wal-Mart, taking on the hotel companies -- for him to be doing that, and you to complain that he's not "picking a fight" -- I don't get it. At all. If he became anti-war, or a UHC advocate, or whatever else -- he also wouldn't be "creating" those fights. Progressive politics has already identified the areas of contention. No national political figure is one-tenth as pro-labor as Edwards has been, to compare his actions on their behalf to those of Clinton and Lieberman is, to use your term, "beneath you." But this is where we part on the issue: I believe forthright support for Labor to be enormously courageous and important and the very definition of a progressive politician picking the right fights. You believe it to be fine, but wrote a long post arguing that Edwards needed to pick a fight.

Lastly, you're right -- this isn't about you. And I'm not making it so. And so don't make it about us. I was at this event and I think the Edwards campaign had a reasonable explanation on the Wynn issue. You may not, but both sides of this argument deserve to be out.

Posted by: Ezra | Dec 25, 2006 2:17:58 PM

As I mentioned in the thread to Matt's post at MyDD, I was at that meeting. I can say that Matt's characterization of the conversation, both in his original post and in his comments here, matches my recollection.

I have tremendous respect for Ezra but I have disagreement here with him both as to the nature and content of the conversation in question, and in his choice to make this post. For the disagreements as to content, I defer to Matt's comments above, though I would add that there was no mention of anything as abtruse as "asset building."

As for picking fights, I think Matt's writing has been clear on this, both in the current post and in his "bar fight" post. I would also point to my comment at MyDD in response to Matt's recent post, which I think captures Matt's argument as well: http://www.mydd.com/comments/2006/12/24/17161/584/89#89

My own main complaint with Ezra, and with others on the left who take shots like this, has to do with judgment. It's one thing to disagree on the facts, but another to use one's public name and media forum to do a blog post that essentially calls another's character into question. There's a lengthy comment thread at MyDD. Ezra could have asked, in a collegial way, if Matt remembers the conversation accordingly to Ezra's recollection. That would have been the action of a friend and ally, or at least, of an ally in politics, no matter what competitive agendas may underlie their relationship. But Ezra did not take that path. He chose to jump to his own fight by way of a hit piece in his blog.

That's a problem, both as a matter of judgment and as a matter of honesty in reporting. Why not discuss, even in a non public way, recollections of the meeting? Ezra knows how to email Matt or me very well. He didn't do that. Why make such an attack on Matt, Ezra? Why?

I'm older than either Matt or Ezra. I have no intention or desire to make money out of any career in politics. I do politics on my own time, so this is not my bread and butter. I appreciate that both Ezra and Matt are devoting their full time lives to this stuff, and I more than respect both of them for it. But sitting at that table, here's what I saw: I saw two young guys with similar cultural backgrounds in a kind of competition playing in the same general arena. I saw Ezra interrupt Matt to make points at the table which I had trouble seeing as connected to anything Matt had said. I saw Matt getting frustrated with Ezra, with Ezra seeming, to my aged eyes, to get under Matt's skin.

My statement to you guys is, please, stop it. Whatever pissing contest is unfolding between the two of you, please stop it. Ezra, this post was unnecessary and representative of bad judgment. Matt, please relax a bit on the apology demand, since you'll only back Ezra into a corner where his competitive pride will likely lock him in to a defensive position. You're both unbelievably talented guys who don't actually do the same things in politics, and there's more than enough room for both of you, for a long time. Don't set precedents now that will take on a life of animosity and mistrust over the long term deleterious to progressive politics. Please work this out offline.

Finally, I've seen this error in judgment - using a blog post to attack, or attack the character, of other left wing bloggers - happen before. I've even been a target, and I responded, as Matt did, with fire (even, in my case, with more fire). It does little good. But I would suggest that all people interested in seeing the advancement of a progressive agenda find ways to engage and disagree with each other that do not include public attacks on motive, character, or whatever. That's destructive. When you act so as to divide us, Ezra or anyone else, you strengthen the right wing.

Please stop it.

Best to all and happy holidays.

Posted by: Pachacutec | Dec 25, 2006 3:01:57 PM

At least in theory (in that, I don't have numbers to back me up right now), asset building is a great anti-poverty stategy. It's one of the reasons why some were behind Social Security privatization, something I don't favor, and why creating add-on accounts to that prorgram, something I do favor, seems like such a good idea. It also seems like an idea that would appeal to the upper middle class, the group that votes more than the poor. So while Edwards' opinions on trade might give me pause, this is a great reason to support him, particularly because he is unlikely to be horribly corporate if he's consulting with Elizabeth Warren.

Posted by: Brian | Dec 25, 2006 3:19:09 PM

Al "I occupy space" Wynn is a "power center" in Prince Georges County, but that's about it. Among his many, many shortcomings is the fact that after seven terms, he's never come close to a leadership position -- no committee chairmanships, no legislation worth remembering, nothing. In contrast, van Hollen, representing a district adjacent to Wynn's, has recently been named as head of the DCCC, and he's only been in two terms.

It's surprising that anybody outside of Maryland would mention Wynn at all, he's such a nonentity. I guess the low profile helps him collect his skim without attracting undue attention. Hopefully, Donna Edwards will put him down once and for all in '08.

Posted by: sglover | Dec 25, 2006 3:29:10 PM

I'm finding this all a rather odd blow-up. I'm perfectly willing to believe that Matt doesn't recall the fact that they talked back after being lambasted about Wynn for awhile. And I'm perfectly happy to walk back any arguments over deliberateness (as I did in my update!). But in the same way that Matt is offended that I implied intentionality to his remembrance, he, without giving the campaign opportunity or chance to respond, simply said that their talks with Wynn were motivated by "a genuine illiberal instinct, a desire to suck up to existing power centers." That's a serious accusation, much more so than anything I levied. As for their explanation over asset building, I found the exchange between Matt and Rubey so odd and contention that I and others at the event talked about it, and her reply, later. I'm quite surprised that you think, Pachatuche, that he yelled at them about Wynn for awhile and they said absolutely nothing in response.

Meanwhile, we're all allowed to argue! The right wing is not strengthened if Matt and I disagree over the nature of an event, or an explanation, or a campaign. I vehemently reject the premises of Matt's post -- both his remembrance of that day and the way he defines picking a fight. And I remember that, at the meeting, you and Matt had a pretty similar perspective, and I had a different one. That's, uh, a good thing. The blogosphere is healthy when it argues and offers different opinions. We're stronger than to fear that every crack or exhibition of disunity will allow our shadowy enemies to destroy us all. And it doesn't hurt the left to have Matt question the Edwards campaign, or me question Matt.

Lastly, you guys didn't email the campaign to get Elizabeth or Kim's recollection of the evening. You didn't qualify that neither of you took notes and this is hazy (though Matt now wants me to do so). And that's fine. But don't then demand a totally different standard of proof elsewhere. This is what modern reporting doesn't have enough of: Argument, honesty about differing interpretations of events, willingness to directly deny the validity of reportage others think to be wrong. We're better because we merrily engage in such cross-conversation, even with our friends, even on Christmas morning. And frankly, it shouldn't be such a big deal. I don't hate Matt, we're not mortal enemies. I think his retelling of the event is skewed in such a way to make his argument stronger. That may be accidental. But it's good to put the other side out as well.

And merry Chrismakwanzzakkah!

Posted by: Ezra | Dec 25, 2006 3:29:28 PM

I respectfully disagree that it sets harmless precedent to infer or report mal-intent using a blog post. That said, I want to recognize and praise Ezra for taking back that part of his post via his update.

I stand by my larger point that ostensible allies on the left should be more careful about doing the kind of public writing on a blog that can reasonably be interpreted as an attack on another progressive activist's character or intent as part of the netroots. I think that's a wider conversation we need to have at this stage in our growth as a movement as we seek to solidify and extend our coalitions beyond the framework of the old line, fragmented single issue groups and progressive media outlets.

On a final, and more trivial note, Ezra, your comment seems to imply that I had some involvement with the conception or writing of Matt's account of that meeting, when you say, "Lastly, you guys didn't email the campaign to get Elizabeth or Kim's recollection of the evening. You didn't qualify that neither of you took notes and this is hazy (though Matt now wants me to do so)."

I'm sure you misspoke. If we're going to talk about the making of ambitious inferences, then let's at least agree you never asked me or Matt about Matt's writing process, and let me say that Matt did not consult me in any way on his post, though I did bear witness to his account of the meeting in his comment thread at MyDD.

That's a small point. But thanks, Ezra, for your update. It does you good credit, and I expected no less, having become familiar with your work for some time.

Posted by: Pachacutec | Dec 25, 2006 3:45:38 PM

Right, I certainly don't mean to suggest you and Matt write in cooperation. Neither of you went to the Edwards campaign to check the recollections, and nor did I (though I've now put in a call to see if anyone else remembers this exchange). And my only point was that that's okay -- people remember different things, and it was positive for you to enter the conversation with your recollections, and positive for me to enter with more memory of Rubey's responses.

I actually think this was a good blog conversation for the readers, who got more insight on the meeting than they would've otherwise. I'd suggest that Matt implied serious malintent to the Edwards campaign (""a genuine illiberal instinct, a desire to suck up to existing power centers") and that that should be walked back as well. But on my post, you guys were right: I wrote after I'd just gotten up, I was uncharitable, not in the Christmas spirit, and I take back speculation about motivations or memory. That said, I stand by the actual points of contention here.

Posted by: Ezra | Dec 25, 2006 3:52:04 PM

This all seems on both sides like a lot of personal stuff that most of us who come here don't really care about- just an observation you may want to consider or not.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 25, 2006 3:53:18 PM

You called my character into question, and that was wrong. I would hope you have the good sense to think this over and apologize.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Dec 25, 2006 3:54:56 PM

My recollection of that meeting was that one fellow there actually recorded it -- if that mattered. But isn't what matters here whether John is effective in finding successful ways to address poverty? Without even considering his work to raise the minimum wage or his College for Everyone program, isn't his work with those in the field fighting poverty -- with charitable organizations and faith groups largely, with academicians studying the efficacy of those strategies, and with the Americans on the edge who live the battle -- the real issue? And on that there is no question whatsoever. Whether I know their names or whether the response here seems to miss the mark for anyone, the truth is that this matters to John, and he has taken building the right relationships to start eradicating poverty. Check out
the website of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity of which he was the Director in 2006 when this question was asked. Those people in the news stories are some of the ones to whom he turns; those are the people whom he supports and to whom he listens. Because -- shame on us -- those are the only people doing any real work on poverty today.
Now play nice. It's the holidays.

Posted by: Elizabeth Edwards | Dec 25, 2006 4:06:19 PM

Guess who just got my vote? I am so easy. Flattery will get me everytime.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 25, 2006 6:48:23 PM

"You called my character into question, and that was wrong."

Given your track record, I'd beg to differ, Matt. You have long demonstrated zero commitment to intellectual honesty when it differs with whatever agenda you are pushing.

However, in light of Elizabeth's admonition to play nice, I'll wish you a happy holidays, and hope you have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like revelation that leads you to play the game the right way in the new year.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 25, 2006 7:38:47 PM

"I stand by my larger point that ostensible allies on the left should be more careful about doing the kind of public writing on a blog that can reasonably be interpreted as an attack on another progressive activist's character or intent as part of the netroots."

Shorter Pachacutec:

- Keep it all on the private Townhouse list.

- When I lie and smear, no one call me on it.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 25, 2006 7:46:38 PM

I'm not going to vote for Edwards unless Ezra apologizes to Stoller.

Posted by: david mizner | Dec 25, 2006 10:04:17 PM

And seriously, seeing Pachacutec - the single sleaziest and most reprehensible figure in the lefty blogosphere (with the possible exception of Jerome) - trying to claim the omerta philosophy as something beneficial to building the left is almost enough to put me off my Christmas goose.

Spreading knowledge, openness, and reform is good for the left. Strengthening the mafia is only good for the mafia.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 25, 2006 10:04:56 PM

Spreading knowledge, openness, and reform is good for the left. Strengthening the mafia is only good for the mafia.

Says one of the most pro-establishment "centrist" commenters I've seen, who will bend over backwards as an apologist for people like Lieberman, but leaps at the chance to smear anyone to the left of whatever Petey thinks the "center" is at any given movement. I can't even tell what's in it for Petey, but he seems to have a nose for whatever he thinks the probable power center is, and then identifies with it.

Posted by: paperwight | Dec 25, 2006 10:08:59 PM

My sympathy is with Matt. Attacks on character are all too prevalent. Call him wrong, even stupid, heaven knows Matt and I have called each other both on different occasions, but never ever, without real evidence, should you question character.

The presence of Petey on this thread is a sad reminder of how we tolerate such attacks, or some do. I never have and never will.

Neil knows this personally. he did it to Markos once and I was a pain in his ass for a day.

Posted by: Armando | Dec 25, 2006 10:49:29 PM

paperwight, I know I've sworn off engaging with you due your unwillingness or inability to deal with the text at hand, but I'll make a brief exception for the holidays.

We've been over this territory before. I self-identify as a leftist. What may be confusing you is that I advocate for is a lefty/centrist coalition so the left can be part of government. That doesn't make me a centrist. There are a few folks who regularly comment here who seem to actually be centrists, such as Sanpete. I almost always find myself to the left of those folks.

And while I tend to think I'm leftier than either the Endorsements for Cash crowd over at MyDD or the execrably racist and sexist Pachacutec, my issues with them have nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with their actions. Take Sirota, for example: I share much of his general political ideology, but greatly dislike his willingness to play fast and loose with the truth - I simply don't think telling the left lies helps build the left. And similarly, I think Pachacutec's call for lefty blogospheric omerta is not in the interests of the left.

(BTW, I'd love to see a link to my supposed apologies for Lieberman. I don't think I've ever written a good word about the guy. But, as previously stated, you've never been one to deal with the text at hand, have you? Happy holidays.)

Posted by: Petey | Dec 25, 2006 11:08:43 PM

(For what it's worth, I self-identify as a liberal. Paperwight, however, has tagged me as a conservative troll, and, more recently, he promoted me to centrist concern troll. Besides not always taking the typical liberal view (mainly on leaving Iraq), and pointing out political realities that aren't popular on the Left, I suppose I strike people as a centrist because I try to understand and respect those with opposing views on the Right. Or something like that.)

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 25, 2006 11:53:33 PM

Now play nice. It's the holidays.

Yes ma'am.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 25, 2006 11:58:06 PM

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