When Seattle Times political reporter David Postman sat down with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently, talk turned to the difficulty Dems have had sticking to their agenda in light of the narrow majority they hold in the Senate. But Pelosi told Postman that they were working harder, particularly on Iraq. (The emphasis is mine):
“This time we just said, ‘What do we want in this bill? What is the statement that needs to be made?’
Part of that statement has been to reflect what is in a document called the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. Created by Burner and a team of experts, the plan calls for a rapid troop withdrawal and an increased diplomatic and humanitarian effort in Iraq.
The plan has been endorsed by other Democratic congressional challengers, as well as some retired military officers.
Big threads of the plan include legislation that already existed in Congress but failed to pass under two years of Democratic control.
“You could think of a million things you could do better in terms of Iraq, probably at least a million,” Pelosi said. “But it’s a question of where you put the focus. And yes, indeed, what she has done helped focus that.”
And Burner got other candidates to sign on. “That drumbeat isn’t lost on Congress.”
There are some who have attempted to dismiss Burner’s efforts on the Responsible Plan as mere political calculation, while others have attempted to dismiss the effort itself. When asked to comment on the Plan, Dave Reichert routinely brushes of the questioner, claiming matter-of-factly that Burner didn’t even write it.
As usual, Reichert couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, the back story on the Plan is at least as revealing as the Plan itself.
The Plan was conceived during the heady days of Burner’s remarkable Internet fundraiser, when she raised an astounding $123,000 in small donations from 3,200 contributers over a weekend in August. As President Bush was stopping traffic in Bellevue to raise money for Reichert, Burner and a handful of experts assembled at a hotel down the block to livestream an innovative, online “town hall meeting” on the war in Iraq. And near the end of the broadcast, Burner made a surprise announcement that Gen. Paul Eaton had agreed to work with her to create a comprehensive proposal to responsibly draw down our troops and bring them home.
Burner’s bold announcement drew little coverage, even here on HA, because quite frankly I thought she might have gotten a little caught up in the moment. This is not the kind of thing that mere congressional challengers do—or are even capable of doing—and I winced at a promise I thought she would have a tough time delivering in a credible manner.
Burner’s staff and advisers were even less enthusiastic. A candidate’s primary job early in a campaign is to raise money, and the consultancy class frowns upon nearly anything that might distract the candidate from precious “call time.” It is also generally accepted campaign wisdom that challengers are usually best off avoiding specificity on issues so that it is the incumbent’s record that draws the scrutiny of voters.
Throughout the fall of 2007 advisers suggested Burner reconsider the project, and I had more than one conversation with nervous staffers who worried that her efforts were costing the campaign far too much in time, focus, and financial resources. The DCCC, whose favor Burner couldn’t afford to lose, was equally unenthusiastic, and while I’m told they never asked her to abandon the plan, they never encouraged her either… and they certainly didn’t encourage other challengers to sign on.
But Burner proved undaunted. No doubt personal ambition drives all politicians to some extent—like blogging, it is an inherently narcissistic profession—but Burner’s political ambitions have always been motivated by what she sees as an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference. For Burner, most of the elements of what eventually became the Responsible Plan were obvious; in fact many had already been proposed by the Baker-Hamilton Commission or in existing legislation. What Burner hoped to produce was a comprehensive proposal that could serve as a framework for enacting a realistic legislative agenda over a relatively short amount of time.
And that is what Burner eventually willed into creation, a Responsible Plan so credible that it has drawn the endorsement of over 50 other House and Senate challengers along with numerous military and national security experts, and has, in the words of Speaker Pelosi, “helped focus” the agenda of the Democratic leadership.
One thing that remains clear is that by sending Darcy Burner to the other Washington, 8th CD voters will not only get a reliable vote on the issues they care about most, but a remarkably smart, independent and creative leader who through hard work, determination, and sheer chutzpah will quickly rise up the Democratic ranks. Burner doesn’t want to go to Congress to be a rubberstamp for Nancy Pelosi, she wants to go there to solve problems.
That is what she has done with her Responsible Plan. And that is what Burner will do as the elected representative from Washington’s 8th Congressional District.