Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama's potential pick for VA head, Duckworth, helped squelch anti-war candidacies

Many news outlets lead their coverage of yesterday's Veterans Day ceremonies with Obama's photo-op with Major Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran. Most mentioned that Duckworth is the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. At least the AP noted she has run unsuccessfully for congress. Only the local NBC affiliate mentioned that Duckworth is someone with her own political ambitions, and could either replace Obama in the Senate or take the post as secretary of veterans affairs in his administration.

Most interesting to me is Duckworth's role in torpedoing anti-war dissent within the Democratic Party. When truthout recently reposted an article from 2007 on how new Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ran conservative candidates against anti-war Dems in congressional primaries, I noticed this particularly mercenary episode of how Emanuel shut down Christine Ceglis' campaign for the Democratic nomination in Illinois' sixth district. Ceglis was an information technology worker who had run in 2004 against Henry Hyde, a 16 term Republican in a district that was a Republican stronghold.

Ceglis' decision to run again in 2006 actually convinced Hyde to retire (this is a woman with no political connections). But Emanuel did not take to Ceglis' anti-war stance

Emanuel, himself a congressman from the neighboring 5th District of Illinois, apparently tried to recruit six different candidates to run against Cegelis. According to Kevin Spidel, campaign manager for the Cegelis campaign, all of Emanuel's attempts failed because the potential candidates "all said 'hell no!' They knew the resentment they would face. If you were in the district, you knew how much Cegelis was loved. She built her own machine."

Eventually, Emanuel found a candidate who lived just outside the district, Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth, a helicopter pilot who was severely injured in combat in Iraq, was convinced to run against Cegelis by Emanuel and two Democratic heavyweights, Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.

Duckworth does not support a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. The Los Angeles Times, quoting Duckworth, reported that she believed the military should not "'simply pull up stakes' in Iraq because it would 'create a security vacuum' and 'risk allowing [Iraq] ... to become a base for terrorists.'" According to the same article, Duckworth supported "a pullout of US forces on a schedule based on the training of Iraq's armed forces."
Duckworth helped the Democrats shut down Ceglis, got appointed to Director of the Illinois VA less than a month after the race by Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich and is now a front runner for a spot in Obama's cabinet.

Granted, Duckworth would have little say on foreign policy if she became head of the VA, and it looks like Jesse Jackson Jr. may get Obama's Senate seat. But it's interesting to note who Obama's surrounding himself with. Also interesting are the political calculations that go into everything Obama does, even something as "sacred" as a Veteran's Day ceremony.

Also, one wonders what a self-described "fiscal conservative" would do for the VA in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in generations. Perhaps we will find out.