March 30, 2005,
on Capitol Hill, another prominent Democratic senator has allied himself with the left-wing activist group MoveOn.org, even as some centrists in the party have reportedly urged Democrats to distance themselves from the organization.
On Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama joined an effort by MoveOn's political-action committee to raise campaign funds for West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who faces reelection in 2006. In a letter to MoveOn members, Obama praised MoveOn's efforts, saying, "You and millions of others, working through MoveOn, have helped change the way politics works in this country."
Obama's letter comes two weeks after MoveOn sponsored a rally in Washington to support Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. That rally was the idea of Byrd, who got in touch with MoveOn to organize the event. In addition to Byrd, it was attended by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democratic senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Edward Kennedy, Charles Schumer, Barbara Boxer, Patrick Leahy, and Richard Durbin.
The alliance with Obama, combined with the turnout of top Democrats at the filibuster rally, is yet another indicator of MoveOn's growing presence on Capitol Hill. It also shows a strong alliance with Byrd, the 87-year-old senator who has taken the lead in the Democratic effort to justify the judicial filibusters.
Byrd "is fighting an attempt by Republicans to change the 200-year old rules of the Senate that would allow Republicans to ram federal judges through the Senate with no regard for what others might say," Obama wrote in the MoveOn letter. "Above all, Robert Byrd understands just how sacred the Constitution of our country truly is and fights every day to protect it."
"Now he needs our help," Obama continued. "In 2006, Senator Byrd will be the target of Republicans because he stands up for what he believes."
The letter is also a sign of growing concern on the part of Democrats about the future of Byrd, who was first elected to the Senate in 1958. At the MoveOn rally two weeks ago, California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer made an emotional appeal on behalf of Byrd whom she called "the love of my life" and pledged to help his campaign in any way possible.
"Robert Byrd is 87 years old," Boxer told the crowd. "He's facing a reelection battle. He stands tall, brave, and courageous for everything that matters to all of us in this room."
"He can't travel across the country to California," Boxer said. "I'm going to hold fundraising events for him in California...We cannot let him waste one night of not getting sleep because he's worrying about not getting the funding and support. If you take anything away from this today...it is we need to help our 87-year-old leader in protecting the Constitution today."
Finally, the Obama letter comes at a time when some centrist Democrats have expressed concerns that the party has become too identified with its most vocal elements on the left, including MoveOn. In February, the Washington Post cited Democratic-party strategists who "worry that the influence of grass-roots activists could push the party even further to the left, particularly on national security, reinforcing a weakness that Bush exploited in his reelection campaign."
The paper went on to describe the views of Democrats all of whom "declined to be quoted by name because they wanted to be more candid about the problems they see" who say that "the belief by some of those activists [like those in MoveOn] that Democrats can solve their problems by playing more directly to their core constituents ignores several realities, particularly the question of whether voters see Democrats as strong enough to win the war on terrorism."
But in his letter to MoveOn members, Obama seemed unconcerned about such issues, pointing out that Sen. Byrd "has spoken out passionately against a Bush foreign policy that has alienated our allies throughout the world...I hope you will give generously to help send Robert Byrd back to the Senate."