Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Impending Unbranding of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand?

All posts are cross-posted to the beta version of the new Clyde Fitch Report. I'd love any thoughts on the new site -- bearing in mind we're still in beta, resolving kinks, bugs, design, functionality, etc.

I cannot tell you how many emails I get every day from organizations like, imploring me to add my name to this or that cause. Many of them I support, many of them I don't, but I feel I receive entirely too many of these things, and no matter where one sits on the political/philosophical spectrum, at a certain point there's got to be the risk of diminishing returns.

Sometimes I get one of these emails and I realize that there is something far more significant going on in the background; that while I may be asked on the surface to lend my support to a cause, what's really happening is that a broader message, a broader agenda, may be moving into motion. I felt this way the other day when I got such an email regarding my new senator here in New York, Kirsten Gillibrand.

The subject of the email is the housing crisis and President Obama's plan to fix it. The purpose of my post, however, is not to take a position on his plan quite yet (though it's much more intelligent than anything the Party of No has put forth) but to wonder why Gillibrand is the subject of targeting. She was, after all, sworn in to succeed Hilary Clinton just 47 days ago.

Personally, I think Gillibrand's uber-centrist positions are making her a target of the left and the right. I think the right sees a chance, albeit a slim one, to take her down in a death-by-a-zillion-cuts strategy, or at least soften her up for a hard time in 2010 if she is the nominee and/or if the GOP can come up with a candidate who could be her equal, which is where they're stalled at the moment. But I think the left is very divided about her: liberals are nauseated by Gillibrand's 100% NRA rating and worried, if not quite at the level of nauseated, by the senator's, um, let's say, evolving stance on gay rights. She's basically too centrist for New York, some say, and this may be about to cause her some problems.

Unless, that is, Gillibrand capitulates while also figuring out how to explain shifting so much to the left without leaving her vulnerable to charges of flipping and flopping. So this brings me back to this email from, which clearly, I think, sends a shot right over Gillibrand's bow to hurry up and figure it out. That, in other words, she'd better vivaciously toe the Obama line or else face reelection problems next year. Now, party discipline is a Republican virtue, so efforts to instill it in the famously fractious Democrats strikes me as a net positive. But let's acknowledge that this may be what is going on here. And now, the text of the email:

Dear MoveOn member,

Next week, the Senate will begin work on an important part of President Obama's plan to address the housing crisis, and your senator's vote will be key.

The bill makes a crucial change to bankruptcy law, empowering judges to help homeowners reduce their mortgages instead of losing their homes. Judges already have the ability to do this with vacation homes, cars, even yachts. But they can't take this commonsense step with primary homes.

The bill passed the House last week, but faced opposition from some Democrats. The fight in the Senate is going to be even tougher. Sen. Gillibrand needs to hear from you today so she knows constituents are counting on her to stand with homeowners, not big banks.

Can you call Sen. Gillibrand right now? Tell her: "Please pass the foreclosure bankruptcy reform that the House just passed. Stand with homeowners, not with big banks."

Here's where to call:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Phone: 202-224-4451

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

President Obama offered a comprehensive plan to ease the housing crisis. His plan helps families refinance their mortgages to take advantage of low rates, and gives qualifying homeowners relief through loan modifications. In all, the plan is expected to help up to 9 million families stay in their homes.

Most of the plan is already being implemented, but the key provision in question needs congressional approval. By allowing bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residences, this bill provides a strong incentive for banks to work with homeowners before foreclosing.

But the mortgage industry is fighting the bill tooth and nail—they convinced 24 Democrats in the House to vote against the bill—because they don't want to take any responsibility for their role in the housing crisis. We can't afford to lose even a few votes in the Senate, and that means letting Sen. Gillibrand know now that you expect her to put her constituents ahead of the banks.

Can you call Sen. Gillibrand now and tell hers to stand with homeowners and to pass foreclosure bankruptcy reform?

1. "Bankruptcy law may be modified," The Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2009

2. "Obama: Housing plan could help millions," The Hill, February 18, 2009

3. "Bankruptcy law may be modified," The Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2009

4. "Final Vote Results for Roll Call 104," The Clerk of the House of Representatives, March 5, 2009
Now, here's the bottom line: has every right to advocate whatever position it wishes. But it seems to me there's something about the tone of this email that implied a threat to the new Senator. Welcome to the big leagues, indeed.

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