Friday, August 03, 2007

Running to the Left with Cong. Mark Kirk

Now in his 7th year as a North Shore Congressman, Mark Steven Kirk [R-Highland Park] won an open seat in 2000 with a two-point razor thin margin of victory over former State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash, now Chair, Tenthdems [D-Highland Park]. Kirk received a late endorsement in a ten candidate Primary from his predecessor and former boss, 21 year moderate Republican Cong. John Porter, and that support helped Kirk, as well, in the General Election [Porter was very popular with the 10th CD Dems, including such Democratic 10th CD celebrities as Scott Turow].

Moderate Republican Kirk, from the get go, was sensitive to the Democrat drift of his district and he was blessed by weak and poorly financed opponents in the 2002 and 2004 elections. The 10th Cong. Dist. went for Democrat John Kerry, who beat President Bush 53-47 in the 10th, while Republican Kirk drubbed Democrat Lee Goodman 64-36 in 2004. Much of that drubbing and his prior wins in the 10th CD were due to Kirk’s ability to co-opt traditionally Democratic constituencies, e.g., pro-choicers, gay rights activists, environmentalists, pro-Israel segments and pro-gun control groups.

Notwithstanding the tipping of his Commander’s cap to those Democratic constituencies, Kirk stood strong with President Bush on the War and on his tax cuts until last year. The combination of cultural liberalism with his strong support for the war made Kirk popular with some of the Washington insiders, like the Fox Beltway Boys’ Morton Kondracke. Kondracke’s sidekick, the more consistently conservative Fred Barnes, also liked Kirk’s views on the War and on Tax Cuts. From time to time, both of the Beltway Boys would cite Cong. Kirk, on their show, for his “leadership.”

However, by late summer, 2006, Commander Kirk sensed the tide of history could be turning on him. Most importantly, he could see his generally well educated constituents had been infected by a national mood that was upset with Republican Congressional corruption and abuse, as typified by the likes of Duke Cunningham and his acceptance of blatant bribes. Further, Cong. Kirk also knew that independents and the more moderate Republicans, not to mention Democrats, had grown impatient with the lack of progress in the Iraq War, so Kirk endeavored to put some distance between the War and himself.

At Republican rallies, Kirk pretty much dropped references to Tax Cuts, the War, Bush and anything Republican [and that seems to have become even more so, see here]. The campaign, where feasible, became all about his "Suburban Agenda," , an odd collection of state issues, e.g. making sure schools did not hire sexual child abusers and soft national issues—making it harder for internet sexual predators who target minors to function.

Kirk, at this point, was not yet anti-war; it just was a subject he would rather not discuss in polite company.

Talking about polite company, Kirk’s 2006 Democratic opponent was young, attractive, intelligent, personable and well spoken, and for a change, Kirk's general election opponent had some money to spend. Tall, lean and African-American, Dan Seals is kind of a Barack Obama look-a-like and sound-a-like. In their one debate, Seals and Kirk attracted an overflow crowd of about 1500 at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.

Putting aside politics, partisan preferences and philosophical preferences, an objective observer would no doubt conclude Seals won the debate. He had the advantage in the important candidate debate factors: presence, style, cadence, feel for the crowd, focus on the issues, etc. Lucky for Kirk, the debate had little impact on those who were not present. The TV audience was small and the print media reports had little impact.

Kirk survived the 2006 election 53% to 47% . But, Kirk is now a shadow of his former self. He couldn’t and didn’t support the President’s surge and there is little that is identified with the national Republican Party for which he will publicly stand up, speak out and provide support for the Party.

On television two weeks ago [Fox Chicago Perspectives,Sunday morning, 8:00 am to 9:00 am], Kirk spent most of his time bashing BP and it’s request for a permit to increase its pollution of Lake Michigan. When forced by Jack Conaty and Dane Placko to turn to the Iraq War, Kirk did a rope-a-dope, with a performance that was "decidedly mixed," at that:

I think the results [of the troop surge] are mixed…Some things have gone fairly well, as in Al Anbar province…but some things are going poorly, like in Diyala Province…we are in middle of the surge, but the results are decidedly mixed….

I think everybody shares my view that we should wind this up [the Iraq war, that is].

To be fair, Kirk did say he wants to wind up in a way that the U. S. does not have to go back. However, he spoke about “winding this up,” in the same way you would tell the kids you have ten minutes before “lights are out.” Not exactly the kind of sophisticated, thoughtful analysis you would expect from somone who has been in the Naval Reserves for the last 18 years with an emphasis on “intelligence.”

Conaty tried to pin Cong. and Commander Kirk down a bit:

Jack Conaty: You sound like a man moving to a place where you would be willing to accept a deadline, perhaps as early as this Fall?

Cong. Mark Kirk: I think everybody is going to be riveted on the Patreaus Report in September…we are going to see the full results of the surge. I voted against the Surge because I wanted to move quickly to transfer responsibilities to Iraqis much earlier in the process but we are going to give General Patreaus his due

Cong. Mark Steven Kirk [R-Highland Park, 10th CD] July 22, 2007, Fox Chicago Perspectives

Note how Cong. Kirk explained to Conaty how Kirk had wanted to transfer the responsibilities much earlier in the process to the Iraqis. But, he did not explain how he would have done this. Nor did Kirk answer Conaty’s question about whether Kirk would accept a deadline for troop withdrawal.

Although Kirk mentioned the success of Al Anbar province (See, e.g. recent analyses by liberal columnists), he did not elaborate on what it meant for the effort of the Coalition Forces. He did not discuss how the Surge was a major change in strategy. Nor did Kirk explain how the inflow of Al Qaeda into Diyala Province was expected and perhaps even desired.

In short, the U. S. has a lot of intelligence and Kirk has access to a fair amount of it, apparently. However, Kirk doesn’t seem to want to use or discuss the intelligence that he has. Even that which is not classified.

Indeed, for Kirk, as he might say, it comes down to this;

I think everybody shares my view that we should wind this up [the Iraq war, that is].

Everybody? I don’t think so.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Richardson, Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at