The Last Temptation of Congress

By David Swanson

And now abideth funders, broadcasters, and party bosses, these three; but the greatest of these is the party bosses.

Everyone’s familiar with the corrupting influence on Congress of “campaign contributors.” Our system of legal bribery allows senators to openly tell us that single-payer healthcare is not “feasible” for people who want to get reelected, people whose campaigns are paid for by health insurance companies.

Most people are familiar with the corrupting influence of the corporate media. If you’ve ever had a sit-down heart-to-heart talk with a Congress member or staffer about why they can’t support a position backed by their constituents, more often than not the first reason they mention is their fear of attacks by the media. This was overwhelmingly the leading reason for not impeaching Dick Cheney and it still the leading reason for not using the Capitol Police to enforce congressional subpeonas.

Not as many people understand the corrupting influence of parties. Yet parties are the biggest campaign funders of them all, parties have more influence on the media than anyone other than owners and advertisers, parties can back challengers in the next primary election, parties can allow bills to reach the floor, parties can provide chairmanships, parties can include earmarks. Parties can make or break a member of Congress. Which is why there are usually not 535 voices on Capitol Hill, but at most 2 commanding views, with a weak handful of exceptions.

This situation, which the founders of this nation feared under the name “factionalism”, comes out when a party very much wants votes on something that constituents very strongly oppose — in other words, whenever it’s time to throw another $100 billion into wars or banker bailouts or both at once. At the moment, the nation is staring down the double-barreled shotgun of $97 billion for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined in the same bill with $8 billion plus $100 billion in loans to European bankers through the IMF.

Before the IMF measure was added by the Senate, 51 Democrats voted against the bill with the knowledge that it would still easily pass, pleasing Democratic Party leaders, but also knowing that constituents would applaud the No votes. Now that all the Republicans in the House plan to vote No on the amended bill, the Democratic Party will not tolerate Democrats refusing to vote Yes. Congressional Quarterly reported on Friday:

“Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, a leader of the antiwar Democrats, said the White House is threatening to withdraw support from freshmen who oppose the bill, saying ‘you’ll never hear from us again.’ She said the House leadership also is targeting the freshmen. ‘It’s really hard for the freshmen,’ she said. ‘Nancy’s pretty powerful.'”

Nancy is, of course, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. While most news accounts of this thuggery generally describe Pelosi as pressuring her “fellow anti-war liberals,” there is no fellowship involved, and Pelosi’s role for the past three years has been to badger anti-war Democrats into keeping wars going. Among the 51 Democrats who voted No on the original version of the current war supplemental bill are freshmen Donna Edwards, Alan Grayson, Eric Massa, Chellie Pingree, Jared Polis, and Jackie Speier. Of them, the first four at this point still say they will vote No, and the last two still say they are leaning in that direction. We need to raise our voices, let them know we have their backs, and stiffen their spines against the winds of party dominance, just as we must do for the non-freshmen among the 51.

The party leadership has a larger problem, however. While progressives oppose the IMF bailout scam, right-wingers do too. Nobody wants to throw $100 billion we don’t have into foreign countries whether it helps them or hurts them (unless of course it kills them, which is different). The following Congress members are freshmen Democrats vulnerable to election challenges by Republicans: John Adler, John Boccieri, Kathy Dahlkemper, Steve Driehaus, Parker Griffith, Debbie Halvorson, Martin Heinrich, MaryJo Kilroy, Ann Kirkpatrick, Larry Kissell, Suzanne Kosmas, Frank Kratovil, Dan Maffei, Betsy Markey, Walt Minnick, Steve Murphy, Glenn Nye, Tom Perriello, Kurt Schrader, Harry Teague, Dina Titus, Travis Childers, and Bill Foster.

Look at the situation they are in. One name from that list, Tom Perriello, is my Congressman in Virginia. He defeated an incumbent rightwing Republican in November by a fraction of a percentage point, having received over $1 million from the Democratic Party in Washington for last minute advertisements. Imagine if he is being told that all that money won’t be there next time, or that it could even go to a primary challenger. On the other hand, imagine that Perriello can envision the ads that will be run against him with Republican money if he votes to “give $100 billion to foreigners who might give it to terrorists.” Stuck between a rock and a hard-headed place. Lost from the whole calculation is what a Congress members’ constituents want him to do.

While long-term reforms are needed to remedy the corruptions of money, media, and parties, at the moment what we can do is speak up as loudly as possible for what we want: an end to war funding and an end to banker bailouts at home or abroad.

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