Which Side Are You On?

By David Swanson

There appear to be two teams in Washington playing under the banners of elephants and donkeys. They have different platforms, use different rhetoric, call each other bad names, and (in the case of the elephants) filibuster bills and impeach and prosecute abuses and crimes by the other side. One team wants to provide us with more healthcare, maybe, sort of, and the other does not. One side is hesitant about or even resistant to demonizing or discriminating against foreigners and immigrants and gays and racial minorities, and the other is not. One side wants to protect the right to unionize, maybe, sort of, and the other does not.

But both teams favor Wall Street bailouts, corporate trade agreements, an ever larger military, corporate contributions, bi-partisan gerrymandering, an ever greater presence of military bases abroad, restrictions on ballot access, the continuation and escalation of illegal wars, and extension of the powers to spy without warrants, detain without charges, rendition, torture (yes, torture), make laws by signing-statement or executive order or secret memo, and — of course — the assurance of immunity for high officials’ war crimes.

President Obama is called a liar and a socialist and a foreigner by the other side, but his Justice Department is fighting tooth and nail, making absolutely unprecedented claims of secrecy, to protect the crimes of Bush and Cheney. Obama is appealing and re-appealing rulings that could mean exposure or accountability for torturers and warrantless spyers or for a former vice president who leaked the name of an undercover agent. Obama’s White House has threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with Britain and declared phone companies to be part of the government. All to protect the shouters of “liar!” and “Muslim!”

Back in November, Steve Clemons reported a story that the corporate media studiously ignored. I don’t have any second source for it, but I suspect it’s true and have some theories about additional details. This was Clemons’ report:

“A senior Obama campaign official shared with The Washington Note that in July 2008, the McCain and Obama camps began to work secretly behind the scenes to assemble large rosters of potential personnel for the administration that only one of the candidates would lead. Lists comprised of Democrats and Republicans were assembled, sorted into areas of policy expertise, so that the roster could be called on after the election by either the Obama or McCain transition teams. This kind of out-of-sight coordination is rare between battling presidential camps and provides some indication that both Obama and McCain intended to draw expertise into their governments from both sides of the aisle — or at least they wanted to appear interested in doing so if the information leaked out about the list development process.”

Now, Washington (and the Pentagon and CIA, DIA and NSA, and various other agencies spread around the greater DC metropolitan area) is home to a large permanent government of bureaucrats who work for elephants and donkeys alike. Eric Holder could have become attorney general under a president of either flavor. Robert Gates was in charge of the Pentagon before and after Bush left town. From the highest to the lowest of positions, there are people who just never leave. Or, if they leave, they go to work for lobbying firms and large government contractors for a while, before returning to what we euphemistically call public service. And many of the lobbying firms are bipartisan, or they mutate from one partisan leaning to the other with the shifts in government power. If a lobbying firm arranged for the joint appointees list development, it would have just been hedging its bets. I offer the following more as an example than as a discovery of the one true secret seat of permanent power or any thing of the sort. But here’s my theory. I encourage reporters (remember those?) to look into it.

Ogilvy Government Relations (formerly known as the Federalist Group) is a lobbying firm in Washington that employs nine Republicans and nine rightward tilting Democrats, including some top officials in the McCain and Obama campaigns. The Democrats include:

Matthew Nugen. He was Obama for America National Political Director and a courter of super delegates for Obama. He was in charge of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He had previously been Deputy Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Director of the Office of the Chairman (Howard Dean). Prior to that, he was Deputy Political Director/Director of Delegate Operations for Senator Joe Lieberman’s Presidential campaign (Now there’s a name that embodies the merger of the two political animals!).

Moses Mercado. He also worked for Obama and Dean, and other top Democrats.

Andrew M. Rosenberg. He was a co-founder and Senior Advisor to Draft Obama and a consultant to the Democratic National Committee. “Mr. Rosenberg,” his bio brags, “is an occasional political commentator on Fox News Channel.”

Joe Lapia. He worked for the U.S. Senate’s Democratic cloakroom including under Majority Leader Harry Reid, and previously interned for Senator Joe Biden.

Dean Aguillen. He was a senior advisor and Director of Member Services in the Office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Republicans include:

John Green. He was Director of Congressional Affairs for Senator John McCain during the 2008 Presidential Campaign.

Wayne Berman. He was, according to his Ogilvy bio, “a senior advisor to the Bush/Cheney transition in 2001, the vice presidential campaign director for Dole/Kemp and deputy director of the Republican National Convention in 1996, director of congressional relations during the Bush/Quayle campaign in 1988 and a deputy director of the Bush/Reagan transition team in 1981. He has served in a variety of fundraising capacities in every Republican presidential race since 1992.” That would include the McCain campaign, for which he was national finance co-chairman, despite not admitted to it in his bio. McCain earned some bad press for employing lobbyists, including Berman, who was openly also employed by Ogilvy at the time.

G. Stewart Hall. He was Legislative Director to Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL).

Julie Dammann. She was Chief of Staff to Senator Christopher S. Bond (R-MO).

Drew Maloney. He was “Administrative Assistant and Legislative Director for the Republican House Majority Whip” (who goes unnamed but whose name is Tom Delay). “Drew Maloney,” his bio brags, “helped conduct the interview of Monica Lewinsky and managed the impeachment proceedings.”

Now, how many of the top officials now running our government were recommended for consideration by this gang of unelected power brokers, themselves raking in the bigger bucks? I don’t know. Maybe none.

But it is at least interesting that a man who worked as their lawyer, Greg Craig, now serves as White House Counsel, and that — as a very old friend of Karl Rove’s, as are Wayne Berman and Stewart Hall — Craig, although closer to Obama, could conceivably have served in a McCain White House as well. All of which makes it even more interesting that White House Counsel Craig earlier this year negotiated with the House Judiciary Committee to allow Rove to testify off-camera and out from under oath. Craig has advised President Obama on the closing of Guantanamo, and his law firm advised Vice President Cheney on the opening of it. Williams and Connolly, in which Craig served as a partner, defended President Clinton in his impeachment trial and Vice President Cheney in the Valerie Plame investigation that the White House is still fighting to keep secret. It also represented Karl Rove in his book deal.

Karl Rove and Howard Dean, both with close ties to Ogilvy, have been engaging in public debates for speaking fees, and the debates depict two warring camps. But are they really warring camps? Or are they only warring camps on some issues or outside some broad range of agreement?

The fact that lobbyists serve both teams and broker power does not suggest, as many believe, that our public elected officials are mere figure heads for the real powers behind the throne. Our public officials have real power and have a moral responsibility to use it legally and democratically regardless of what hidden pressures threaten them.

Nor does anything I’ve said suggest that the two parties are identical or that Americans shouldn’t vote for the better of the two lousy candidates presented to them in any election.

Nor should the naming of personal relationships dramatically alter one’s understanding of what our government is doing. But if it helps to open our eyes, that may not be a bad thing. Opinion polls on just about every political issue show a majority of Americans on one side, and our government on another. This suggests to me that in many instances, we would be better served by thinking of the two sides, not as Democrats and Republicans, but as those in power and the rest of us, those living above the law and making it versus those of us living under the law and not, in any major consistent way, making it. If those are the two teams, then it becomes fairly easy for almost all of us to answer the traditional demand: Which side are you on?

David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.