Democrats' Open-Mic Press Conferences

By David Swanson

Unlike the previous majority party in Congress, the Democrats who take power today know their weaknesses. They know they’re not very good at the whole press conference thing where you’re supposed to stand there and say something people care about. So they’ve announced an open-mic policy.

And it seems to be working. It turns out that an ordinary person who’s not been through our campaign bribery system and not agreed to a list of positions acceptable to Washington strategists is much more interesting to listen to than Rahm Emanuel. Speaking at Congressional press conferences could become a regular stop for tourists of our nation’s Capital as well as for locals who enjoy karaoke.

Congressman Emanuel had not been informed of the new policy yesterday, but we knew he’d appreciate it. So, while he was in the middle of trying to impress employees of Disney and GE with his commitment to banning lobbyists from donating small islands to Congress Members except on weekends (or something), Cindy Sheehan livened things up by beginning a chant of


You could see the relief on Emanuel’s face [watch the video ] – He grinned and quickly left. The only reasonable explanation for his quick departure is that he was relieved to turn the podium over to someone more interesting. [see image ] Otherwise, if that weren’t true, we’d have to believe he was one of the most cowardly individuals ever to walk the earth. It’s bad enough for the Democratic leadership to be afraid to end the war or impeach its architects. But to see them run and hide because a dozen people chanted something off-topic is too much. Someone whose focus was on using his power for good, not on keeping it for its own sake, would not have fled that scene. Unless, of course, he wants us to handle the press conferences from now on.

As a result of our assist, the Dems produced today’s Associated Press story, which begins “Congressional Democrats stepped hungrily to the brink of power on Wednesday, promising immediate action to limit the influence of lobbyists and pledging to constantly prod the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.” That’s a much better story for them politically as well as morally. So, now they owe us for more than just the election. But as long as they limit themselves to prodding Bush, we’re going to have to consider other ways to assist them, including occupying their offices beginning February 5th. Congress has the power and the responsibility to cut off the money for the war and end it. No amount of prodding of Bush will ever persuade him to end this war. Prodding Bush is like trying to teach calculus to a pig – it just makes you look goofy.

But the Democrats are afraid that if they cut off the money for the war they’ll be accused of not supporting the troops. Apparently sending troops to kill and die and be injured in a war based on lies that is making us all less safe and putting our grandchildren into debt amounts to supporting them, whereas bringing them safely home does not. But this nonsense can be dismissed quite easily if Congress passes a bill providing funds to withdraw the troops and banning the use of funds to extend the occupation. The cost to bring the troops home, by the way, is less than the cost of two weeks of the occupation.

The Democrats could also announce what they plan to do with the trillion dollars they save on the war: they could start by supporting groups that are working to restore New Orleans, teachers who are working to educate our children, and workers who can begin to rebuild all of our cities, expand mass transit and produce renewable energy: these are troops who deserve our support as well.

During the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day, the television announcer referred to a Marine Corps band as representing the people who are “defending our freedoms around the world.” But around the world, the people of the world are protesting the expansion of our military bases. They are clearly losing freedoms, but what freedoms are we gaining? And why can’t the freedoms we have left after the abuse of this Administration be defended here where we live rather than around the world?

When we use cluster bombs on Iraqi men, women, and children does it help restore our right to habeas corpus? When we attack ambulances, do we get back the right to form a union? When we melt the skin off people with white phosphorous, do we recover the right not to be illegally wiretapped or detained or tortured or murdered or sent off to die for somebody’s lie?

There’s a great song that Bruce Springsteen, among others, has been singing recently that includes these words:
If you love this land of free, Bring ‘em home, Bring ‘em home.
Bring them back from overseas. Bring ‘em home, bring em home.
It’ll make the politicians sad I know, Bring ‘em home, Bring ‘em home….
And let’s take care of them when they get here, Mr. President. That’s our plan. We’re announcing it. You can fall into line. Or you can be impeached and removed from office.

Here’s another lead to another AP story, this one from yesterday:

“FBI agents documented more than two dozen incidents of possible mistreatment at the Guantanamo Bay military base, including one detainee whose head was wrapped in duct tape for chanting the Quran and another who pulled out his hair after hours in a sweltering room.”

This is your tax dollars at work. And what is Congress doing to stop it? My Congress Member is obsessed with protesting another Congress Member’s plan to take his oath of office with his hand on a Quran rather than a Bible. The bigot who supposedly represents me in Congress represents a district that includes Thomas Jefferson’s house. The Muslim Member, meanwhile, intends to use Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran.

All we need now is for a few Members of Congress to pick up copies of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – the document that says Congress makes the laws, which the President can sign or veto, but not rewrite. Remember when Senator John McCain was lobbying against legalizing torture, and Vice President Cheney was lobbying for it? Remember that McCain won? He didn’t. Bush signed the bill and added a so-called signing statement indicating that he might choose not to obey it [… ].

This is what we have now: a President who rewrites the laws, openly disobeys the laws, and hides most of what he does behind a wall of secrecy that would have embarrassed Nixon. And what happens when Congress tries to peer inside? Requests, including those made under the Freedom of Information Act, are rejected. Will subpoenas be rejected too? And if they are, will Democrats run and hide from the cameras, or will they stand and fight for our democracy?

Right now they are telling us that impeachment is off the table. They are doing for Bush what Ford did for Nixon, pardoning a criminal president. Bush has even outdone Ford and pardoned himself for some of his crimes by signing the Military Commissions Act, which I’ve been told is the only bill to which he has not added a signing statement. We’ve been told so often in the past few days that pardoning criminals is how you heal the nation. Bush is apparently healing us even while he kicks us in the ribs. It’s quite a feat. But we voted his party out because we’d had enough. We’ve had more than enough. And we are going to remove Bush and Cheney from office whether the Democrats like it or not.

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