What's Wrong With David Obey

By David Swanson

The reason I sent the media a video of House Appropriations Chair David Obey (Dem., Wisc.) throwing a bit of a fit was not just to embarrass him. Nor was it, as some Democratic Party Die-Hards allege, to foolishly split the forces of good and allow the evil Republicans to prevail.

The split between the Progressive Caucus and the Democratic Leadership already existed. The Progressive Caucus has taken a stand for funding only a withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and not funding any extension or expansion of the war – or for that matter moving the war to Afghanistan where Congressman Obey claims we could better “attack the people who attacked us.”

The Democratic Leadership’s position is firmly opposed to making any use of the power of the purse. They want to rely on Bush to end the war, while they continue funding it. They want to require that “benchmarks” be met that include enforcement of a new Iraq oil law effectively stealing that nation’s oil profits and handing them to foreign corporations. And they want to sweeten this deal by throwing in VA health care, Katrina relief, and all sorts of funding for the pet projects of congress members whose votes they otherwise can’t get.

This is a foolish approach because it relies on Bush to tell the truth and obey the law. It’s a criminal approach because it funds an illegal war and the illegal theft of natural resources. And it’s a dishonest approach because it leads to incidents like the one in the video, in which Obey tells a military mother that the only way to fund VA health care is to fund more war and produce more need for VA health care. This is simply not true. A clean bill for VA health care would pass if introduced. Using the injured veterans our nation has tossed aside like refuse to prettify a bill aimed primarily at producing more of them is disgusting. The same goes for Katrina victims, farmers, and anyone else being used as cover for a war bill.

If you don’t have the votes for a war bill, Congressman Obey, you should rewrite the bill. Now, there are two ways to do that. One is to please the Republicans by taking out all the constitutionally questionable benchmark / timetable nonsense that Bush will ignore anyway. The other is to please the progressive Democrats and the American public and write a serious bill that includes Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s amendment requiring that all funding go to a withdrawal to be completed by the end of the year.

If the third of your caucus that already stands for ending the war were joined by the leadership, where do you think the other Democrats would go? This is about being a leader, Congressman. Screaming at one of the victims of your policies that you don’t have the votes to change course has a certain “But the other kids are doing it” ring to it. You claim you oppose the war. Yet you repeatedly vote to fund it. And your justification is that the other kids are doing it too. When you end up screaming this at the mother of a Marine you’re sending in for a third tour, a Marine who already will never be what he was before you got your claws into him, it’s time to wake up and to grow up and to begin to show a little more maturity.

The reason anyone should enter politics, Congressman, is to be there at times like these in order to be able to do the right and decent thing. Elections serve the purpose of enabling such actions. Such actions do not serve elections or party ambitions. Do you think Speaker Pelosi would threaten your chairmanship if you did the right thing? I don’t think she would, and I don’t think you should care. You’ve come down to the point of denouncing the majority of Americans as idiots. You’ve come down to the point of claiming and apparently believing that the only way to end a war is to fund it. You’ve come down to the point of acting out Orwellian dramas on behalf of weapons makers. A recovery from this position would do much more for you than the loss of a chairmanship would mean.

Congressman, as long as you have got yourself convinced that funding a withdrawal of our troops from the occupation of a foreign country is anti-troops, you are going to see the majority of ordinary Americans who don’t work for television networks or Republican think tanks as idiots. And you’re going to disagree with us angrily, because we’re going to threaten recognition of the utterly incoherent nonsense you believe.

We all have moments of anger and frustration. That’s certainly forgivable, and you’ve graciously apologized, and Tina Richards has accepted. But the only way you’re going to be at ease with the knowledge that there are ordinary Americans loose in the halls of Congress is if you sit down and talk with a few of them and try to understand what it is they are thinking.

David Swanson is the Washington Director of Democrats.com and co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and of the Backbone Campaign. He serves on a working group of United for Peace and Justice. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign. His website is www.davidswanson.org.

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