When Woolsey Met Harman

As I sit waiting to fly out of LAX, secure in the knowledge that while most of our money is going into the greatest effort the world has ever seen to make most of its people hate a particular nation, everyone around me has had to take off their coats and shoes and display their toothpaste, except for the people living on the streets of Los Angeles who aren’t part of the airport traveling world, and — this ought to help things — Lynn Woolsey came to this city yesterday to support Jane Harman.

Jane Harman has never seen a war she didn’t like or a crime by anyone important that she couldn’t excuse. When caught on a warrantless wiretap by the Bush-Cheney gang conspiring with representatives of the Israeli government against her own, Harman chose to allow herself to be blackmailed. She pressured the New York Times to keep the story of warrantless spying programs secret until Bush could get into a second term as president. Harman’s loyalty is not to the wishes of her constituents, not to the political fate of her party (the Democrats) and not to her country. In other words she’s a model congress member.

Lynn Woolsey, another Democratic congress member, from Northern California, sometimes — in fact more than almost anyone else — votes against her party’s leadership but with her constituents and the majority of Americans. She votes for peace, justice, decency, and good governance. But just about the only thing she does is vote right. And all of her good votes are countered by someone like Jane Harman, who always votes the worst way she can manage.

I like Lynn Woolsey. She has good intentions. She’s spoken at peace rallies. She and I have spoken together at the same peace rallies. I’ve made a website to raise money for her. But I spoke up in her district last week, and her constituents cheered when I denounced what she was planning to do in Los Angeles.

A crowd of people was protesting yesterday outside a fundraiser for Harman, according to the report I got from my friend, Ray McGovern. And they were progressive activists, the same people who usually cheer for Woolsey when they see her. Now they were protesting her action, and she had to run the gauntlet to enter the event. According to Ray, Congresswoman Woolsey kept her eyes on the ground and gave the appearance of a criminal being paraded before the cameras after being convicted of some highly embarrassing crime. When she passed by him, Ray said “I am very disappointed in you, Lynn,” but she wouldn’t look at him. When she reached the door, Woolsey raised her fist in triumph, as if to say “I made it through you nonviolent peacenik riff-raff, hurrah!”

It was an accomplishment not much less significant than any of Woolsey’s accomplishments as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).

Several caucuses in Congress behave as caucuses. The Blue Dog Caucus, for example, has been known to tell the congressional leadership that its members will vote against a piece of legislation unless it is made worse in certain specified ways. And so it is. These other caucuses are taken seriously and have an impact because they don’t just say things. They do things. They threaten to vote No if they don’t get their way, and they follow through. The CPC has never ever ever done that. As a result it is universally ignored, despite being the largest so-called caucus in Congress.

CPC membership is resume padding. There are no requirements to join it, no duties to be discharged, no requirements to act as a block. A couple of years ago, virtually the entire caucus, and some non-caucus members, a total of 90 congress members, signed a commitment not to vote for war funding. And with a few exceptions, they all turned around and voted for it. A few members, like Woolsey, will often vote the right way, once they are assured that the bill will go the wrong way and their vote won’t actually displease Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In fact, Pelosi herself often votes against murderous legislation after guaranteeing its passage.

Last June the CPC corralled 57 congress members who signed a letter to Pelosi swearing they would oppose a healthcare bill that didn’t meet certain minimum standards. When those standards were not met, 55 of those 57, including Woolsey, flipped and voted for the bill, a bill she now champions in its diminished, destructive, and arguably unconstitutional state, refusing to the end to take a meaningful stand on anything, even on language that would facilitate a real healthcare solution in the state of California and other states.

And this is about the best we get from any congress member, with the obvious exception of Dennis Kucinich. Woolsey votes the right way when it can have no impact, and does so more than just about anybody else. But is that ENOUGH, when Congress is funding mass murder with all of the money we need for saving lives, when people are losing their homes, when lifeguards are being pulled off the beaches for lack of funds out here, when state and city services are being eliminated, when our rotten education system is collapsing on itself, when the state of Hawaii will go without a congress member for lack of funds to hold an election, when a new record in military waste is set every year, and NFL football announcers on television welcome the imperial troops viewing the game in 177 nations around the world?

What more would I have Lynn Woolsey and every other so-called progressive member of Congress do? I would have them do what you or I would do if we were there: publicly commit to voting No on war money ahead of time, publicly and privately lobby and pressure colleagues and leadership to do the same, vote No on the procedural votes that allow the policy votes, quit monkeying around with bills that express displeasure or which will never pass the Senate and be signed into law, and focus instead relentlessly and uncompromisingly on blocking the funding in the House. An all-out peace advocate would not raise money for Jane Harman, but would instead publicly shame Jane Harman’s funders and call for a criminal investigation of both Harman and her blackmailers.

An all-out peace advocate in Congress would be exactly like . . . well, exactly like Marcy Winograd. Marcy is a brilliant, outspoken, hardworking, and principled activist citizen challenging Jane Harman in an electoral primary and scaring her into whatever pressure it is she put on Lynn Woolsey that brought her down to Los Angeles to provide “progressive” cover. If Lynn Woolsey wanted progressive change, rather than merely progressive branding and imagery, she would be standing shoulder to shoulder with Marcy Winograd. Fortunately, I get the impression that a great many Angelenos and Americans are principled, decent, and sophisticated enough to support Woolsey when she does right and oppose her when she does wrong, and to overwhelm her misplaced advocacy with our support, donations, and volunteer time for the woman who will be the leader of the fight for the people’s views against the corporate agenda in the 112th Congress, Marcy Winograd.

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