Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, will be published in August 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has written extensively about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian, and he is a frequent guest and commentator on MSNBC and NPR. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Photo by Ports Bishop)
The news that Harold Ford Jr., a conservative Democrat from Tennessee, is considering a primary challenge to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is as laughable as ludicrous. I'm still having trouble taking Ford's bid seriously, but judging from a front page story in today's New York Times, Gillibrand's camp is preparing for war.
Democrats have had more than enough of Joe Lieberman and his antics, including in his home state.
"No one should hold health care hostage, including Joe Lieberman, and I'll say it flat out, I think he ought to be recalled," said Congresswoman Rosa DeLaura, the dean of Connecticut's Democratic Congressional delegation. "I know that may not even be an option in Connecticut, but 45,000 people die every year because theydon't have health care. We don't have the luxury to hold up a bill that could make a difference in people's lives. This is what we were sent here to do."
DeLaura endorsed Lieberman during his race against Ned Lamont in '06, calling him "a very close friend of our family" and a "person of integrity who has fought so many good fights for people. I am proud to have worked side-by-side with him in this primary." (She endorsed Lamont after he defeated Lieberman in the Democratic primary.)
The New York Times has an excellent graphic up today profiling the 39 Democrats who voted against healthcare reform in the House of Representatives on Saturday night. The Times notes that 31 of these Democrats represent districts won by John McCain, as if that's a sufficient excuse. But take a closer look at the numbers. Paradoxically, those Democrats voting against healthcare reform represent constituents most in need of health insurance.
Dan Boren of Oklahoma, arguably the most conservative Democrat in Congress, leads the way. Twenty-nine percent of his non-elderly constituents lack health insurance. He's followed by Harry Teague of New Mexico (25 percent uninsured), Waco's Chet Edwards (23 percent), North Carolinians Mike McIntyre (23 percent) and Heath Shuler (21 percent), Blue Dog leader Mike Ross (22 percent) and fellow Southerners Gene Taylor (22 percent), Jim Marshall (22 percent) and John Barrow (21 percent).
These Democrats will talk about fiscal responsibility and cost containment and preserving the free market, but let's get real--their votes had nothing to do with ideological concerns. After all, the legislation was severely watered down to please people like Mike Ross, who voted against the bill anyway. It was all politics, even though 22 of these Democrats won their districts by double-digits. Ross led the way, defeating his practically nonexistent GOP opponent by 72 points! He's hardly an endangered species.
There's a very important editorial in The Nation this week that I hope everyone will take the time to read. It's about the wrongful conviction of Anthony McKinney, who's been in prison for thirty-one years for a murder he did not commit. I'm posting the relevant portions below.
On the evening of September 15, 1978, a white security guard named Donald Lundahl was murdered in a robbery gone awry in a racially fraught southern suburb of Chicago. Police fingered Anthony McKinney, an 18-year-old African-American with no criminal record, as the killer. The prosecution sought death by lethal injection; the judge sentenced McKinney to life in prison.
McKinney has long maintained his innocence. Based on newly uncovered evidence, there's strong reason to believe that he has spent thirty-one years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Every time I hear about Joe Lieberman's latest apostasy, I think, Oy vey! There he goes again. More Joementum.
Remind me why we still call this guy a Democrat? Sure, Lieberman caucuses with Democrats in the Senate--Joe is nothing if not opportunistic and who wants to be part of a lowly Republican minority?--but I think he forfeited his right to call himself one when he almost became John McCain's VP and campaigned stridently against an Obama presidency. Yet somehow he managed to keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Gotta love those Senate Democrats--they always find a way to reward someone for stabbing them in the back. See Baucus, Max.
Following Lieberman's threat to filibuster a public option, every paper played up the story of how the "centrists" are now rebelling. Watch out, the centrists are coming! "Centrists unsure about Reid's public option," the Washington Post reported today. Let's get real. These holdouts are not centrist Democrats; they are corporate Democrats, which should be an oxymoron. They'll do whatever the healthcare industry wants and use their red state constituents as an excuse to do so. Only Lieberman is from Connecticut, one of the bluest states in the country. So what's his excuse?
Sample quote from the "it girl" lobbyist, nonchalantly praising herself in third person: "This is a very good time to be a Democratic lobbyist...it's incredibly exciting to be able to engage with Democrats and really see things happen. It's always a good time to be Heather Podesta."
Wow, so much for modesty! It's not clear what things happening Podesta is referring to. The Post notes her clients include:
Barack Obama received 67 million votes in the last election. Senator Max Baucus of Montana received 349,000 votes when he ran for re-election last year. His Republican counterpart on the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, got just over a million votes when he last ran in '04.
So how, exactly, was Obama's landslide victory a mandate for Baucus and Grassley to hijack the president's agenda? When it comes to healthcare reform, trusting Baucus was the first mistake Obama made. Allowing Baucus to cede so much authority to Grassley is the second.
When Baucus became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee after Democrats recaptured Congress, many Democrats were justifiably worried. After all, Baucus helped shepherd through Congress two of President Bush's signature initiatives, his tax cuts and Medicare privatization plan. He received a ton of money from corporate lobbyists, many of whom were former staffers of his. In a Nation profile in early '07, I dubbed him "K Street's Favorite Democrat."
Howard Dean guest hosted Countdown with Keith Olbermann at an opportune time last night, following reports that the Senate Finance Committee--helmed by Montana Democrat Max Baucus--is preparing to exclude a public option from its long-awaited healthcare bill.
"What if the Senate Finance Committee has already done the Republicans' dirty work for them?" Dean asked rhetorically at the beginning of show.
Dean has just authored a book on healthcare reform--detailing why America needs a public option--and knows quite a bit about the subject from his years as a doctor and governor of Vermont. He called Baucus's reported bill the "so-called compromise."
For months, advocates for and against true health care reform in Washington have been closely watching Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the all-powerful Finance Committee, and wondering what he'll do. We don't know the answer yet. Baucus was instrumental in helping George Bush pass tax cuts for the rich and privatize Medicare, but he's also said he wants to shepherd Barack Obama's healthcare plan through Congress and make universal coverage a reality once and for all. Thus far, we don't which Baucus will show up, the Bush-loving friend of big business or the populist ally of Obama.
There's a reason The Nation dubbed Baucus "K Street's Favorite Democrat" in a profile I wrote back in March 2007, after the Democrats recaptured Congress and Baucus became chair of the Finance Committee. Some background:
After helping to craft the largest tax cut in a generation, Baucus raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the financial sector for his 2002 re-election campaign. Opening doors in both directions were former Baucus staffers. During the debate over whether to add a $400 billion privately run prescription-drug plan to Medicare, his former chief of staff, David Castagnetti, and legislative aide, Scott Olsen, were part of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's $8 million lobbying effort. Shortly after the legislation--written largely by the pharmaceutical industry--passed, Baucus's top staffer on the Finance Committee, Jeff Forbes, left to open his own lobbying shop, with clients including PhRMA, the drug maker Amgen and the American Health Care Association. These companies have in turn donated generously to Baucus; almost $700,000 between 2001 and 2006 from the healthcare industry and pharmaceutical lobby.