Ari Berman is a senior contributing writer for The Nation magazine and a Fellow at The Nation Institute. His new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, was 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)
For months now, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has been traveling all across the country fashioning himself as the latest incarnation of warrior Democrat. A key part of Bayh's routine is talking "tough" on Iran. Bayh says Bush "was right to label Iran part of the axis of evil," and agrees with the President that a military strike option should remain on the table. Bayh recently introduced a Senate resolution calling for strict sanctions on the Iranian regime--including cutting off supplies of refined gasoline, denying foreign investment and isolating the regime "diplomatically, financially, and culturally."
No doubt Iran is a bad actor and its anti-semitic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a full-blown lunatic. But these sanctions sound very much like a pretext to war. If anything, they will only intensify Iran's effort to develop a nuclear weapon. Which is why Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Bayh to take a chill pill on Sunday. From ABC's This Week:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Lugar, time for sanctions?
What will Tom DeLay do next?
According to US News and World Report, the White House is looking at "an outsider with strong fiscal conservative credentials" to head the Office of Management and Budget. The post became open when Josh Bolten was named George W. Bush's chief of staff a few weeks back. DeLay, apparently, is among the contenders--a fitting position for someone who consistently rubberstamped Bush's budgets in Congress. The rumor surfaced on Wednesday and, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be confirmed or denied.
In Time magazine this week, Joe Klein describes how John Kerry responded to the revelations of torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in May 2004 by holding a focus group in Arkansas. Afterwards, Klein writes, "The consultants were unanimous in their recommendations to the candidate: Don't talk about it. So Kerry didn't, "never once mentioning Abu Ghraib--or the Justice Department memo that 'broadened' accepted interrogations techniques--in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush."
For the man who earned a following protesting atrocities in Vietnam, torture was off the table. I mention this anecdote because at a breakfast today with Howard Dean sponsored by The American Prospect, a cast member from the play Guantanamo asked Dean about the Democratic Party's position on another detention facility widely viewed as illegal under international law.
"We don't have a Democratic Party position," Dean admitted. "I've never had a discussion about it with [Harry] Reid and [Nancy] Pelosi."
Now we know why Tom DeLay decided to quit Congress. It wasn't becausehe resigned as Majority Leader last September in advance of his moneylaundering trial in Texas. Or because his Abramoff-connected aidesran what the Washington Post dubbed "a far-reaching criminalenterprise operating out of DeLay's office." Or because was going tolose his re-election race this November.
No, it was because of the Lord. From Peter Perl's devastatingWP article on Sunday:
DeLay recently told one of his pastors that God wanted him to leaveCongress in part because He has bigger plans for DeLay. That pastor,the Rev. Rick Scarborough, introduced DeLay to a Christian conferencejust last week, saying, "This is a man, I believe, God hasappointed . . . to represent righteousness in government."
Following up on John Nichols' post about Silvio Berlusconi's likely election defeat, I'm posting a dispatch from our ace Washington intern Cora Currier, who lived in Italy and, unlike the rest of us, speaks fluent Italian.
Berlusconi's parading as Bush's buddy at the start of the Iraq war was the least of his problems. Italy's slick, perpetually tanned billionaire prime minister will likely lose the election because, after five years of scandals and corruption, Italians have had enough of his antics. Before the election he ceded to overwhelming popular opinion by promising to pull Italian troops from Iraq by the year's end, but it was too late to save face.
While Italy's economy floundered, Berlusconi, ranked the country's richest man by Forbes Magazine, was busy re-writing laws to avoid charges of tax-fraud, corruption and bribery. During the run-up to the election, supporters of opposition candidate Romano Prodi protested the inequality of TV time between the candidates. Little surprise: through various businesses, Berlusconi controls an alleged 90 percent of the national media. Last week Berlusconi announced to supporters at a rally in Naples: "we will win because we are not coglioni," using a vulgar term literally meaning "testicles" to paint the opposition as "assholes." The next day, T-shirts were seen on the streets of Rome reading Io Sono un Coglione: "I am an asshole." Looks there are quite a few of them in Italy these days…
Oh, how House Republicans must miss Tom DeLay. There have been a series of embarrassments for the House leadership since DeLay stepped down as Majority Leader in September. The decision to pull their own 2007 budget from consideration on the House floor yesterday "was the latest and clearest illustration of the Republicans' difficulties in holding lawmakers together with a crucial election approaching," the New York Times wrote.
The aforementioned budget would extend Bush's costly tax cuts, add $3 trillion to the national debt over five years, and cut billions of dollars for education, job training and veterans health care. When conservative Republicans tried to enact even harsher budget rules limiting Congress's ability to control emergency spending for war and natural disasters, powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis balked, dooming the budget for now.
The conventional narrative in Washington has been reversed. Democrats stood firm as Republicans fell apart. The so-called "party of ideas" have none, or at least can no longer agree on what they are.
The media should be talking about Tom DeLay and the collapse of the conservative movement. About immigration reform and the divide in the Republican Party. About how the Bush Administration is trying to export democracy to Iraq while cutting funds for democracy promotion. About how four House Republicans are pushing to force the House to debate the war. Or--if you want something seedy--about how yet another Bush Administration official was arrested, this time for trying to seduce a 14-year-old girl over the Internet.
Instead, they can't get enough of Cynthia McKinney, a controversial Democrat from Georgia who last week punched a police officer on Capitol Hill. It's not just Fox News. Wolf Blitzer had her in the Situation Room. Even Jon Stewart last night juxtaposed images of DeLay and McKinney, as if their sins were equal. And McKinney inexplicably keeps the story alive by holding media appearance after media appearance.
The Nation defended McKinney when the right-wing and AIPAC slimed her as an anti-Semite back in 2002. But, as far as I'm concerned, she's on her own now.
I'm glad John Kerry finally has a coherent position on the war in Iraq. He's against it, and he wants US troops to leave. I just wish he would have said so two years ago, when it might have made a difference. From his New York Times op-ed today:
Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.
If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will empower the new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running their own country and undermine support for the insurgency, which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who want us to leave their country. Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain.
Did Tom DeLay decide to step down abruptly because he thought he would lose a tough re-election fight? Or did he decide to jump ship before his party returned to minority status?
His money-laundering trial will soon begin in Texas. Former top aides recently pled guilty to "a far-reaching criminal enterprise operating out of DeLay's office," as the Washington Post put it. The internal polling numbers in Sugar Land, Texas, were not good.
DeLay may have been able to stay afloat and squeak out a narrow election victory. He'd still have a plum seat on the Appropriations Committee, doling out federal dollars to his favorite pet projects and corporate benefactors. But as an architect of the Republican majority, toiling in the minority would be a hard pill to swallow.
Congress needs to remember the lyrics from that old Clash song: "I fought the law and the law won."
A series of remarkable events last week proves why.
Jack Abramoff was sentenced in Florida, a prelude to his trial in Washington. Days later Tony Rudy, a former top aide to Abramoff and Tom DeLay, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges--the third figure implicated thus far in L'Affair Abramoff. More indictments are coming down the pike.