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)
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.
Trumpets blared on the loudspeaker. Dozens of members of Congress gathered on a makeshift stage, draped by giant American flags, cops, firefighters and veterans in uniform, and a huge banner reading "Real Security." In advance of the midterm elections, the Democrats were determined to appear both "smart and tough," a phrase used by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh that has become common parlance for the party.
Their national security agenda, released today after months of bickering, pledged to modernize the military, kill Osama bin Laden, kick our oil addition and immediately implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for homeland security. But on the issue of Iraq--the most pressing security concern for most Americans--the Democrats remained deliberately vague. Their alternative states:
Ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.
There was a moment, after Abramoff's guilty plea in January, when real reform seemed possible. Everything was on the table, anxious leaders of both parties declared. Everyone wanted to be a reformer. No more.
New Majority Leader John Boehner has nixed the efforts of Dennis Hastert and David Dreier in the House. The Democratic plan stands no chance of passing a Republican Congress. And the Senate has failed to adopt or even consider any of the reforms that would actually make a difference: publicly financed elections, an independent ethics enforcement agency with teeth, a ban on lobbyist fundraising.
So much for "straight talk." If you needed any more proof that the maverick John McCain will run as the ultimate insider come 2008, scroll down.
McCain, February 28, 2000, Virginia Beach, Virginia:
I am a pro-life, pro-family fiscal conservative, an advocate of a strong defense, and yet Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro- life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters.
Every once in a while a politician stumbles into telling the truth. Even George W. Bush. Unwittingly, of course.
At his Tuesday press conference, Bush dropped one of the biggest bombshells of his presidency: American troops would not leave Iraq on his watch. Not in 2006 or 2008. Let John McCain or Hillary Clinton make that call. Bush's plan for victory amounts to: someone else clean up my mess. If Bush were a five-year-old, he'd undoubtedly receive a spanking.
His "plan" is the inverse of Colin Powell's famous Pottery Barn rule. Bush broke Iraq, never acknowledged owning it and now refuses to fix it.
Last Thursday the Pentagon launched "Operation Swarmer"--described as the largest air assault in Iraq since March 2003. I was at a conference on Iraq at the Center for American Progress and saw the news flashing repeatedly on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. The timing, a few days before the war's 3rd anniversary and amidst a torrent of negative opinion polling for the Bush Administration--seemed highly suspicious.
Well, this Operation, like so much of what the Administration has told us about the war, turned out to be a lie. According to reporters on the ground from Time magazine:
There were no air strikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What's more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the US and Iraqi commanders.
On the day the Bush Administration renewed its commitment to preemptive war--and conveniently launched the largest air strikes in Iraq since March 2003--a conference of security experts assembled at the Center for America Progress to examine just how that preemptive test case is going.
Not so hot. And conditions on the ground threaten to move from bad to worse.
One thing I've always found perplexing is Wesley Clark's continued high-standing amongst the progressive blogosphere. For months he's consistently either won or placed second in the Daily Kos and MyDD straw polls, for example. Yesterday our ace DC intern Cora Currier bumped into Clark in the Senate and much to her surprise, wooing Nation readers was on the General's mind. I'm posting her dispatch below:
I was in Senator Carl Levin's office yesterday talking to an aide when General Wesley Clark strode into the room. He was waiting for a meeting and sat down on the couch near us. Levin's aide asked where I worked and when I replied, "The Nation," Clark jumped into the conversation. Introducing himself, he said: "Now, how are we going to get Nation readers to vote for someone like me?" I didn't know what to say. "I'm a military man," he continued, "and the military scares liberals. They say, oh, no, he's bombed people. People forget that as commander of NATO I was in charge of school children, and communities." He left soon after but gave me his card. "Nation," he said again, pointing to himself.
Let's take our own highly unscientific straw poll. If Clark runs again, would you support him?
Al Gore returned to Florida this weekend. And you know what that means. (Insert joke about butterfly ballots, hanging chads, Katherine Harris and Jews for Buchanan.)
He still uses the line about being a "recovering politician." It still draws laughter. But those of us who've followed Gore know he's emerged from the political wilderness as one of the most eloquent critics of the Bush Administration, a favorite among the Democratic base and even a dark horse for the '08 nomination. By all accounts, his foray into Florida, campaigning for state candidates, only boosted his political fortunes. From the Orlando Sun-Sentinel:
"Welcome back, Mr. President!" someone yelled from the crowd as Gore took the stage.