Most freshman Democratic members of the House of Representatives attended last week's reception at the White House with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, White House political czar Karl Rove and others who had just finished plotting and executing unrelenting attacks campaigns on the newcomers. But the target of some of the campaign season's crudest attacks, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, had better things to do.
Ellison, the first Muslim to ever be elected to Congress, skipped the private reception at the White House in order to attend a reception organized by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.
"I went to the AFL-CIO reception, because I wanted to meet and greet leaders of labor, and get to know them," explained Ellison, who won an intense Democratic primary and then the general election with strong union backing. "Those are the people who I came here to support."Was it hard to give up a chance to rub elbows with the president and vice president?
"It wasn't even a close call," Ellison told the Associated Press."Maybe one day I'll get to meet the president. He's the president, and I respect him in his role as the president, but I have exceedingly sharp differences with him on a policy level."
Despite attacks on his religious beliefs and activist career, Ellison prevailed in the September Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party primary for an open Minneapolis-area seat by promising to fight in Congress for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"We are being led by a president who believes he has a right to send us to war based on a lie, that it's O.K. to torture prisoners and to spy on Americans. His administration has given sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts to private companies and then looked the other way when those profiteers cannot account for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars," Ellison said during the campaign. And, yet, where is the outrage? Where are the leaders who are willing to stand up and demand accountability?"
"I'm running for Congress because there has been a wholesale abdication of responsibility by our political leaders," Ellison continued. "When I get to Washington, I will demand complete responsibility from this administration."
Come to think of it, Bush, Cheney and Rove were probably just as happy that Ellison didn't have time to come to the White House last week.
Of course, some Bush defenders have condemned the Minnesota congressman for daring to disregard a White House invitation. But it should be clear by now that Keith Ellison was not elected to play nice with this administration.
Ellison did not come to be a part of the broken politics of the Washington consensus. He promised to serve, like his friend and mentor Paul Wellstone, as an agent of change rather than an apologist for compromise. It should be remembered that Wellstone made news when he arrived in Washington back in 1991 and almost immediately confronted then President George Herbert Walker Bush regarding another scheme to send U.S. troops to the Middle East.
Ellison's preference for the company of union members over that of a nother president named Bush provides only the latest indication that this congressman from Minnesota is more than ready to carry on where the late senator from Minnesota left off.
John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com