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A majority of House Democrats on Thursday rejected President Bush's request for blank-check authority to wage war with Iraq, despite the fact that House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, helped draft the resolution and lobbied for its passage.
As expected, the resolution authorizing Bush to order the invasion of Iraq – without a Congressional declaration of war -- passed the House and Senate easily in votes late Thursday and early Friday. The Senate approved the resolution by a lopsided 77-23 vote; the House by a somewhat narrower 296-133 margin.
The surprise came in the size of the vote against the resolution. Just weeks ago, when foes of the administration canvassed the House to determine the size of the opposition bloc, they counted just a few dozen firm votes against the administration's proposal.
Even as Thursday's vote approached, an "alternative to war" resolution proposed by US Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, attracted just 39 co-sponsors. The relatively small number of caucus members who had expressed explicit opposition to the resolution before the vote led Gephardt aides to suggest that the minority leader's outspoken support for the Bush administration's hard-line position – a stance that made opposing the president's request more difficult – would be vindicated as a clear majority of House Democrats would join the Republican majority to back the resolution.
But Gephardt, a man whose presidential ambitions are no secret, was not vindicated.
Of 207 House Democrats voting on the resolution, 126 opposed it, while only 81 voted for the measure. "I hope the story today won't be (that) this is a huge, overwhelming victory for the president of the United States and for war, beacuse it is not," said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, who was one of the first to break with Gephardt on the issue. "I think what we did will surprise some people. This (the larger-than-expected vote against the resolution) is against conventional wisdom that 'oh, everybody's going to be with the president.'"
The 126 Democrats who opposed the resolution were joined by one independent member, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, and six Republicans -- John Duncan of Tennessee; John Hostettler of Indiana; Amo Houghton of New York; Jim Leach of Iowa; Connie Morella of Maryland; and Ron Paul of Texas.
The House Democrats who opposed the White House and their own caucus leader included Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who is also the ranking Democratic member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, D-Michigan; the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey, D-Wisconsin; the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, D-New York; and International Relations Committee members Donald Payne, D-New Jersey; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia; Earl Hilliard, D-Alabama; Bill Delahunt, D-Massachusetts; Gregory Meeks, D-New York; Barbara Lee, D-California; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Grace Napolitano, D-California; and Diane Watson, D-California. They were joined by senior Democratic members such as George Miller, D-California, and James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, who told the House: "Our Constitution entrusts to Congress alone the power to declare war, a power we should invoke with great care on evidence of a clear and present danger to our country. President Bush has asked Congress to cede that power to him, to be wielded against Iraq; at a time of his choosing; with or without United Nations support; in a unilateral, pre-emptive strike, on his own determination of the level of threat Iraq poses to our national security. I will not surrender our constitutional authority."
Pelosi, the number two Democrat in the House, was equally outspoken in her opposition to the resolution. Rejecting the argument that the president needed maximum flexibility to act quickly against an immediate threat, Pelosi noted that Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet had told Congress that the likelihood of Iraq's Saddam Hussein launching an attack on the U.S. using weapons of mass destruction is low. "This is not about time," she said. "This is about the Constitution. It is about this Congress asserting its right to declare war when we are fully aware what the challenges are to us. It is about respecting the United Nations and a multilateral approach, which is safer for our troops."
Pelosi joined 70 Democrats, Vermont Independent Sanders and Maryland Republican Morella in backing Barbara Lee's amendment, which spelled out explicit support for the principle that: "the United States should work through the United Nations to seek to resolve the matter of ensuring that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction, through mechanisms such as the resumption of weapons inspections, negotiation, enquiry, mediation, regional arrangements, and other peaceful means." Lee's bill was co-sponsored by 18 Congressional Black Caucus members, former House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Michigan, and Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich.
"It is fear which leads us to war," Kucinich told the House. "It is fear which leads us to believe that we must kill or be killed. Fear which leads us to attack those who have not attacked us. Fear which leads us to ring our nation in the very heavens with weapons of mass destruction."
Another fear – that of the Bush political team's determination to make Iraq an election issue for members who oppose the administration – was described by several members as a factor in the timing of the vote and the willingness of House leaders to concede so much of their authority to the president. Rangel went so far as to describe the whole debate as "a diversion that we have been forced to place on the front burner."
Intriguingly, for all the fears of some Democrats that a "no" vote might be politically risky, at least two of the Republicans who voted with the majority of Democrats in opposition to the resolution face difficult reelection fights this fall. Iowa's Leach and Maryland's Morella are among the most endangered Republican incumbents in the country – the former from a midwestern district with vast stretches of farmland, the latter from a Washington suburb. Yet, both broke with the administration to oppose what Leach described as a "resolution (that) misfits the times and the circumstances."
"As powerful a case for concern as the preparatory clauses of this resolution outline," explained Leach, "they do not justify authorization for war, particularly absent further Security Council and multinational support."
In the Senate, one Republican -- Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee -- voted against the resolution. He joined 21 Democrats and Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords in voting "no." The Senate foes were led by West Virginia's Robert Byrd and Massachusetts' Edward Kennedy, the chamber's senior Democratic members. They were joined by Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin, D-Michigan; Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Florida; and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.
Among those voting for the resolution were prospective 2004 Democratic presidential candidates Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut; John Edwards, D-North Carolina; and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts.
Among senators seeking reelection this year, the only vulnerable incumbent to oppose the resolution was Minnesota's Paul Wellstone.
"A pre-emptive go-it-alone strategy towards Iraq is wrong. I oppose it," said Wellstone. "We should act forcefully, resolutely, sensibly with our allies, and not alone, to disarm Saddam. Authorizing the pre-emptive, go-it-alone use of force now, right in the midst of continuing efforts to enlist the world community to back a tough new disarmament resolution on Iraq, could be a costly mistake for our country."
Even though he is unlikely to succeed in preventing a Congressional grant of blank-check warmaking powers to the Bush administration, Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, has done America the service of clarifying the issue at hand. Thanks to Byrd's fierce denunciations of an unnecessary resolution to promote an unnecessary war, members of Congress who side with the administration will not be able to plead ignorance to the charge that they abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities in order to position themselves for the fall election.
Rarely in the history of the Senate has a member so bluntly identified the hypocrisy of the White House on a question of warmaking. But there was no partisan malice in Byrd's remarks. In a remarkable speech delivered as the Senate opened its debate on Bush's request for broad authority to use military force against Iraq, Byrd chastised his fellow Democrats for engaging in equally contemptible acts.
"The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate, all the moreso because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics. Republicans are already running attack ads against Democrats on Iraq. Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the subject to domestic economic problems," declared the senior Democratic senator. "Before risking the lives of American troops, all members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- must overcome the siren song of political polls and focus strictly on the merits, not the politics, of this most serious issue."
With fury entirely appropriate to the moment, Byrd roared: "We are rushing into war without fully discussing why, without thoroughly considering the consequences, or without making any attempt to explore what steps we might take to avert conflict. The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also a product of presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking in its scope. It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the Constitution to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the President blanket authority to launch a unilateral preemptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States. This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the President's authority under the Constitution, not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of the United Nations on its head."
Typically, Byrd was strongest when he asked today's politicians to square their actions against the historical imperatives and insights that he, above all other members of Congress, recognizes and understands. In a speech that began with reference to the Roman historian Titus Livius and closed with a detailed recreation of the Senate debate that preceded the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Byrd summoned the words of an Illinois congressman who in the 1840s chastised a proponent of expanded presidential warmaking powers:
"Representative Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to William H. Herndon, stated: ‘Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose - - and you allow him to make war at pleasure... The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.'"
The West Virginian asked the Senate: "If he could speak to us today, what would Lincoln say of the Bush doctrine concerning preemptive strikes?" No doubt, Lincoln would join millions of Americans in telling senators to listen to the wisdom of Robert Byrd.
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented his "dossier" on the threats that are supposedly posed to the world by Iraq, President Bush was delighted with what he heard from the man Europeans refer to as "Bush's poodle." "Prime Minister Blair, first of all, is a very strong leader, and I admire his willingness to tell the truth. Secondly he continues to make the case, like we make the case, that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace," the president said last week, after Blair went before the British Parliament to make the case for attacking Iraq.
Much of the American media echoed the president's child-like glee at the release of the long-awaited dossier. "Britain's Case: Iraqi Program to Amass Arms is ‘Up and Running," warned The New York Times. "UK Details Saddam's Thirst for Arms," boomed MSNBC. "Britain: Iraq ready to strike," announced the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Blair spells out Iraq Threat," came the word from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
As far as the Bush administration and much of the American media was concerned, Blair's 55-page report completed the case for war with Iraq – ideally in concert with the United Nations, but unilaterally if necessary.
In Britain, where political leaders, reporters and citizens actually listened to Blair's speech to parliament – and then seriously analyzed its lack of content – the reaction was decidedly less enthusiastic.
"Saddam may be a risk to peace, but Mr. Blair has failed to make the case for war against Iraq," read the banner headline above an editorial in the Independent newspaper, where the editors concluded, "The real threat to Western security, as 11 September demonstrated, comes from individual acts of terror. A war on Iraq would create hundreds of thousands more volunteers for al-Qa'ida and similar groups. If we really want to make the world a safer place, we have to make the Middle East a safer place. That means a lasting peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. War on Iraq would only render that prospect still more distant."
"We said we wanted killer facts," read the editorial on Blair's speech in the mass-circulation Mirror newspaper. "Instead, these are marshmallow ones." The staid Financial Times added that Blair presentation contained no "compelling evidence" for action against Iraq. " This dossier is not serious," explained former Times of London editor Simon Jenkins, one of Britain's keener observers of politics and foreign affairs.
The British people seem to agree that Blair bumbled when it came to making the case for action. After Blair delivered his speech, a scientific survey of 1,000 Brits, conducted by the prestigious NOP Research Group, found that nearly 80 percent were still opposed to a U.S.-British attack on Iraq that lacked an explicit endorsement from the United Nations.
Asked to name the greatest threat to world peace at the moment, 43 percent of Brits surveyed said Saddam Hussein, but 37 percent said George W. Bush.
Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they thought Bush was calling for action against Iraq because the U.S. president perceives Saddam as a serious threat to world peace; but 21 percent said Bush was promoting war against Iraq because he was interested in gaining control over that country's oil reserves.
A survey by the BBC of 202 local leaders within Blair's Labour party found that 167 of them were opposed to at attack by the U.S. and Britain on Iraq.
The dramatic size of Saturday's protest against Blair's allegiance to Bush provided physical evidence of the prime minister's failure to convince his constituents that Iraq poses a clear and present danger. A London march that The Independent described as the "biggest protest in a generation," drew 150,000 people, according to police. Noting that authorities routinely underestimate crowds at demonstrations, organizers with Britain's Stop the War Coalition, put the crowd size at closer to 350,000.
Whatever the precise number of demonstrators, the message was clear. "There has been no case made – based on anything other than speculation – that Iraq poses a threat," explained Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspection chief in Iraq, who flew to London to address the protest. "It's not about defense of British people or British interests; it's so that corrupt American politicians can get their hands on Iraqi oil," said London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Tam Dalyell, the senior member of Blair's Labour Party in parliament, argued that: "We are sleep walking to disaster."
Tony Benn, a former Labour Party Cabinet minister who Blair once hailed as a political hero, spoke for the crowd when he said: "We believe it would be wholly immoral and wrong and criminal to attack Iraq and inflict casualties upon innocent people."
The first 2002 election campaign in which George W. Bush's desire to attack Iraq became a major issue did not involve Republicans and Democrats. It was not even held in the United States. But it can still be said that Bush – and his proposed war--came out on the losing end of the contest.
German voters on Sunday gave a narrow, yet clear, mandate to the red-green coalition of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The dramatic come-from-behind win for Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its coalition partner, the Green Party, followed a campaign in which the chancellor promised to withhold German support for a US-led war against Iraq.
"Under my leadership, Germany will not participate in military action," declared Schröder, in a blunt statement that distinguished the chancellor from Edmund Stoiber, the standard bearer of the conservative Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) alliance that sought to oust the four-year-old SPD-Green government.
"There's still a big danger of war, and that is a point where we really have a differing opinion," Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Schröder's Green Party ally, said of the governing coalition's differences with the Stoiber camp. "In no case should we escalate," Fischer said of Germany.
German election analysts said Schröder's outspoken and consistent stance regarding Iraq helped his party eliminate a nine-point deficit in the polls and pull ahead of the opposition in the closing days of the campaign. In Sunday's voting The SPD-Green coalition won more than 47 percent of the vote and a majority of seats in the German Bundestag, the lower house of parliament. (The SPD was winning 37.6 percent of the vote in late returns, while the Greens earned 8.6 percent--the strongest national election finish in the party's 22-year history. The Greens are generally viewed as pulling the coalition toward a more anti-war stance.)
Another four percent of the vote went to the left-wing Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), which took an even more militantly anti-war stance than Schröder's coalition. It appears that the PDS won several Bundestag seats in its east German strongholds, but is not expected to be a part of the coalition.
The likely coalition of Stoiber's CDU-CSU alliance and the smaller Free Democratic Party was taking 46 percent of the vote.
Stoiber saw his poll lead erode after he promised to leave open the option of using military force to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "We Europeans must co-ordinate our interests and bring them to bear with the United States," Stoiber said, while accusing Schröder of "poisoning" German's relations with the United States.
Stoiber's rhetoric was echoed--sometimes word-for-word--by Bush administration aides and allies, especially after German Justice Minister Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin allegedly suggested Bush was blowing threats from Iraq out of proportion in order to divert attention from domestic economic problems in the United States. "That's a popular method. Even Hitler did that," Daeubler-Gmelin supposedly told German trade unionists. She said the Hitler reference was a misquote, but the incident rocked the Schröder campaign in its final days.
The Bush administration and its Congressional allies, fearing a Schröder win, sent increasingly strong pro-Stoiber signals as the election approached. Two days before the election, US Sen. Jesse Helms, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said, "The German chancellor has damaged German relations with the United States in ways that cannot be easily repaired." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, spoke of the suddenly "poisoned atmosphere" of US-German relations and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called off a planned meeting with the German defense minister.
Yet, Schröder stuck to his anti-war theme.
The chancellor closed his campaign in the city of Rostock, telling a cheering crowd of 5,000: "The Middle East and Iraq need a lot of new peace, but they don't need a new war." Refusing to bow to the pressure from Washington, Schröder said, "Fundamental issues of German policy will be decided in Berlin and nowhere else."
The chancellor's decision to make his differences with the Bush administration the focal point of his final pre-election message reinforced the view that he was running as much against the US president's military schemes as he was against Stoiber. Polls indicated that a wide majority of Germans opposed their German military involvement in a US-led war on Iraq.
Ironically, the Bush administration may have handed Schröder the issue that enabled the Chancellor to retain office. Like the US, Germany is experiencing a serious economic slowdown. Joachim Raschke, a politics professor at Hamburg University, said the debate over Iraq--along with Schröder's solid response to summer flooding of German cities--helped to eclipse a dialogue about economic issues that might have benefited Stoiber and the CDU-CSU.
This was not the turn-of-events the Bush administration anticipated last summer, when it began cranking up the war rhetoric. White House political advisor Karl Rove had signaled that he wanted to make national security a front-burner issue prior to this fall's US elections--since polls showed that a focus on domestic economic issues would harm Republican chances in the fight for control of the US House and Senate. But Rove and his Bush team apparently failed to calculate the prospect that a domestic political gambit could deal the Bush camp a serious foreign policy blow.
Among traditional US allies in Europe, Schröder has been the most outspoken critic of the military action against Iraq. But, on the same day that the German chancellor was winning a new term at least in part on the strength of his anti-war stance, a member of the British Cabinet was breaking ranks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair--Bush's staunchest European ally.
"We cannot have another Gulf war," declared British Secretary of State for International Development Clair Short, in a statement that illustrating the rise of anti-war sentiment within Blair's Labour Party. "We cannot have the people of Iraq suffering again. They have suffered too much. That would be wrong."
US Rep. Nick Rahall's policy pronouncements tend toward announcements about extending water and sewer service in southern West Virginia, or the erection of safety barriers on dangerous stretches of Interstate 64. So much of official Washington was caught by surprise when the West Virginia Democrat appeared before the Iraqi Assembly Sunday "as a member of Congress concerned with peace" and declared, "Basically, I want America and Iraq to give peace a chance."
"Instead of assuming that war must come, let us find ways to discover how to prove that war is unnecessary," Rahall told the Iraqis. "It is time and, in my opinion, far past time that American andIraqi officials talk to each other without threats."
Rahall's trip to Baghdad, which followed President Bush's saber-rattling address to the United Nations General Assembly, drew international attention to a congressman who has spent most of his quarter century on Capitol Hill securing funding for road projects and mine safety initiatives. Unlike Bush, however, Rahall is no newcomer to Middle East affairs.
The grandson and namesake of a Lebanese immigrant who in 1903 settled in Beckley, West Virginia, Rahall approaches debates over Middle East policy from a unique perspective in a Congress with only a handful of Arab-American members. Proud of his ethnicity, Rahall frequently quotes a line from Lebanese-American entertainer Danny Thomas: "He who denies his heritage has no heritage."
Rahall has been a frequent visitor to Lebanon, Israel and other Middle Eastern nations -- traveling as a member of Congressional delegations and on his own to his grandfather's hometown of Kfier, Lebanon. A graduate of Duke University who earned his political spurs as an aide to legendary West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, Rahall has quietly developed a level of expertise on Middle East issues that few members of Congress can rival.
Rahall has frequently parted company with the overwhelming majority of his colleagues on those issues. In 1993, for instance, the House considered a resolution declaring that "the Arab boycott of Israel is detrimental to the peace process in the Middle East and should be discontinued forthwith." It passed, by a margin of 425-1.
More recently, the West Virginia Democrat was one of 11 House members to oppose a December 2001, resolution expressing solidarity with Israel. In May, when the House voted on a resolution that praised Israel's fight against terrorism while placing blame for violence in the region on Palestinian leaders, Rahall cast one of just 21 "no" votes.
While Rahall's votes may look controversial to national observers, they have caused him little grief in West Virginia, where he is regularly reelected with little or no opposition. The congressman is known for maintaining good relations – and an open dialogue -- with both Arab-American and Jewish constituents. Additionally, Rahall's voting record on Middle East issues tends to parallel that of his old boss, Senator Byrd. And, like Byrd, he devotes so much time and energy to bringing infrastructure projects to southern West Virginia that foreign policy issues are rarely part of the homestate debate.
Rahall has won high marks even from those who disagree with him for his expertise and for his attention to humanitarian issues that are often lost in Middle East policy debates. A thoughtful critic of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's actions, Rahall voted in favor of the 1991 Congressional resolution supporting the Persian Gulf War. In the years since, however, he has been in the forefront of questioning the wisdom of US policies toward Iraq.
Rahall signed the letter, initiated by Representatives Tom Campbell (R-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI), that, for humanitarian reasons, called for the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq. Last week, Rahall cited similar concerns, saying he has decided to travel to Baghdad to "help illuminate the plight of the Iraqi people."
"I'm not going as Secretary of State. I'm not going as a weapons inspector. I'm going as an individual who'd like to cool this rhetoric and act in a calm matter, and show the Iraqi people that the American people are not warmongers," he said on the eve of the trip to Iraq, which he took in the company of former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk. (Rahall and Abourezk made the trip as part of a delegation organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy.)
Rahall said he also was making the trip because of his doubts about whether the Bush administration has made a case for waging war against Iraq at this time.
"Why now, two months before an election? Why was the threat so serious now that it wasn't a year ago. I've seen certainly no link of Iraq to 9/11," Rahall said. "I just don't see a linkage there."
There was a huge outcry in France this summer over a move by allies of French President Jacques Chirac to narrow the character and quality of that country's political competition. Stung by recent shows of electoral strength by the nationalist right and the Green and Trotskyist left, France's political establishment is preparing to rewrite election rules in order to essentially assure that only traditional major parties of the center-right and center-left can prevail in elections for the domestic and European parliaments. Objections from across the political spectrum echo a similar theme: The changes proposed by the insiders in Paris would "Americanize" that country's politics.
Casual observers in the United States might object to the notion that there is something wrong with Americanizing the politics of France or any other country. But they should understand that the complaint is grounded in our own experience in the US. For all the frenzy and hype of the cable television commentators and the vast political industry that now operates inside the Washington beltway, our country's political processes have become so leaden and disengaged that they no longer are deemed worthy of attention by the majority of voters. Almost two-thirds of America's eligible voters (64 percent in 1994, 66 percent in 1998) no longer participate in Congressional elections, and the most hotly contested presidential election in a generation (the unsettling and unsettled 2000 contest between Democratic Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush) could barely draw half the electorate to the polls.
The range of opinion expressed at the upper levels of American political discourse have been narrowing for more than a decade, as marketing men and women have taken over the levels of power in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Even a misguided war and the threat of its expansion to dramatic new levels of folly, corporate scandals of epic economic consequence and the clear corruption of executive branch decision making musters little in the way of straight talk in a Congress where the calculation of campaign contributions takes precedence at every turn over Constitutional responsibilities and the public interest.
As bad as things may be in American politics, however, there are always those who would make things worse. And, in Georgia's recent Congressional primaries, they succeeded in doing just that. The defeats of US Representative Cynthia McKinney, perhaps the most radical member of the Democratic caucus, and of US Representative Bob Barr, perhaps the most radical member of the Republican caucus, in their respective party primaries will remove two of the few independent voices from a Congress that already suffers from a deficit of dissenters. As such, an already narrow national debate will, at least at the Congressional level, grow narrower still.
To be sure, both McKinney and Barr have been controversial figures. McKinney has been a fierce critic of the foreign and domestic policies of Democratic and Republican administrations since her election in 1992. Often echoing the Green Party's critique of the two major parties, she has not hesitated to accuse Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney of racial and ethnic insensitivity, and she has been one of the House's loudest critics of the "Israel First" approach of Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to Middle East affairs.
Like McKinney, Barr has since his election to Congress in the "Republican Revolution" election of 1994, been a thorn in the side of both parties. Though he is a more consistent partisan than McKinney, the intensity of his passions has frightened his own party's leadership in the House -- especially when he has refused to trim his sails to match the dictates of GOP pollsters.
McKinney and Barr have both stretched the limits of the political discourse -- the Democrat with her suggestions that the Bush administration might have failed to counter terrorist threats in order to pump up profits for corporations to which members of the administration and their families were closely tied; the Republican with a sex, lies and videotape assault on Bill Clinton's morals that continued long after even Ken Starr had recognized that the nation's Puritan ethic was on the wane.
Yet, the willingness of McKinney and Barr to stretch political limits often put them in exactly the right place. That was certainly the case last fall when, barely a month after the September 11terrorist attacks, they were part of the Congressional minority that refused to support the draconian USA PATRIOT ACT. Remember that it was Barr, a man whose civil rights credentials could hardly be called impressive, who sided with members of the Congressional Black Caucus such as McKinney and California's Maxine Waters to sound the alarm about the threat John Ashcroft's legislative agenda posed to civil liberties.
When McKinney and Barr pushed at the barriers of our politics -- even when they pushed too far -- they gave voice in Congress to the conversations that really go on in America. Freed of the stifling constraints of poll-driven centrism, they made a representative democracy more genuinely representative of all the opinions seriously in play in the land. As such, they both developed national constituencies -- in July, for instance, McKinney was the only Democratic politician invited to address the Green Party's national convention, and she continues to be boomed by some in that party as a potential 2004 presidential candidate. But, even as they "went national," McKinney and Barr won reelection easily and consistently in Georgia.
So what changed this year? In the case of both McKinney and Barr, they fell victim to the structural pressures exerted mainly from Washington by political strategists in both parties who struggle mightily to neuter our political process and the rich and rigorous national debates that should arise from it.
In McKinney's case, much has been made of the funding of his primary challenger, former Georgia State Court Judge Denise Majette, by pro-Israel campaign contributors. After McKinney's defeat, the candidate's father, a veteran civil rights activist and Georgia legislator, bluntly declared that his daughter's reelection had been thwarted by "J-E-W-S." But, as in the June Alabama Democratic primary that saw the defeat of U.S. representative Earl Hilliard, another critic of U.S. policies regarding Israel, the story of McKinney's defeat in a more complex and concerning one.
Majette took advantage of a corrupt campaign finance system that allows a candidate who is unable to garner support at the grassroots in her home district to collect money nationally. And a good deal of Majette's national money did indeed come from supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hardline policies -- just as a portion of McKinney's money came from supporters of Palestinian rights. But Majette's fund raising success -- she dramatically out-raised McKinney as the election approached -- also benefited from the determination of Democratic Leadership Council types, good-old-boy southern conservatives such as U.S. Senator Zell Miller, D-Ga., and the business interests they represent to cleanse the Democratic party of outspoken critics of corporate abuses and free trade policies such as McKinney and Hilliard.
Majette, who like McKinney is an African-American woman, also took advantage of political processes designed by southern segregationist politicians to insure that all white voters could coalesce to defeat progressive candidates in Democratic primaries. Georgia law allows Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries, and they did so in droves in the McKinney-Majette race. While African-American Democrats turned out in tepid numbers, the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted that "a swarm of Republicans" took Democratic primary ballots. "The Republicans made a difference (in defeating McKinney)," explained the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the longtime Southern Christian Leadership Council leader who now heads the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, a civil rights group. "They provided the margin (for Majette), which is unethical." Lowery is right; had Georgia primary voting been limited to party members -- as is the case in most American states -- McKinney might well have won. That one of the House's most outspoken supporters of civil rights may have gone down to defeat because of a political system rigged decades ago to undermine African-American political advancement is less ironic than it is a measure of the poor job progressives in Georgia and nationally have done when it comes to eliminating the structural vestiges of segregationist politics. As in the disputed Florida presidential vote of 2000, the old segregationist laws are consistently turned to the advantage of corporate and conservative interests that have mastered their use and abuse. To their credit, Lowery and other civil rights activists in Georgia are advancing legislation to limit so-called crossover voting. But their uphill battle will only succeed if they renew the grassroots political energy that put McKinney in Congress a decade ago but failed her reelection effort this year.
Interestingly, Barr claims that he was defeated in his Republican primary because Democrats crossed over to defeat him. In Barr's case, however, his defeat was predictable from the start. He was a victim of the most corrupt of all political games in America: Congressional redistricting. Every ten years, after the new Census figures are released, state politicians redraw Congressional district lines to gain partisan advantage. It is a process into which political players at the federal and state levels pour tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of strategic plotting. And it is where political parties in both parties eliminate dissenting voices. That was the case with Barr, whose district was drawn out of existence. When he sought to follow a portion of his voters into a new district, Barr found himself out positioned on turf designed to favor a more mainstream conservative Republican, Representative John Linder. Even if Barr was the more dynamic contender, Linder ran with the implicit blessing of a party establishment that was frustrated by its inability to control an often renegade Republican. "Linder is an inside politician. Barr is an outside politician," explained Merle Black, the Emory University political scientist who is one of the wisest commentators on southern politics. And nothing does more to assure the victories of insiders over outsiders than redistricting schemes hatched behind closed doors by party insiders.
Combine redistricting with free-flowing campaigning money and political structures designed to be abused and you have a recipe for the triumph of the connected over the controversial.
In the Georgia primaries that defeated Barr and McKinney, Republican and Democratic insiders took full advantage of political structures and processes designed to favor their interests, and their ousted two of the House' few dissenters. In so doing, they made the Congress a little less representative of the real debates that are going on in the land, and continued the ugly "Americanization" of American politics.
In barely 18 months, the identity of the Democratic challenger to President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election will have been determined. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's front-loading of the nominating process all but assures that the fight will be over before activists within the party and on its fringes have a chance to consider the candidates.
Thus, Americans who believe that the Democratic Party ought to offer a choice rather than an echo of the Bush administration's voodoo economics are already beginning to examine their options. Fortunately, the recent congressional votes on granting the Bush administration "fast track" authority to enter into secret negotiations toward the development of a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas offer a good place to begin the analysis.
This summer's fast track votes in the House and Senate presented congressional Democrats - a staggering number of whom are pondering presidential candidacies - with some stark choices. They could side with the Bush administration, multinational business interests and the Washington "think tanks" that are willing to go to war to defend American democracy and values - unless, of course, that democracy and those values pose a hindrance to nation-hopping corporations. Or they could side with the trade unions, environmental groups, farm organizations, consumer groups, churches and international human rights campaigners that represent the activist base not just of the Democratic Party but of the nation as a whole.
In the House, where fast track passed by an agonizingly narrow 215-212 margin, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., did not merely oppose fast track, he helped coordinate the opposition. Of the 212 votes against fast track, 183 came from the Democratic caucus.
Two other House members who are considering Democratic presidential runs, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, both of Ohio, were in the forefront of opposition to the legislation.
Kucinich, the Congressional Progressive Caucus chairman who is perhaps best known among progressives around the country for his outspoken criticism of the Bush administration's military policies, combined hometown concern for factory workers in the Cleveland area with a sophisticated analysis of international human rights and development issues to offer some of the most thoughtful criticism of the corporate free trade agenda. (Kucinich's "Action Center" on his congressional home page at www.house.gov/kucinich/action/trade.htm explains fast track and related issues and provides links to Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, Friends of the Earth, the Economic Policy Institute and unions that have battled the corporate agenda on trade policy.)
Kaptur delivered the best speech during the House's fast track debate. An expert on trade policy who has battled the corporate agenda for two decades, Kaptur spoke with the confidence of someone who knew that what the Bush administration was asking for was wrong. Yes, of course, she said, passing fast track would begin a process that would cost Americans jobs and farms. But the damage to the developing world would be worse, she explained, describing a future for the poorest of the poor that would be defined by "corporate slums and global plantations with penny-wage jobs."
What of the Senate, where fast track won a 64-34 endorsement? Though that chamber is thick with Democratic presidential timber, few of Bush's prospective challengers stood tall. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota conspired with corporate Democrat Max Baucus of Montana to spring a surprise vote on the eve of Congress' summer break. Daschle whipped Democrats to back the Bush agenda on trade, voted for fast track and then joined in a grotesque celebration of the victory with Baucus.
Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, the party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, was an outspoken supporter of the legislation. Joining Lieberman and Daschle in backing fast track was Massachusetts' John Kerry. Delaware's Joe Biden voted against fast track, but cast procedural votes that aided Daschle's push for the legislation.
Indeed, of Senate Democrats who have been mentioned as potential presidential contenders, only three stood consistently in opposition to the Bush trade agenda: Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, the Senate's most thoughtful foe of the corporate free-trade agenda; Connecticut's Chris Dodd, a friend of labor with a long interest in human rights issues, North Carolina's John Edwards, whose homestate faces the threat of significant job losses in the textile industry; and, to the surprise of many who recall her role in a previous administration that fought for fast track, New York's Hillary Clinton.
As for the man who fancies himself the front-runner for the 2004 nomination: On the Sunday after the Senate vote, Al Gore wrote a New York Times op-ed piece in which he condemned the Bush administration's failings and called for Democrats to stand tough against corporate power. Amazingly, however, Gore's article made no mention of fast track or the trade debate.
After an often bitter, intensely ideological Michigan primary contest that pitted two of the most politically and personally distinct Democrats in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Dingell defeated U.S. Rep. Lynn Rivers Tuesday.
The result was a heartbreaker for women's groups, which poured time and money into the Rivers' campaign in an effort to maintain representation for women in the House. Rivers is one of just 60 women in a 435-member chamber.
The support from women's organizations such as Emily's List was not nearly enough, however, to overcome Dingell's fund-raising clout and powerful connections.
Dingell, the dean of the House, met Franklin Roosevelt as a child and was elected to Congress during Dwight D. Eisenhower's first term. Rivers, who was born after Dingell's Congressional career began, was elected in 1994 as a young mother with liberal views that matched those of her Ann Arbor base.
While Dingell, 76, and Rivers, 45, both maintained consistent pro-labor records, Rivers was a decidely more progressive member on issues of military spending, gun control, environmental protection, women's rights and gay rights.
The two Democratic House members were forced into the same district by a Republican redistricting plan that was designed to insure the defeat of one of them. From the start, it was assumed Rivers would be the loser -- since she lacked the legislative connections and fund-raising prowess of the House's senior member. Rivers was still outspent, at least $2.5 million to $1.6 million.
But Rivers made a race of it, mounting a campaign that pegged Dingell -- a longtime National Rifle Association member and close ally of the auto industry -- as too conservative on issues of gun control, environmental protection and abortion rights. With a strong assist from Emily's List, the national donor group that assists pro-choice Democratic women, Rivers was able to mount a campaign that combined heavy grassroots activism and savvy media. And some polls suggested it brought her into a tie with Dingell late in the race. Ultimately, however, Dingell won by a 59-41 margin.
Solid support for the senior member from the powerful United Auto Workers union and Democratic insiders -- Tipper Gore was among the last-minute campaigners on his behalf --allowed Dingell to prevail. The biggest assist he got may well have come from the NRA, which launched an aggressive campaign to get Republican voters to cast ballots in the Democratic primary on Dingell's behalf.
When all was said and done, Dingell offered his younger challenger a grudging compliment, saying of Rivers on election night: "She did make us work, I want to say. The primary this year was extremely difficult."
As for Rivers, she told Ann Arbor supporters: I am not going away. Our commitments will endure on our issues... There was nothing I would've done differently. Every decision was based on our principles and the ethics of how I wanted to operate."
GOVERNORSHIPS: The argument that 2004 could be another "year of the woman" politically picked up steam Tuesday night, as two more Democratic women were nominated for governorships. There are currently five women serving in governorships -- three Republicans (Arizona's Jane Dee Hull, Montana's Judy Martz, Massachusetts' Jane Swift) and two Democrats (New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen and Delaware's Ruth Minner.)
On Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm easily defeated long-time U.S. House Minority Whip David Bonior and former Michigan Governor James Blanchard in a hard-fought Democratic primary in that state. Kansas primary voters chose Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius as the Democratic nominee for governor of that state. Other Democratic women who have a chance of winning this year include Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, veteran environmental lawyer and local government official Kathleen Falk in Wisconsin, former state senator Myrth York in Rhode Island, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in Florida and Massachusetts' Shannon O'Brien.
O'Brien and Falk face tough September primary contests. Most of the other contenders are already positioned -- as Granholm and Sebelius now are -- for November races that could transform the face of state leadership in the U.S. "In 1992, the year of the woman was largely about increasing representation in Congress," says Ellen R. Malcolm, president of EMILY's List. "This year, there's excitement about the governors' races. That's where you could see some real breakthoughs"
If there is a point to having a Congress in a time of war, it has been made this week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on whether the United States could, should or would want to launch a military attack on Iraq with the purpose of deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Though this Congress has done a miserable job of overseeing the ill-defined "war on terrorism" that continues to cost an unconscionable number of Afghan lives and an unconscionable portion of US tax dollars, the hearings on Iraq actually saw senators approaching the prospect of an all-out assault on Iraq with at least a measure of respect for their constitutionally mandated responsibility to offer the executive branch advice and consent with regard to war-making.
Organized by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joseph Biden, D-Del., a cautious player when it comes to challenging presidential war-making, the hearings were not nearly so revealing as the moment demanded. (Biden did not, for instance, demand that squabbling members of the Bush foreign policy, military and political teams appear to explain themselves. Nor did he call Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq who, as a self-proclaimed "card-carrying Republican," says of Bush administration sabre rattling regarding Iraq: "This is not about the security of the United States. This is about domestic American politics. The national security of the United States of America has been hijacked by a handful of neo-conservatives who are using their position of authority to pursue their own ideologically-driven political ambitions.The day we go to war for that reason is the day we have failed collectively as a nation.")
Yet the testimony from foreign policy specialists, Iraqi dissidents, retired generals and United Nations aides offered senators something more than the sum of its parts.
While many of the witnesses were supportive of a US-led attempt to remove Saddam, they could not agree on the threat - if any - that the Iraqi president poses to the United States, how to counter that threat, the dangers to Iraqi civilians and US troops, the prospects for success, or the prospects for stability in a post-Saddam Iraq or the Middle East.
As an alternative to war, Richard Butler, the former chief UN arms inspector in Iraq, argued for diplomacy, suggesting that the United States and Russia attempt to get Iraq to accept serious weapons inspections. The Council on Foreign Relations' Morton Halperin called for a tighter economic embargo. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney made the pitch for a 72-hour air, land and sea assault. Other military experts counseled against the Dr. Strangelove approach, and Gen. Tommy Franks, the US Central Command chief who oversees the US presence in Afghanistan and would command any invasion of Iraq, complained: "I think all of the speculation (about attacking Iraq) ... is not helpful with respect to Afghanistan or any of the other issues."
If there was any agreement, it was on the point that removing Saddam would saddle the United States with the more difficult tasks of uniting opposition forces, protecting the Kurds and maintaining stability. There was also agreement that these duties would require a multi-year commitment of billions of US dollars that Washington may not be prepared to make. The speculation that the United States might win the war but lose the peace had Biden declaring, "It would be a tragedy if we removed a tyrant in Iraq, only to leave chaos in his wake."
That chaos would extend beyond the borders of Iraq, warned University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami, who said a US invasion of Iraq could destabilize friendly Arab governments. "Even if the Iraqi people have a happy outcome, I believe that most people in the region will see this as American imperialism," he explained.
Though it may not have been the purpose of these hearings, they have provided a clear signal for the Senate and America: For all the Bush administration's election-year rhetoric about ill-defined threats from a man few others in the world fear, there is no agreement on the need, the value, the purpose or the prospects for a full-scale US military attack on Iraq. Except, perhaps, among George W. Bush's political advisers.
At 3:28 a.m. Saturday, with senior members of Congress decrying the legislation before them as a "fraud" and a "hoax," the United States House of Representatives voted by a razor-thin margin of three votes to grant the Bush administration authority to secretly negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.
"This night will be remembered as one of the largest surrenders of Constitutional authority in American history," said US Rep. David Bonior, D-Michigan, as the House voted by a 215-212 to allow the president to engage in Fast Track negotiations to create a North American Free Trade Agreement-style corporate trading zone that would include virtually every country in the western Hemisphere.
The 215 supporters of the bill included 190 Republicans and 25 Democrats; while 183 Democrats, 27 Republicans and two Independents opposed it. Seven members did not participate in the vote.
Though organized labor has fought for years to block Fast Track legislation – and passionately opposed this bill – several of the members who cast critical votes in its favor were Democrats who had been elected with strong labor support, including California's Susan Davis, Washington state's Richard Larsen and Utah's Jim Matheson.
The House vote was seen as the critical test for the current bill, since an earlier version of Fast Track passed the House in December by a one-vote margin. The Senate passed an alternative version of the legislation this year by a wide margin. The differences in the House and Senate bills required a Conference Committee headed by free-trade enthusiasts from both parties – House Ways and Means Committee chair Bill Thomas, R-California, and Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Montana – to craft a so-called "compromise." With House consideration now done, the Senate is expected to pass the compromise bill next week, clearing the way for President Bush to become the first president in almost a decade to possess Fast Track authority.
Going into Saturday morning's vote in the House, both sides knew the margin would be exceptionally close. This raised the intensity of the debate to a level rarely seen in Congress.
A particular bone of contention was the fact that most members had not had time to read the measure they were voting on.
The most important trade and economic vote by the current Congress came just hours after members received emails telling them they could review the 304-page bill on a Congressional web site. The House had to employ the so-called "Martial Law" rule in order to waive the requirement that members get at least one day to review legislation.
Even members who often support free trade measures complained that they were being asked to pass omnibus legislation without sufficient consideration.
Rep. James McDermott, D-Washington, bitterly accused the bill's chief House sponsor, Ways and Means Committee Thomas, of hiding the legislation from members until it was too late for a serious review of its contents. Rep. Robert Matsui, D-California, a 12-term veteran of the House with many years experience on the Ways and Means Committee, decried the fact that most members would vote on the dramatic piece of legislation "sight unseen."
However, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who for two decades has battled the corporate free-trade agenda with a consistency unrivaled in the Congress, told the House the rush to judgement on the part of Fast Track supporters was no surprise. Condemning the legislation as a move to make it easier to create "corporate slums and global plantations with penny-wage jobs," Kaptur said: "They want to (debate) it in the middle of the night while most people are sleeping."
And so they did.
The debate, which came after a day that saw President Bush take the extraordinary step of personally coming to the Capitol to lobby for the legislation, may have played out in the middle of the night. But it did not lack for energy or passion.
"Fast Track essentially extends our current trade policies, and why in God's name would anyone want to do that?" demanded Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. "When you have a bad policy, why would you want to extend it?
Noting that the United States now has a $346 billion trade deficit and that ten percent of the nation's manufacturing base has eroded in the past four years, Sanders asked supporters of the legislation: "When will you catch on? When all of our kids are flipping hamburgers?"
Georgia Republican Charles Norwood described the Fast Track legislation as "the last nail in the coffin of America's textile industries," while other foes detailed the damage expansion of the current free-trade model would do to automotive, steel and agricultural industries in the US. Other members noted that the legislation did not include protections for workers who lose their jobs when a corporation closes a US factory and moves operations to China, that it creates a slush fund so that the administration can pay trade-related fines without Congressional approval, and that it removes the ability of Congress to defend protections for US workers and farmers. New York's Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, complained that the bill undermined even "minimum standards" for defending the rights of workers and the environment.
Fast Track critics explained that, while the legislation was bad news for America workers and farmers, it represented worse news for the people who live in developing countries that could become US trading partners in a Free Trade Area of the Americas governed by corporate-dictated "trade promotion" rules as opposed to democracy. Kaptur, who has traveled extensively to examine the impact of unrestricted free trade schemes, explained that, under NAFTA, conditions for Mexican workers and farmers had dramatically worsened. Rep. David Wu, D-Oregon, bitterly criticized a provision in the Fast Track bill that limits the ability of the US to use the threat of trade sanctions to promote human rights.
At every turn, Ways and Means Committee chair Thomas and a coterie of Fast Track backers mocked concerns expressed by opponents, gleefully suggesting that they were slow readers because they had not read the bill – which weighed six pounds when printed out – in the several hours that it had been available to them.
But the supporters of the legislation did not choose to confront the most stinging criticism to come from the opposition – the charge that it represented a capitulation by Congress to the very corporations that members are supposedly cracking down on in the wake of the Enron, Global Crossing and WorldCom scandals.
"This Fast Track shifts power from democratic governance to corporations," boomed Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who correctly described the legislation as "corporate America's top priority."