Michael Mukasey was confirmed late Thursday by the U.S. Senate to serve as the nation's 81st Attorney General. This means that, despite the fact refused to commit during the course of his confirmation hearings to abide by the Constitution or to hold the president accountable to the rule of law, the former federal judge will now serve as the country's chief law enforcement officer.
Mukasey's nomination was cinched when two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, decided to accept the nominee's assurance that he would respect a law specifically banning the torture tactic of waterboarding. The assurance was meaningless, as Congress is unlikely to pass such a law and President Bush would veto it.
But, as bad as Schumer and Feinstein's votes may have been, at least they cast them when the Mukasey nomination came to the Senate floor.
That's better than can be said for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the four members of the chamber who are seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden, all of whom had been critical of the Mukasey nomination, chose to keep campaigning rather than to honor their responsibility to approve or reject presidential appointments.
Running for president is, to be sure, a big deal. Candidates who happen to be members of the Congress probably cannot be expected to show up for every vote -- although Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul do a remarkably good job of it.
But the debate about who will be the Attorney General of the United States ought to merit a brief turn off the campaign trail.
As it was, Democrats could muster just 40 votes against Mukasey. A united front of Republicans, joined by the Democratic indefensibles Schumer, Feinstein, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mary Landrieu or Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and the always-in-his-own-category Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Had the Democratic presidential candidates bothered to show up, the Senate could have registered greater opposition to Mukasey than to any of the president's major Cabinet or Supreme Court nominees -- with at least 44 votes go against the president's pick. That would have sent a signal regarding the concerns raised not just on the torture issue but on the broader question of whether Mukasey will take any steps to reign in a lawless executive branch.
As it was, the new Attorney General was approved with less opposition than Democrats were able to muster for John Ashcroft (42 votes against) or Gonzales (36 votes against).
It is certainly true that votes against Mukasey would have been symbolic, as the nomination was going to be approved.
But in the tug of war between the executive and legislative branches, shows of strength are meaningful. It matters to send the right signal. Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden made it harder to send the right signal about the wrong pick for Attorney General. In so doing, they failed the Republic and the cause of Constitutional renewal that should be more important than any presidential campaign.
During the week of October 21, far-right wing operative and former communist agitator David Horowitz deployed his allies to college campuses America to spout crude anti-Muslim invective and hype the threat of more terror attacks on the United States. Horowitz called this event "Islamofascism Awareness Week." Among his stable of campus speakers were noted Islam experts Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.
"Islamofascism Awareness Week" was, from the beginning, little more than a marathon fashion show for the paranoid style. But it was not until Horowitz muscled his way onto the campus of his alma mater, Columbia University, on October 26 that his event attained the commanding heights of reactionary hysteria.
Pacing the stage like a drunken circus clown impersonating some bygone demagogue, and standing beneath a massive image of a woman being shot in the head, Horowitz launched into a long, frenetic rant about his own persecution at the hands of a shadowy liberal conspiracy.
Though Horowitz devoted portions of his tirade to attacks on the Muslim Students Association, which he sought to paint as a front for virtually every Islamist group that strikes fear in the heart of his culturally deprived conservative peanut gallery, he seemed more comfortable lashing out at his perceived oppressors -- liberal professors, leftists, and the Democratic party -- than he did at any so-called "Islamofascists."
When I asked Horowitz about his weird comparison of his own father to 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta in his book, "The End of Time," his hysteria peaked. My question provoked him to link Jerry Falwell, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and "Jerry Springer and all his guests" together in a plot to bring social justice to the world "at the point of a gun."
Listening to Horowitz was like being trapped in a subway car with a raving derelict for an hour and a half. But unlike in the subway, where the transit police usually arrive to remove the derelict, the police came to Columbia to protect Horowitz from the non-existent security threat he had invoked in fundraising appeals for days leading up to his speech.
Horowitz's performance had to be seen to be believed. Luckily, despite being forbidden to film by the president of the Columbia University College Republicans, my co-producer, Thomas Shomaker, and I managed to smuggle a camera into Horowitz's speech and record it all.
Take a look at our latest video, "The Demons of David Horowitz."
Congress is, gradually, dealing with the consequences of a federal terrorist watchlist that in four years has swelled to 860,000 records. Today, New York Democrat Yvette Clark proposed the Fair, Secure and Timely Redress Act of 2007 that would provide a "one-stop shop" for U.S. citizens erroneously put on the burgeoning watchlist.
"There is now a single, comprehensive terrorist watch list," Clarke reasoned at a Capitol Hill press conference today. "So it only makes sense to have a comprehensive 'clear' list." The bill. expected to be co-sponsored by House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a consolidated database of people who have been mistakenly put on the list.
Whether Clarke's legislation is the right solution, recent government reports make clear that she is not dealing with an isolated problem. A Justice Department Inspector General's report found that of the 99,000 instances where a citizen crossing the border or boarding a plane matched a name on the Terrorist Screening Center's watchlist, 43 percent were cases of mistaken identity.
Of these "false positives" 16,000 have formally asked to be removed from the list and DHS, in concert with the Departments of State and Justice, has adjudicated 7,400 cases. Deciding that someone is, in fact, not a terrorist or associated with a terrorist takes an average of 67 days. According to the Inspector General's report, the Department has yet to define a reasonable timeframe for dealing with these redresses.
Handling complaints, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in dealing with a database that has gotten out of hand. DHS accepted the inspector general's assertion that the screening center lacks a procedure to monitor the accuracy of watchlist records or the ability to review the database and subsequently remove names.
The Department also accepted criticism by a Government Accountability Office report that, "The government lacks an up-to-date strategy and implementation plan-supported by clearly defined leadership or governance stucture-for enhancing the effectiveness of terrorist screening, consistent with presidential directives." In other words, no one knows how to use the data.
But the question of whether government can ever create an effective database that doesn't cause civil liberties violations and severe headaches remains taboo. Kathleen Kraninger, Director of the Screening Coordination Office at DHS, concluded that the watchlist has been part of successfully preventing a post-9/11 terrorist attack and, well, you can't prove her wrong.
And at a hearing today, Indiana Republican Mark Souder grew visibly nervous when problems surrounding the watchlist were being discussed a little too in-depth. "Asking how we might get the watchlist fixed is something that maybe shouldn't be done in a public forum," Souder argued. "We might be giving tips."
Souder was referring to aiding terrorists but hopefully the hearing and companion legislation will be less nefariously used to clean up a spiraling bureaucratic mess.
In terms of economic consequences, the new trade agreement with Peru istrivial. In political terms, however, it delivers an ominous message.When faced with a choice between money and their own rank-and-file, theDemocratic leaders in the House will go with the money, even if itrequires them to pass legislation with Republican votes. Even if amajority of their own caucus is opposed. Even if it means handing theshrinking president, George W. Bush, a rare legislative victory.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled it off today at considerable costto her own reputation. How different are the new Dems in Congress? Notvery, it seems. That is a reasonable interpretation of events and theSpeaker is now stuck with the burden of disproving it.
Pelosi's lieutenants "whipped" the party caucus energetically and didbetter than expected--109 Dems voting for the Peru trade bill, 116 Demsagainst.
But Pelosi still winds up looking like the great triangulator, BillClinton, who managed to pass important trade measures like NAFTA only byrelying on Republican votes over his own party. Pelosi will come toregret the comparison, I suspect, because it suggests she is unreliableas a party leader, at least if you thought Democrats were going tochange things. On the Peru vote, she played big-money contributors andthe opposition party against her own troops. Clinton used to do thisbrilliantly with lots of soulful rhetoric extolling his own courage.Pelosi and team are not so adept.
Why would she depart from her usual form? After all, Pelosi normallywon't bring an issue to the House floor unless assured of overwhelmingconsensus among her members.
Her explanation: "I don't want this party to be viewed as an anti-tradeparty." That is the same simple-minded non sequitur the multinationalestablishment always invoke to scold Democrats. None of the Democraticdissenters are arguing for "no trade." They are trying to change therules of trade so US workers are not the first victims of newagreements. Pelosi argued that the Peru agreement includes an importantreform--stronger language in support of labor and environmentalstandards--and it does. But is there perhaps another reason why shepushed so hard against her own caucus?
Steven R.Weisman of the New York Times gently suggested one. "Democratsfrom the prosperous areas of the East and West Coast have becomeespecially responsive, many Democrats say, to the desire of Wall Streetand the high technology, health, pharmaceutical and entertainmentindustries to expand their sales overseas," Weisman wrote. "Theseindustries have also become major Democratic contributors."
She did it for the money. That is a more plausible explanation thaninsider arguments over the fine print in an inconsequential new tradebill. The big-money sectors are anxious to squelch the new critics ofglobalization in Democratic ranks before they can gain momentum inCongress. Looking toward financing the 2008 elections, Pelosi chose tostand with the money guys and dismiss the political backlash againstglobalization building across the country. She is probably bettingpeople aren't paying attention to such trivial matters.
But I wouldn't count on that. She is liable to lose her bet as economicconditions worsen for folks in coming months. People are likely to getmore anxious and angry than they already are. One thing Democrats shouldnot try to tell voters in '08 is they are the party of change. Mightyield more yawns and snickers than votes.
The economic grenades are going off. Just pick up today's newspapers. The subprime lending crisis is metastasizing; foreclosures on homes purchased with subprime mortgages are expected to reach two million by the end of next year, according to a new Congressional report; the dollar has sunk to a new low; China is threatening to stop investing in US assets and buy more Euros; oil is about to hit a $100 a barrel; the credit crunch is causing an unprecedented liquidity sqeeze; and consumer spending is expected to dip sharply. While one of the country's largest home lenders said last month it would help borrowers restructure %16 billion in mortgages, the financial pain and stress is rippling fast thoughout the economy and country. While we hear more about the impact of the credit crisis for Wall Street's big boys --as a few heads roll --don't lose sight of the impact on Main Street. Bold and big ideas are needed.
For now, Congressman Barney Frank is trying to push through legislation that extends moderate regulation to the subprime market. But he's facing a tough fight because money still rules in DC. Just as the richest of the rich, the hedge fund and private equity cowboys, have lubricated the lobbying troughs and candidates' warchests to avoid paying taxes at the same rate as a waitress or policeman, the mortgage industry is pouring in bucks to stave off even modest regulation of its often predatory practices.
If we reward the mortgage industry's lobbying, they will keep using the same kinds od deceptive practices to make a quick buck, no matter what the costs to home buyers and their communities. They know they can always lobby Washington to get them off the hook if things go badly--as they have. Just remember that while predatory lenders were driving low-income families to financial ruin, 10 of the country's biggest mortgage lenders were spending more than $185 million lobbying DC to let them get away with it. Sure, some of the borrowers used their house an as A.T.M.machine to finance personal consumption (but most used the money to help with soaring college tuitions and medical expenses) --and some argue these borrowers should face the consequences of their no-savings lifestyle. But the real victims of this subprime mortgage crisis are the millions of borrowers who followed the rules, whose only crime was taking out mortgages these lenders told them they could afford. Now they can't refinance or sell their homes because no one will lend to them or they can't sell in a housing market that is falling.
The effects are already metastasizing in the economy --with the worst effects of these loans not felt until 2008 or 2009. And with the housing turmoil most severe in some of the most hotly contested political battleground states--Florida--with one foreclosure filing for every 248 households in September, and Ohio, with one foreclosure for every 319 households, according to a survey by RealtyTrac, Inc, a California property-research company, Republicans could face real trouble because they control the White House and the GOP's presidential candidates have looked clueless and heartless when they deign to address the housing issue. In their first debate focused on the economy, for example, in Michigan --a state which ranked No. 4 in RealtyTrac's foreclosure rate survey-- not a single Republican raised housing concerns. Cutting taxes, they argued, would solve every economic problem.
Though bolder policies are needed, at least the Democratic candidates are seizing on the issue. John Edwards has called for a policy that prohibits many predatory-lending practices and would make it easier for homeowners to save their homes. Hillary Clinton issued a detailed policy paper on subprime lending that would impose restrictions on lenders. Barack Obama argues that we need to address the "root of these problems" and lays out how we could update mortgage rules for the 21st century--enacting the regulatory and disclosure laws the industry has lobbied so hard against in these last years. The implosion of the subprime lending industry, Obama argues, " is more than a temporary blip in our economic progress. It is a cancer that, given today's integrated financial markets threatens to spread with devastating impact to our economy as a whole, unless we act to contain it. " Containment, domestic-style.
Seventy-five years ago today, the American people rejected not just a president -- Herbert Hoover -- but a royalist vision of federal policymaking that had allowed tens of millions of citizens to suffer as the Great Depression swept across the land.
The election of November 8, 1932, is now generally accepted as one of the great realigning moments in U.S. politics, the point at which the country took the great leap forward from a past that favored limited federal and state involvement in economic affairs -- except where it came to securing the interests of the wealthy -- and embraced a more humane and democratic approach to governing.
To be sure, that approach has been under assault in recent decades. Yet, Social Security remains, as does the the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Fair Labor Standards Act and the minimum wage. Those of us with roots in small-town America still enjoy the benefits of Rural Electrification. And Americans of every region, race and religion retain at least a few of the liberties that were defined and protected by Roosevelt-nominated Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. There's still a Securities and Exchange Commission, which sometimes does its job, and a Federal Communications Commission, which could yet be redeemed by the appointment of a new chairman.
The agent of these reforms -- and the fundamental shift in the American experience they embodied -- was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democrat who displaced Republican Hoover. But it is important to remember that Roosevelt, the most patrician of our nation's many patrician politicians, did not compete in the 1932 election as the radical reformer that he became. The Democratic platform of that year was a cautious document, dictated by fear itself rather than the boldness that would later be associated with Roosevelt.
What made Roosevelt so remarkable, and so radical?
The results that were tabulated 75 years ago this evening influenced FDR to evolve his policies in a direction that was more egalitarian and democratic -- his critics still use the term "socialistic," and they are not entirely wrong. It was that evolution that redefined not just American politics but America.
Roosevelt won a stunning victory in 1932. He secured 57.4 percent of the popular vote, as compared with just 39.7 percent for Hoover. The Democrat carried 42 states, most by wide margins, while the Republican won just 6.
But those numbers do not begin to tell the whole story of what happened on that distant November 8. Roosevelt's popular vote total of 22,821,277 was 52 percent higher than that received by Al Smith, the Democratic nominee in the election of four years earlier. The Roosevelt landslide was sufficient to create a coat-tail effect that dramatically increased a narrow Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and gave the party control of the Senate.
A total of 97 new Democrats were elected to the House, most of them young and left-leaning. Their numbers were augmented by five members of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, who made no apologies for their radicalism. Thus, 73 percent of the seats in the House (313 out of 435) were held by members who had been elected on pledges to alter the economic equation to favor Main Street over Wall Street. Even some Republicans, especially from New York state and the upper Midwest, espoused a progressive vision that was to the left of what Roosevelt advocated while campaigning in 1932.
Nine Republican senators were defeated that year by the Democrats, who also won three open seats. This shifted control of the chamber from 48-47 Republican to 59-36 Democratic with one Farmer-Laborite. A half dozen "insurgent" Republican senators stood with Roosevelt or to his left on economic issues.
The congressional majorities would free Roosevelt to move steadily to the left, knowing that if he did not make the shift Congress would force his hand on a host of relief measures and related economic initiatives. And Roosevelt was inclined to move. It was not just the size of the Democratic landslide that influenced him. It was the clear evidence that many American voters were looking to the left of new president and his party for responses to the economic crisis.
On November 8, 1932, more than a million Americans -- almost three percent of the electorate -- cast ballots for presidential candidates who proposed far more radical changes than "a new deal." Socialist Norman Thomas won 884,885 votes, for a 230 percent improvement in his party's total. Communist William Z. Foster won 103,307 votes, for a 112 percent increase in his party's total -- and its best finish ever in a presidential race. And southern populist William Hope Harvey, who had helped manage Democratic populist William Jennings Bryan's 1896 presidential campaign, secured another 53,425 votes.
Roosevelt was conscious of the fact that, in a number of states outside the south, the combined vote for the Socialists and Communists edged toward 5 percent of the total. Shortly after the election, the president-elect met with Thomas, a former associate editor of The Nation, and Henry Rosner, a frequent contributor to The magazine who had authored the Socialist Party's detailed 1932 platform and who would go on to be a key aide of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
The new president did not adopt the whole of the Socialist platform. But, as historian Paul Berman observed, "President Franklin D. Roosevelt lifted ideas from the likes of Norman Thomas and proclaimed liberal democratic goals for everyone around the world..." FDR's borrowing of ideas about Social Security, unemployment compensation, jobs programs and agricultural assistance from the Socialists was sufficient to pull voters who had rejected the Democrats in 1932 into the New Deal Coalition that would sweep the congressional elections of 1934 and reelect the president with 61 percent of the popular vote and 523 of 531 electoral votes in 1936 -- the largest Electoral College win in the history of two-party politics.
As for Norman Thomas, he ran again in 1936, conducting what Time magazine would refer to as "a more civilized and enlightened campaign than any other candidate." But he amassed only 187,910 votes, for 0.4 percent of the total.
Thomas would joke that, "Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher." That was a slightly bitter variation on the old Socialist's acknowledgment that FDR had read the results of the 1932 election right.
That process began 75 years ago this evening, when Franklin Roosevelt recognized that, while Americans had chosen him as their president, they signaled their intention that America should turn left.
This weekend marks the San Francisco Green Festival, the largest eco-affair in the United States. Started six years ago as an annual weekend event in the Bay Area, the Green Festival has since grown into an enormously popular multi-tiered nationwide extravaganza. In 2008, the GF will hit Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DC before its yearly November appointment in SF.
Staged by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, among scores of other publications, media outfits, non-profits and NGOs, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, the climate change fight, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more.
It's also a great place to buy gifts, chow down on free samples of organic chocolate and get buzzed on Yerba Mate and fair-trade coffee! A massive green fair more than anything, the GF draws tens of thousands of attendees who swamp hundreds of exhibitors hawking the latest in hemp fashion, non-toxic toys, eco-tourist offers, green building supplies, socially responsible investment options and vegan cuisine. And despite the emphasis on buying things, the festival always manages to present talks and lectures by major progressive figures on a variety of topical subjects. This weekend's GF features talks by Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, and The Nation's inimitable John Nichols.
The Nation will be at booth #510 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and other swag! And don't miss Nichols' talk on Sunday, November 11, at noon on the main stage. He'll be making the case for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets. The show takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 9, 10 and 11 at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. And if you can't make it to San Francisco, check out the GF website for info on webcasts and on future Fests in other cities.
Finally, watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to mark-up the FISA Amendments Act tomorrow, a movement against immunity for telecoms hasn't translated into legislative promises by even traditional Bush foes.
Currently four of the 19 committee members (Delaware's Joe Biden, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, Massachusetts's Ted Kennedy and Maryland's Ben Cardin) have vowed to oppose immunity. Chair Pat Leahy, top Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Illinois's Dick Durbin and Wisconsin's Herb Kohl are taking a wait-and-see approach to whether telecommunications companies deserve retroactive immunity for going along with the National Security Agency's illegal spying program. The other members of the committee have not issued statements and did not respond to The Nation's request for their position on immunity.
So after approving Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey yesterday, Senators on the Judiciary Committee, particularly Democrats and the moderate Specter, are once again agonizing about whether to defy the President.
Two weeks ago, it appeared the Senate would essentially offer no resistance. The Senate Intelligence Committee passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2007, 13-2, which included immunity. Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, who has received a combined $42,000 from AT&T and Verizon this year, penned a Washington Post editorial arguing that the heat should stay solely on the Bush Administration. "[If] the government were to require [telecoms] to face a mountain of lawsuits, we risk losing their support in the future," Rockefeller wrote.
But the matter became a cause celebre by Net Roots activists like MoveOn.org who pressured Democratic Presidential candidates to filibuster a FISA bill with immunity. Chris Dodd positively responded to the charge and soon the other Democratic Senators running for President-Biden, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama- followed his lead.
Then, at a Judiciary Committee hearing last week both Leahy and Specter expressed their skepticism about granting immunity without knowing the extent of the companies complicity. And this week Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician, has come to Capitol Hill telling lawmakers that AT&T worked with NSA to compile a database of e-mail and phone calls of ordinary Americans.
What's discussed at the mark-up tomorrow may provide clues on whether committee members will scrutinize the role of telecoms in the abuse of executive power, or, ahem, let the companies off the hook.
Is Maureen Dowd obsessed with Hillary Clinton or what? Last week, she complained that Hillary spoke "girlfriend to girlfriend" to women voters while refusing to share the pain of being married to a sexually exploitative monster who had made her violate all her beliefs and principles, as Caitlin Flanagan opined in the Atlantic. This week, Dowd accused Hillary of "playing the woman-as-victim card" because her campaign put out a humorous video portraying the last debate as a masculine pile-on (never mind that Hillary herself said she was the focus of tough questioning because she was the front-runner): "If the gender game worked when Rick Lazio muscled into her space, why shouldn't it work when Obama and Edwards muster some mettle? If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now."
As far as I'm concerned, anyone who quotes Caitlin Flanagan approvingly has lost their bona fides on gender issues. Flanagan, after all, is the woman who calls herself a homemaker while acknowledging that she's never changed her own sheets, who insists that children don't love working mothers as much as they do stayhomes, and who says women have a duty to have sex with their husbands at least twice a week. As for playing the woman-as-victim card, can this be the same Maureen Dowd who wrote in her last book, Are Men Necessary?, that men don't ask her out because she's too smart and successful and will never see 35 again? How's that for painting yourself as a victim of sexism--which, I hasten to add, Dowd probably is!
You don't need to be Simone de Beauvoir to recognize that lots of middle-aged men would find Dowd too challenging and too old -- i.e., their own age. For applying this rather obvious sociological observation to herself--for permitting herself one unguarded moment and writing what women say to each other all the time--she was publicly taken to task all over the media. Unlike Hillary, Dowd backed down. I turned on the TV late one night and there was Dowd, all sultry red hair and fishnet stockings, gaily insisting to some male interviewer that her social life was terrific, no problems in that department at all.
The more people insist that sexism plays no part in the primary campaign or its media coverage, the more likely I am to vote for Hillary Clinton and I'll bet I'm not the only one. Her poll numbers with women are rising, after all. I think a lot of women are just fed up to here with the sexism they see around them every day at their own workplaces and that their male colleagues just don't notice as they ride the testosterone escalator upwards. Six male politicians salivating to score points, two super-self-satisfied male journalists asking the questions (and what questions!), one woman who has got to know the world is just waiting for her to set a foot wrong--it makes a picture. If you've ever been the only woman at the meeting, on the panel, with your job, at your level, you see that picture all the time, and it's a self-portrait.
While on the subject of Dowd, let me add that I am sick of Hillary being tagged with the adventures of Bill's genitals. What's it to Dowd or Flanagan that Hillary ran for the Senate instead of filing for divorce? At least Hillary isn't a sad doormat like Wendy Vitter and countless other political wives. As long as we are looking at candidates' spouses, what about Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Edwards, smart lawyers who quit work to promote their husbands' ambitions? Nobody criticizes those choices, or says nasty things about those relationships. In fact, we are constantly being told how warm and wonderful these marriages are. Fact is, none of us knows a thing about what really goes on with the Obamas, the Edwardses, or any of the other candidates and their wives. And if it weren't for Kenneth Starr, we wouldn't know about the Clintons, either.
The move by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich to open a House debate on the question of whether to impeach Vice President Cheney turned into a imbroglio for the Democratic leadership of the chamber Tuesday as mischievous Republicans joined dozens of Democrats in rejecting a move to table the resolution.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had thwarted Kucinich's efforts to convince the Judiciary Committee to take up his proposal to hold the vice president to account for lying to Congress and the U.S. public in order to enter into a war in Iraq, and for trying to mislead again in order to start a war with Iran. So the Ohioan used a privileged resolution to bring the impeachment question up before the full House.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, then moved to table Kucinich's resolution. "Impeachment is not on our agenda. We have some major priorities. We need to focus on those," said Hoyer, echoing Pelosi's position that presidential accountability is "off the table."
That should have been the end of it. But it wasn't.
A combination of more than 80 Democrats who apparently sincerely favored taking action against Cheney and Republicans who thought that an impeachment debate would embarrass Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders blocked the motion to table.
Only 162 members -- 27 Republicans and 135 Democrats -- supported Hoyer's call to table the resolution. A total of 251 members -- 86 Democrats and 165 Republicans -- opposed it.
What followed was wrangling between Kucinich and Hoyer on whether to refer the resolution to the Judiciary Committee. The majority leader wanted to bury the articles of impeachment in committee, while Kucinich keep angling for a debate on the House floor.
That set up more votes, as Democratic leaders scrambled to block Kucinich's moves.
C-SPAN covered it all, with its anchors breathlessly trying to keep up with the vote switches and political intrigues.
It took two more roll calls before members completed the procedural business of sending Kucinich's articles to the Judiciary Committee -- on a final vote of 218-194. That was technically a "win" for Hoyer, but the day belonged to Kucinich. After all, the Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential contender had succeeded -- albeit briefly -- in getting impeachment on the table.
John Nichols is the author of THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"