By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Four years ago, the nation prepared for a congressional transition from Republican to Democratic rule. Rather than point to the scaaaary tea party hacks, let's examine what the nation expected from Democrats in the Congress, and whether we got it... any of it.
We All Know Tea Party Repubs Are Scary. But Are Democrats in the Congress Worth Defending At All?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“Four years ago a hundred members of the House of Representatives had signed on as co-sponsors of one or more bills to impeach Dick Cheney and George Bush.”
Four years ago it was the eve of the November 2006 election, Bush's last midterm. In what was the second issue of Black Agenda Report (this is issue 213) we wrote about the imminent changeover of the House of Representatives from Republican to Democratic rule. Our first dozen issues are lost, but we vividly recall what was written on this occasion.
After 12 years of spectacularly corrupt and aggressively pro-corporate Republican domination, the House and likely the Senate too, would be ruled by Democrats. Expectations were high.
Four years ago a hundred members of the House of Representatives had signed on as co-sponsors of one or more bills to impeach Dick Cheney and George Bush. One of them was Detroit's John Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, who would chair the House Judiciary Committee beginning in January 2007, and thus have the unquestioned legal power to begin hearings on the question of impeachment. Authoritative polls repeatedly showed that a a narrow majority of the American people, and an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters favored impeachment and criminal investigation of the Bush-Cheney regime on a broad front, from waging illegal wars to torture, lying to Congress, international kidnapping, secret imprisonment without trial and tapping the phone and email of millions of Americans. Rep. Conyers was also a perennial sponsor of reparations, antiwar and single payer health care measures, causes which could surely be advanced by his long awaited ascension to power.
Democrats had always massively opposed the Iraq war, and millions were perfectly aware that a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives could bring this unjust war to a halt over any presidential objection by simply refusing to fund it.
The fall of 2006 was only a year after Katrina. The Republican congress had refused to investigate the federal role in the deaths of uncounted thousands, while the White House and military authorities barred journalists from photographing or observing the recovery of bodies. Federal, state and local authorities were making return of hundreds of thousands of residents, mostly black, impossible. A Democratic congress, some imagined, might turn this around too.
“... every single progressive expectation of the Democratic majority in the House over the last four years has been disappointed or betrayed.”
Under Democratic rule Rep. Bennie Thompson (D MS) of the Congressional Black Caucus would chair the new House Committee on Homeland Security. With his committee's subpoena power Thompson could, if he chose, investigate the role of Blackwater and other US mercenary companies in New Orleans and around the world and make people tell the truth under penalty of prison. Harlem's Charlie Rangel, another senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus would chair the House Ways and Means Committee, a position from which he could begin rolling back the regressive Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Of course, none of this happened. It's no exaggeration to say that every single progressive expectation of the Democratic majority in the House over the last four years has been disappointed or betrayed.
In the final year of Republican House rule, Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi ordered the Congressional Black Caucus NOT to hold its own hearings on Katrina, and refused to call them herself, for fear that voters might see Democrats as the party of those undeserving colored people. Only Georgia's Rep. Cynthia McKinney defied Pelosi and House Democratic leaders to hold her own hearings, which were boycotted by all but one of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Between the November 2006 election and the beginning of the new Democratic party controlled Congress in January 2007, John Conyers walked back from his pro-impeachment stand, even having demonstrators and former staffers arrested outside his office when they tried to meet with him. Among the pitiful excuses Conyers offered for not convening impeachment hearings was that “Fox News would have a field day,” the votes to convict them in the Senate weren't there, (How Conyers knew that in advance of evidence or even hearings remains a mystery!) and that Bush-Cheney would be history in two more years anyhow.
But as David Swanson has pointed out, even if impeachment could not be won, calling the hearings would have set an invaluable precedent limiting presidential power. It would have drawn a historic line in the sand against further illegalities by that and future presidents. When John Conyers repaid the trust of forty years worth of re-elections by excusing the Bush-Cheney crimes without even an investigation, he empowered all of Bush-Cheney's successors to build upon that loathsome foundation. President Obama has done just that, introducing measures to “legalize” the flagrant atrocities of Bush-Cheney. Now torture, international kidnapping and secret imprisonment without recourse to a lawyer or a day in court are “legal.” The Democratic congress of 2006 enabled this, and the Democratic congress of 2008 ratified it.
“The elevation of Mississippi's Rep. Bennie Thompson to chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security had no effect on the fortunes of Blackwater and other mercenary companies...”
Four years of Democratic rule in the House didn't end the Iraq war, has hardly even slowed it down. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the body responsible for recruiting Democrats candidates, collecting corporate donations and distributing these to its favorites, was headed by Chicago's Rahm Emanuel. The DCCC threw millions of dollars behind dozens of pro-war Democrats opposing antiwar Democrats in 2006 primary elections. The continued existence of the so-called “blue dog Democrats,” hypocritically accused by House Democratic leaders like South Carolina's Jim Clyburn of “gumming up the works,” hamstringing the president and “real Democrats” is largely the work of Congressional Democratic leader Rahm Emanuel, who went on to become chief of staff in a Democratic White House.
The elevation of Mississippi's Rep. Bennie Thompson to chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security had no effect on the fortunes of Blackwater and other mercenary companies, whose armed employees number more than 100,000 in Iraq, and a similar number in Afghanistan alone. The only result of his current high office is that now, during CBC week, Rep. Thompson hosts panels on how to become a minority contractor with Homeland Security.
As chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Harlem's Charlie Rangel got the big office – multiple offices, really --- and raked in the big donations that came with it. He no longer speaks against the war, even in whispers. And the Bush tax cuts remain untouched. Thus another senior black congressman repays the forty years Democratic voters invested in his career. His peer John Conyers still sponsors single payer legislation, but did little to advance it when this mattered. Reparations? Don't even mention it.
The Democratic controlled Congress passed the Bush bailout bill on the second try, thanks to Democratic candidate Barack Obama who suspended his campaign to come to DC and herd reluctant Democratic reps into line. Under President Obama, the next Democratic Congress exponentially expanded the bailout, making it the largest transfer of public wealth by far in human history, in excess of $21 trillion dollars. A Democratic congress approved a GM takeover without putting GM's vast industrial plant to work on green energy and mass transit. It stuck GM's union with the company's health care costs, and passed a paltry stimulus bill that left millions unemployed.
Four years of a Democratic congress have not produced an Employee Free Choice Act. Despite a massive Latino vote in 2006 and 2008, that community has nothing to show for its efforts but higher fences, drones on the border, and a possible DREAM Act that will extend the poverty draft to immigrant youth.
“What then, should we expect from Democrats in the new Congress, whether or not they win majority?”
The bottom line is that the last four years of a Democratic congress have been pretty bad for Democratic voters, and very bad for African Americans. The White House, the Democratic National Committee, the NAACP and the constellation of civil rights groups, politicians and celebrities in their orbit are spending millions in a last minute effort to beg, to plead, to demand that every Democrat, every black person without exception come out to defend the Democratic president and his Democratic reps in the House and Senate.
The vice-president in record telling disappointed Democrats to “stop whining.” The Democratic president's press secretary has declared antiwar and pro-single payer Democrats to be in need of drug tests. And the Democratic president himself chides Democrats for expecting way too much. What then, should we expect from Democrats in the new Congress, whether or not they win majority?
The unfortunate answer is not much. The war in Iraq drags on, despite the “Mission Accomplished” claims of Democrats. The majority of Americans, and a crushing margin of Democrats favor withdrawal from Aghanistan and Pakistan, but Dems in congress won't give them that either.
The final act of the current Democratic ruled Congress will be its lame duck session in December. Last spring President Obama created a bipartisan federal commission on fiscal responsibility. President Obama loaded it up with Republicans and Democrats who favor cutting or two-tiering social security benefits, raising the retirement age, and zeroing out Medicare and Medicaid. President Obama has given this assault on social security, Medicare and Medicaid his official blessing, declaring that “everything is on the table,” and that he will demand an up or down vote on the commission's recommendations with no amendments during the lame duck session of Congress.
Will the current Democratic ruled Congress find the spine to stand against their president on social security? They haven't found it on anything else. The prospect of return to a Republican ruled Congress is genuinely frightening. Even so, the question is unavoidable --- is Democratic control of Congress as we have known it the last four years worth defending at all?
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.