Thursday, May 25, 2006


In Defense of Pelosi (Hell is in fact about to freeze over)

In the better late than never department, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday finally did something specific and visible to express her disapproval of scandal-plagued Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-LA).

She sent a letter to Jefferson, who is accused of accepting a bribe from a Tennessee businessman, asking him to step down as a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee until the Justice Department investigation into his conduct has been resolved.

Not exactly a bold statement. And of course, her timing could use some work -- the impact of Pelosi's mild request was diluted further because it was released at the height of the bipartisan hubbub over the FBI's potentially unconstitutional raid on Jefferson's office.

But having chided Pelosi for her previous silence, I have to give her credit where credit is due -- especially given the cheap-shot flack she is having to take from the Congressional Black Caucus. According to today's Washington Post, the CBC leadership is grumbling that Jefferson is being treated to a double standard and insinuating that Pelosi's actions are borderline racist.

There is just no evidence to support the notion that Jefferson is being discriminated against because he's black. Indeed, Pelosi asked Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), who is also under investigation for alleged ethical misconduct, to step down from his prominent committee position.

But even if there was not that precedent, there is an obvious, non-nefarious explanation for why Jefferson is being held to a different standard than similarly situated Members -- the circumstances are grossly different.

With all the scandals swirling in Washington, and Democrats making corruption a central issue in the mid-term elections this year, Capitol Hill is on the ethical equivalent of DefCon 1. Every action is under microscopic, Anderson Cooper-ic scrutiny.

In those conditions, Pelosi did the only logical thing to preserve her caucus's credibility on a defining difference between the parties. And she did it in the tamest way possible -- she could have quite legitimately called for Jefferson's resignation by now, but has refrained from doing so.

If the CBC cares about its credibility, they should stop casually making racial insinuations and start judging their colleague Mr. Jefferson on the content of his character instead of the color of his skin.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


In Defense of Dean

Former DNC Chair Don Fowler has issued a fairly compelling defense of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy for rebuilding the party's infrastructure and competing coast-to-coast and everywhere in between. Check it out on the Huffington Post, courtesy of his son Donnie.

I can understand the concerns of the congressional campaign committees, whose priority is to win now. But the more I hear from both sides in this fight, the more I am inclined to think that Dean is on the right track.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Oversight vs. Overboard

It's not often that I get to praise Nancy Pelosi, but I will happily do so today. As the New Republic noted in an editorial that came out today, the House Democratic leader wisely and definitively put her foot down to squelch the Republican rumor-mongering that her caucus will move to impeach President Bush should they take over the majority.

Nancy Pelosi, dare we say, did something smart last week. She told her Democratic colleagues, several of whom have become enamored with the idea of impeaching the president, that, if their party gains control of Congress, impeachment is verboten. "We want oversight and checks and balances," Pelosi's flack told reporters. "Impeachment was never her interest."

These are dismal times for Republicans, and now they are even worse. Pelosi has effectively banished the specter of crazed Democrats returning to power to impeach President Bush, a handy bogeyman for Republican fund-raisers. The truth is, it is not impeachment Republicans fear; it's simply oversight. Since 2001, Congress has sat idle as the executive branch gradually proclaimed new powers for itself, and it has aided and abetted Bush's every failure by refusing to operate as a check on his administration. So, while Democrats are wise to distance themselves from the I-word, they shouldn't be bullied into abandoning promises to aggressively investigate the Bush administration. In fact, they should be running on the issue, not away from it.

I could not agree more -- as long as Democrats don't go overboard with their oversight and let themselves get pigeonholed as seeking payback.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigorous in demanding accountability from the most secretive and incompetent Administration in our lifetime. As the TNR editorial points out, we have six years of ground to make up -- the Republicans' abandonment of their Constitutional role as a check on executive power has been breathtaking and bordering on oath-breaking.

But we have to be careful not to cross the line into vindictiveness and vengeance and give the Bush apologists an out to deflect attention from their mismanagement, cronyism, and deceit.

That's the crucial mistake the Republicans made in their puritanical pursuit of President Clinton in the Lewinsky scandal -- they made it seem that they were out for blood, not justice, and lost the American people almost from the beginning.

This may be the defining test of a Pelosi speakership (or at least the first year of it), how she and her subordinates walk that fine line between substantive investigations and political recriminations. I would tend to take the over in the oversight sweepstakes under Pelosi. But who knows. Henry Waxman, the House Democrats' lead investigatory bulldog, is as crafty as they come, and I would not want to bet against him on anything.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Culture of Credibility

My friends over at Kos are having a spirited conversation today about a new Gallup poll showing that most Americans -- 76 percent in fact -- believe that the corruption scandals in Washington involve both parties equally.

This is, as the Kossacks rightly claim, a load of bunk. I also think they are right to put some of the blame for this misperception on the news media, which through its empty-headed fixation with being "even-handed" has largely failed to provide any meaningful sense of proportionality (as the Kossacks document in detail).

But to beat my dead horse one more time, I think we as Democrats have to accept some responsibility for this myth of equivalence gaining a foothold with the broader public.

The fact is, we have missed opportunity after opportunity to prove we are different than the Republican Abramoff apologists by condemning the limited cases of corruption on our side of the aisle (most notably, Reps. Mohollan and Jefferson).

In doing so, we not only come across as hypocrites and continue to compromise our credibility, but we create a vacuum for the news media and our Republican opponents to fill -- often much to the detriment of the truth.

Does that excuse sloppy reporting on the part of the Washington press corps? Not in the least. But knowing that the press is predisposed to fall back on the "he stole, she stole" trope, we are essentially handing them (and our Republican opponents) a club to beat us over the head by not speaking out against the ethical transgressions within in our own ranks.

If we really want to blow this myth out of the water, the best thing we can do is demonstrate in no uncertain terms that we are in fact different, that we won't tolerate corruption no matter who commits it. Which is to say, if we want to show we are more ethical than the Republicans, let's show the corrupt Democrats the door.


Viva Tax Cuts

Of all the reactions/analysis of the President's speech on immigration Monday night, the best I've seen so far is from Times columnist John Tierney, one of my favorite right-leaning columnists. I can't link to it, since the Times hides Tierney behind its select-o-wall, so I am pasting in the whole text of his column from yesterday below.

As you will see, Tierney uses wit and common-sense to dissect the chief arguments border hawks use to make their naive, nativistic case against legalization of any kind. For my money, here are the two clinching graphs:

The border hawks' other argument is that America must enforce its immigration law or succumb to "mob rule," as one of the Minuteman leaders warned. But for most of the country's history, America allowed essentially unlimited immigration without descending into Hobbesian chaos. The country survived just fine when immigrants were governed solely by the law of supply and demand.

Bush tried a brief dose of economic reality in last night's speech, pointing out that the lure of America for poor Mexican workers "creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop." As he explained, the way to reduce illegal immigration is to change the law so more people can enter legally.

That's a critical point the President needs to make over and over -- and better and better. Here's an easy way to do that and sweeten the appeal of the guest-worker plan the President and Senators on both sides are pushing in the process -- tell conservatives that it will lower taxes.

The fact is that millions of undocumented workers who are working underground are often compensated in cash and therefore don't pay taxes -- income or FICA. You get them out of the shadows and give them legal status, America's tax base grows substantially -- more legal workers equals more incoming revenue. That in turn gives the government the option to either pay down the deficit or cut taxes for the rest of us or some combination of both. It also eases the pressure on the Medicare and Social Security trust funds.

Of course, most of us on the progressive side would favor using this additional revenue from income taxes to first get the government out of hock. But that's a policy debate for another time, one that we would all welcome. For now, it's time for some political pragmatism. We all know that outside of the religious right, the Bush base cares most about tax cuts. So let him use that carrot to woo the reasonable non-nativists on his side and open their eyes to the huge economic upside of bringing undocumented workers into the economic mainstream.

It seems like a no-brainer to me. In fact, I am dumbfounded that the White House has not seized this obvious opportunity yet. Fortunately there's still time -- the President's prime time speech seems to have bought them at least another bite at the apple. Let's hope they slice it right.

Anyway, here's the full Tierney column.....

May 16, 2006
Throwing Hawks a Bone

President Bush promised tonight to regain "full control" of the border with Mexico. He won't, but that's beside the point.

His job last night was not to secure the border but to pretend he could. Like Ava Gardner tending to the germphobic Howard Hughes in his isolation chamber, Bush had to reassure the Minuteman Republicans that they were safely sealed from the perils outside.

"The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants," he said firmly, sounding as if he believed it himself. It was precisely the cover needed by Republicans to vote for sensible reforms.

His plan to send a few thousand National Guard troops to the border is a symbolic gesture, but symbolism is what's needed. Immigrants will find ways to evade the proposed new ID card requirements, as well as the new high-tech sensors at the border, but the ideas sounded good enough on television. Bush's conservative critics accused him of playing politics, but he was just responding in kind to their tactics.

The fixation on defending the border is a political — and psychological — problem, not a rational response to a genuine national threat. People living along the border understandably object to strangers' sneaking through their backyard, but why are so many people in the rest of the country obsessed with keeping out foreigners?

The border hawks have two chief arguments, starting with that great debate stopper: Sept. 11. A porous southern border is supposedly no longer tolerable now that terrorists have declared war on America and are threatening even more catastrophic attacks.

But if terrorists are smart enough to plan such an attack, they're smart enough to get into the United States, no matter how many agents and troops are on the Mexican border. If terrorists have the determination to train for years, if they can pay for flight lessons or anthrax or a nuclear bomb, then they can easily bribe or forge their way into America — or waltz in with legitimate visas.

Mohamed Atta did not have to hire a coyote or swim across the Rio Grande. He and the other hijackers entered the country legally. The 500,000 or so people who manage to sneak in from Mexico each year are a minuscule fraction — about 1 percent — of the tourists and students and other visitors who enter America legally.

Mexico is not the preferred route of the suspected terrorists caught so far because they prefer more convenient options, like the Canadian border. Even if the northern border were sealed with the Great Wall of Saskatchewan, there would still be thousands of miles of unsecured coastline — and plenty of drug runners with boats and planes who would have no trouble delivering a terrorist or a suitcase bomb.

The border hawks' other argument is that America must enforce its immigration law or succumb to "mob rule," as one of the Minuteman leaders warned. But for most of the country's history, America allowed essentially unlimited immigration without descending into Hobbesian chaos. The country survived just fine when immigrants were governed solely by the law of supply and demand.

Bush tried a brief dose of economic reality in last night's speech, pointing out that the lure of America for poor Mexican workers "creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop." As he explained, the way to reduce illegal immigration is to change the law so more people can enter legally.

But that was the rational part of the speech, which Bush knew wasn't enough.

He had to throw in the tough border talk and the ID cards. He had to deal with the new outbreak of xenophobia, the fear that has always been easy for demagogues to arouse because it's such a basic human instinct.

Distrusting foreigners made evolutionary sense when outside clans threatened to bring in disease and encroach on hunting grounds. It made sense during the thousands of years when towns built walls to stop invaders from plundering their wealth and enslaving their inhabitants.

But the immigrants now coming across the Mexican border do not want to sack our cities. They're not about to pillage our granaries or march home with Americans in chains. They just want to mow our lawns and clean our offices.

They're coming to feed us, not take our food, yet we're demanding that our leaders keep them out. No Mexican busboys! No Guatemalan cooks! Stop them before they grill again!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Ethics Chickens Coming Home to Roost

As I predicted last week (see "Jeffersonian Virtues" post below), the Democrats' lack of courage in confronting corruption within their own ranks is beginning to undermine their credibility on the issue. Witness this story from Bloomberg News today, which is likely to be the tip of an integrity iceberg for the Party, unless the party poohbahs (especially Leader Pelosi) break out of their defensive crouches soon.

Mollohan, Jefferson Cases Hamper Democrats' Attacks Over Ethics
May 16 (Bloomberg) -- House Democrats' efforts to capitalize on what they call a Republican-created ``culture of corruption'' in Washington are being complicated by ethical allegations against two of their own members.

Representative Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, until April the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, said yesterday he's reviewing his financial disclosures after being accused of misstating personal assets. Fellow Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana vowed to stay in office and fight allegations that he accepted bribes.

Democrats have focused on Republican scandals as they try to regain control of Congress amid sagging approval ratings for President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans.

The ethics problem ``seems to transcend party affiliation,'' said Amy Walter, House editor of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan Washington newsletter. ``An overwhelming focus on this corruption issue feeds into the negative stereotype that voters have about Congress, which is that it's just one side trying to score points off the other.''

Sunday, May 14, 2006


A Mother's Day Message

This morning I called my mom to wish her a happy Mother's Day. She was extremely appreciative and we had a nice chat. But being a Jewish mother, she could not resist one small nag -- what happened to my blog? (A nag, I might point out, only a pundit could love.)

In all seriousness, it's a fair question, one I have heard from a few friends as well. The honest answer is that I am still getting used to rhythms of blogging and have to get better about posting more frequently -- and more concisely. I tend to want to write op-ed length meditations, and I am gradually accepting it's okay to pop off without the 27 8X10 color glossy pictures and the five-part harmony backing me up (which is to say, in less than 1,000-word increments).

Now that my mother has complained, I have an extra incentive to get my act together -- so be on the lookout for more regular posts.

Though I had to chuckle about the whole thing, because as I later learned from my mom, what she was really looking for was equal time. I had given a shoutout to my father a few weeks ago for passing along some interesting articles to me, and she felt a little left out.

So in the spirit of the day, I want to pass along a second wish from my mother: the thing that would make her happiest today, other than a call from her children, is to bring the troops home from Iraq so they could all be home with their moms.

No matter your politics or views on the war, that's a hard proposition to argue with.

Anways, there you are, Mom. Happy Mother's Day.



Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Powers of Persuasion

My friend and fellow consultant/blogger Kirsten Powers launched her new column on the American Prospect wesbite with a sharp-edged meditation on the mommy wars and the controversial new book on the subject by Caitlan Flanagan, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. Check it out -- and also watch for Kirsten on the O'Reilly Factor and other Fox News shows, where she is a regular commmentator.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Jeffersonian Virtues

The latest turn in the Bill Jefferson bribery scandal presents Democrats with a critical challenge: are we going to treat this case as an embarrassment to deny, as the other side persistently did with Jack Abramoff, or as an opportunity to seize in bolstering our credibility as critics of Republican corruption. Sadly, it seems ducking is winning so far.

As was widely reported last week, the Louisville businessman who is accused of giving Congressman Jefferson (D-LA) a $400,000 bribe, Vernon Jackson, pled guilty in federal court to one count each of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

Predictably, the Republicans pounced on the news to advance their laughable "everybody does it" defense and thus minimize their own considerable liabilities. Inexplicably, the Democratic leadership said just about nothing, thus leaving the Republican's absurd moral equivalence charge unchallenged and, more damagingly, opening up the party to legitimate attacks of hypocrisy. (See this story from the Hill last week to see what Democrats did say.)

Didn't our leaders notice that the reason the “culture of corruption” rap got any traction in the first place is that the Republican leadership spent several months ducking and denying their culpability in the Abramoff affair, making it look like they were apologists for and abettors of vote buying and money laundering?

The Republicans clearly learned from this mistake once the Cunningham scandal fully exploded into public view -- they dropped the Duke faster than Paris Hilton did her latest Greek shipping magnate and immediately condemned him. Apparently, our side has not. As noted on MyDD, the best Nancy Pelosi could do was to lamely say Jefferson should be investigated by the ethics committee when confronted by a question from the press.

What makes their silent posture all the more bizarre is to consider how the House Democrats un-circled the wagons around Cynthia McKinney after she became a public embarrassment.

Why is that they were willing to throw McKinney overboard in a relative heartbeat for slapping a Capitol Police Officer, but won't do anything to truly distance themselves from a badly tainted Member who is likely guilty of one of the most egregious crimes against the public trust -- and who threatens to erode the whole party's standing to campaign against Republican corruption? It can't be racial sensitivities -- McKinney and Jefferson are both black.

There are only two passably logical explanations. One, as suggested in a Roll Call report last week, is personal loyalty to Jefferson (as compared to the widespread dislike for McKinney). The other is legal loyalty to the principle of innocent until proven guilty (McKinney was literally caught red-handed on videotape).

But neither justification washes. Democrats' first loyalty has to be to the public interest, and we can't hope to have any credibility as corruption rooter-outers if we are out ignoring or excusing our own dirty behavior. Moreover, while it is not yet clear beyond a reasonable doubt that Jefferson broke the law, it seems a pretty sure thing that he at a minimum abused his office.

Indeed, the smoke here is just too thick to contend there is no fire. As the New York Times recounted last Thursday:

“Mr. Jackson acknowledged that he had paid $367,500 over four years to a company controlled by the family of a member of Congress described in court papers only as "Representative A, a member of the House of Representatives." In exchange, the court papers say, the lawmaker helped promote iGate's technology products to federal agencies, as well as to African governments and companies.

“In January, a former aide to Mr. Jefferson pleaded guilty to charges of aiding and abetting the bribing of Representative A, a clear reference to Mr. Jefferson because of other details revealed in the court papers.

“The former aide, Brett M. Pfeffer, said Representative A sought bribes, jobs for his children and other favors in exchange for official acts on behalf of a company seeking to set up an Internet and cable-television service in Nigeria.”

That seems strong enough evidence for Democratic leaders to at least express deep concern about Jefferson's conduct and to suspend him from the caucus and his leadership positions (board chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus) -- much like they recently did to another scandal-plagued Member of their caucus, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV).

And should the Justice Department’s investigation of Jefferson lead to an indictment, Reid and Pelosi should not hesitate to call for his resignation — just as they did with Tom Delay.

The bottom line here is that this is a test of Democrats' consistency and our integrity. Are we willing to be as tough on one of our own as we are our opponents when they are guilty of essentially the same crimes?

The fact is, the voters will be choosing sides in November. If we hope to make a credible case that we will govern more ethically and responsibly than the party of Abramoff, it’s time we did so too.

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