Sunday, March 30, 2008



-by Matthew Grimm

The cynical and counter-democratic nature of marketing has done a great disservice to the Republic in this election cycle, as it always seems to. "Change" versus "Experience" has become Coke versus Pepsi, just with particular consumers of each sniping at other in the blogosphere over which tastes better, becoming conditioned to a myopia where no other ideas, much less beverages, exist outside this dialectic.

Coke and Pepsi pretty much taste the same, yet if Coke's formula contained the cure for cancer, you would think they might incorporate that into their millions of dollars worth of brand communications.

The shit of it is, somebody damn well should be promising the cure for cancer, at least figuratively, insofar as its figurative Bushian cells and their money-driven cronyist orthodoxy have infested the country and too much of the globe. What we're told way too often, however, is that to vet people on whether they are pro-cancer or not in this endeavor is just impolitic, or, worse, unrealistic. When some of us demand actual, hard, legislative redress against the sins, even crimes, committed against us or in our names, we somehow become wiggy, starry-eyed dreamers. Advocating we hold the collaborators in our midst accountable gets painted as quixotic at best, at worst treasonous.

Ed Fallon, economic populist, 14 years a state representative here in Iowa and candidate for governor in 2006, wants that kind of accountability, and is unsurprisingly getting so painted, yet his
candidacy for Iowa's 3rd District Congressional seat has already disproven that cynical ascription. A good eight months prior to election, it prompted the Des Moines Register to assess real vulnerability of a 12-year incumbent Congressman, Blue Dog Democrat Leonard Boswell, this in a year when his party is set for a national sweep, an almost unheard of electoral conundrum. The story began illuminatively enough, "Splits with more traditionally liberal Democrats have hardly been rare for U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell during the 12 years since the Des Moines Democrat first was elected to Congress."

Fallon's assets are many, but as important as anything is his commitment to cutting the real cancer out of American politics, "the influence of corporate money in politics, something that obstructs progress on issue after issue," as he wrote here on DWT last Friday. In addition to a genuine progressive platform, he can also make an electoral argument: he won the 3rd District in the last gubernatorial primary. This not only shows his disproportionate support there in a three-way contest in which he earned 26% of the vote statewide, but, moreover, it shreds the conventional wisdom that a candidate must triangulate, like Boswell, to gain both the urban voters of Des Moines, Iowa's largest city, as well as the yawning stretches of ostensibly more provincial small town precincts.

More viscerally, Fallon's bid to unseat Boswell has already spurred the latter to shuffle leftward [towards the mainstream], assenting to a withdrawal timetable attached to war funding, publicly reconsidering his previous stalwart NAFTA support, and recanting on his previous toeing of the Bush line on telecom retroactive immunity. Like Al Wynn (D-MD) in a similar predicament, he even signed onto the Cheney impeachment bill. It didn't save Wynn, who lost decisively to progressive Donna Edwards and it may well be too little, too late to save Boswell.

He now sits on the reconciliation committee drafted to make the Senate's gutless and prostrate FISA bill somehow mesh with the House's Constiutionally supported version. But if he simply assents to the Senate bill, like many in his Blue Dog cell have vowed, it would be another ominous step towards suspending the Constitution of the United States, which, outwardly-- and stacked with his appalling previous record on the issue-- would appear a betrayal of the oath Boswell took upon assuming office.

The crux of the Fallon-Boswell contest lies here: can you sell out your constituency and get away with it just because you're packaged as Brand D, or can you be held accountable for your actions, as most healthy, functioning societies require?

Boswell, to be fair, is not a bad guy, at least compared to America's welter of bottom-of-the-barrel pols, IA-5's Steve King being embarrassingly representative thereof. He has been consistently
pro-labor, at least at face value (about which more below), and voted with the party majority 93% of the time last year. Both to trumpet his bona fides in an election year and to deflect Fallon's challenge from the left, the Boswell campaign has been brandishing about a recent Drum Major Institute rating of "A" on his voting record, an uptick from the C-rating its given him from 2003-05, the Register reported. [A more sophisticated rating at Progressive Punch's When The Chips Are Down scale shows that when substantive matters with sharp partisan divides are voted on, Boswell is frequently ready to rubber stamp much of the Bush corporate agenda.]

The starker assessment is, like Clinton, whom he prominently endorsed just weeks before she finished third here in Iowa, Boswell's stances and voting behavior can be qualified as "just enough," nothing resembling anything visionary or palliative of what ails the nation, and, on the most vital issues it faces, grossly capitulative. Fallon is quick to point out that 74% of Boswell's campaign warchest comes from PACs, half of that corporate or business trade association dough, even if much of the other half comes from unions. Less mitigable, Boswell's supporters' rhetoric sounds eerily familiar to anyone following the party's presidential primary. Let's look at a quote from the Iowa progressive blog BleedingHeartland, and generalize the proper nouns:
Now I am no fan of Washington politics, but the truth is you need influence to get the job done. [This person] knows how to get the job done and will continue to get the job done. Why should we even think about contesting an honorable Democrat like [him/her].

Whether the author is talking about Boswell or Clinton doesn't matter (it's Boswell). Why anyone should consider contesting him is made evident, as such things are when weighed in rational discourse, in his voting record. In addition to rubber-stamping every corporate-penned orthodox "Free Trade" agreement to come down the pike (other than CAFTA), Boswell's page bears some glaring red-flags:
Voted YES on 'Fast Track' authority for trade agreements. (Sep 1998)
Voted YES on eliminating the Estate Tax. (Apr 2001)
Voted NO on banning soft money donations to national political parties. (Jul 2001)
Voted NO on raising CAFE standards; incentives for alternative fuels. (Aug 2001)
Voted YES on implementing Bush-Cheney national energy policy. (Nov 2003)
Voted YES on restricting bankruptcy rules. (Jan 2004)
Voted YES on passage of the Bush Administration national energy policy. (Jun 2004)

This record evinces an arrogant mindset too prevalent among pseudocon Democrats, that they can eat their cake and have it too. Not only that, they are entitled to it. When somebody like Fallon comes along to challenge that notion, the shrill cry goes up, as with the BleedingHeartland comment, that he is trying to take what belongs to them.

"My critics tend to be those in the status quo, tend to be those in the establishment, who are very comfortable with a Democratic Party that is cozy with big business, that is cozy with corporations," Fallon said in an appearance last month on IPTV's Press Talk. "That's not my vision of how government should be working. Government should be about basic services, government should be about staying out of people's private affairs and personal decisions. [Government] should focus on maintaining a free market economy not distorted by all these big business handouts and giveaways, again like the $14 billion Boswell supported for oil and gas companies."

It is worth restating something intrinsic to small-d democratic processes here: no one is owed someone's vote by dint of the brand "D" behind their name. The landmark issue being weighed in this election, whether MiaSMa wags broach it or not, is toxification of our government by an institutional sense of entitlement. For Bush, it has been his entitlement to power by dint of his family, entitlement by dint of his presidency to bomb, bug and spy on whomever he finds inconvenient and entitlement to funnel taxpayer money to his and his cabinet's golfing buddies. For what sadly became the vanguard of the Democratic Party in the last fifteen years, it has been the entitlement to hobnob routinely with adherents of neoliberal orthodoxy, to validate the dogma of corporations and their lobbyists over those who point to the empirical evidence that it doesn't work, to streamline their gutting of the domestic economic infrastructure-- to do all this and still feel entitled to the votes of working, and increasingly not-working, Democrats.

"They learned how to suck up to the same big money trough that the Republicans used to have dibs on," Fallon told me in a phone interview, "and once they owed allegiance to the corporate financiers of a lot of American politics, they became the corporate wing of the Democratic Party."

Now, with that same vanguard finally being challenged by people like Fallon, they protest their entitlement to office, no matter what their record shows they actually stand for, and against. For these, like Geraldine Ferraro, who harped her Obama-as-quota charges with a very pointed insinuation that senator from Illinois is seeking to usurp what Hillary Clinton is entitled to-- no, sorry, doesn't work that way.

Entitlement, recall, is an anachronism we attempted to crush out of the social compact by violent and principled revolution 200 years ago. Our Constitution, imperfect as it was, was drafted to establish republican representation in accordance with what ideas and enactments the represented weighed to be in their and their neighbors' best interests. As important, it empowered citizens of the republic to hold their representatives accountable for veering from those simple metrics.

And yet, some now tell us, we are supposed to suspend critical thinking for some people. Whether their Big Business-fellating postures connote cynicism or incredulity, on the part of Boswell or Emanuel, Al Wynn or Clinton, it does show all grossly out of touch constituencies overtly wary of and increasingly suffering from the working machinations of corporate-written policy from "free trade" to simple enforcement of domestic regulatory law.

The 3rd District does not have to look far to find the impact of the Republican/pseudocon economic consensus. "Free trade" has left a crater in the state's economic infrastructure just a few miles east of Des Moines on I-80. In the wake of Whirlpool's buyout of 100-year Iowa institution Maytag, Newton, IA, has lost a thousand manufacturing jobs, many of them to Mexico, and 1,200 white collar jobs, simply gone. Just a few days back, the state destroyed some 160,000 pounds of California beef purchased from the scandalized Hallmark/Westland Meat Co., recalled over its revealed processing of potentially diseased "downer" cows, just one egregious outcrop of a corporate meatpacking industry that, freed of regulatory enforcement, has regressed to The Jungle. The meat was the first of some 240,000 pounds scheduled to be used in Iowa public school lunches.

But playing their game, competing for bribes, for which they trade off the general welfare, Clintonistas, Schumerians and Emanuelites dutifully remain amid the trees, unable or unwilling to see how these things exist in a continuum. If we pull the camera back, cause locks in with effect:

"Pro-labor" becomes a questionable ascription when one rubberstamps "free trade" that has effected a huge track to funnel manufacturing jobs to the Third World. "Anti-war" becomes as dubious when one endorses an exploitive corporate economic hegemony that seeds war. Fallon is one of too few Democrats to perceive and state this in no uncertain terms in his website's wiggy, starry-eyed call for fair trade versus the orthodoxy:
"Fair trade also means building up the middle class in other countries, as well as our own. Poverty is not only a humanitarian crisis but also a threat to national security. Terrorism around the world is fed by increasing poverty levels, so improving the well-being of workers in other countries is a vital means of protecting American interests as well.

See, in the continuum, economic policy is foreign policy. Right-wing assholes, including Rahm Emanuel and Heath Shuler, would have a lot less to bitch about in re scary funny-talkin' minorities crossing the southern border if the U.S.didn't, say, stage a quiet coup in Mexico to buoy pro-corporate right-wing assholes who think NAFTA just dandy. Get how that works? Let's make it crystal: if a progressive like López Obrador actually becomes president of Mexico, defies the Republican/pseudocon consensus and re-invests, say, national oil revenues in his own country's small businesses and gringo-ravaged agrarian economy, maybe our Mexican neighbors find decent jobs at home and fewer come here to tend Rahm's golfing partners' lawns. Cause-and-effect is not rocket science.

"If you rewrote the treaties to require a minimum-wage threshold, if you required decent working conditions, safety standards, environmental standards, there would be a lot less incentives for companies to move south of the border," Fallon told a gathering at his Des Moines HQ recently, as reported by the Register. "And if they did, they would be paying better wages."

As to our most egregious elements of foreign policy, and the ominous cloud it has cast over the homefront, we reach the breaking point on Boswell's tenure.

The telecom immunity fight boils down, too, to nothing more or less than entitlement, whether a certain class of people (like AT&T, which reportedly funneled $5,000 to Boswell last year) rates super-citizen status because they played ball with the right people-- in this case those seeking to proscribe the law of the land. Boswell's flip on the issue with the March 14 House vote was, of course, welcome, but conspicuous insofar is it came just a month and a half after he signed onto a Blue Dog Coalition letter to Speaker Pelosi demanding in no uncertain terms "[t]argeted immunity for carriers that participated in anti-terrorism surveillance programs."

So Boswell now acted against the Blue Dogs' collective threat to oppose a FISA bill that did not include their provisions, seemingly flaunting, in essence, the Boswell-ratified warning that "the consequences of not passing such a measure could place our national security at undue risk." In other words, Boswell 3/14/08 has crippled the nation's defenses in the opinion of Boswell 1/28/08.

This in and of itself casts grave doubts on his grasp of the Constitutional gravity of the issue, namely whether or not American corporations may operate free of legal constraint or accountability. And it further raises questions as to the sincerity of Boswell's recent progressive coming-to-Jesus, just in time for an electoral challenge. If a spoiled-rotten asshole brat starts being good a few weeks before Christmas, does that make him not a spoiled-rotten asshole brat?

A fuller rundown of his "War on Terror" CV:
Voted YES on authorizing military force in Iraq. (Oct 2002)
Voted YES on approving removal of Saddam & valiant service of US troops. (Mar 2004)
Voted YES on continuing intelligence gathering without civil oversight. (Apr 2006)
Voted YES on declaring Iraq part of War on Terror with no exit date. (Jun 2006)
Voted YES on allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant. (Sep 2006)
Voted NO on redeploying US troops out of Iraq starting in 90 days. (May 2007)
Voted YES on removing need for FISA warrant for wiretapping abroad. (Aug 2007)

Yes, sorry, but it remains a giant, persistent cloud over both Boswell and his pseudocon brethren (Hillary!) that they voted for the Patriot Act, that they granted a doctrinaire, Dominionist, crusade-minded dullard sweeping war powers, that they rolled over and gave reign to the worst angels of American nature. It persists and colors them something other than blue-- even if they quibble about it now-- because it shows a grander pattern of abrogating principle, or simple common sense, in favor of triangulative expediency. Boswell and other Bush Dogs' persistence in voting in seeming knee-jerk reaction to the politics of fear, of xenophobia, of us versus some creeping, looming Other, can be couched as little other than betrayal of his constituency because somehow, in his mind, it justifies the suspension of the Constitution and the flaunting of the laws of mankind as signed off on, and many drafted, by this nation.

Boswell attempted a kind of mea culpa in the Register's piece:
"I regret it so much," Boswell said of the [war] vote, made after President Bush looked him in the eye and "nodded his head yes" when Boswell said he asked-- twice-- if there was hard evidence that Iraq had possession of weapons of mass destruction.

But Boswell, who often refers to his own military experience in Vietnam, is also unhappy that so much criticism has been directed his way. "You'd think I started the war in Iraq," he said.

The problem is, he did. All the I-didn't-knows and I-never-dreamts that have cascaded through the party get snagged on one simple hook of logic: we do not live in an absolutist monarchy, which means King George needed his vote to embark on his bloody crusade; and if he claims King George started the war unilaterally, then Boswell has conceded absolutist power to the executive, an utter abrogation of his duty to his district and his country. I can forgive, if not forget, if I perceive real atonement in a candidate-- I did with John Edwards-- but I can see nothing of the sort when the candidate trots right along, Patriot Acting, enabling criminality and paving the way for a last Bush hurrah in Iran. Being good only in election years would seem to make you something other than good [as Maryland voters showed ex-Rep. Wynn].

Further, if Boswell is so ready to trot out his Nam card, it's just as easy to ask him, as I've asked too many supporters of caucus candidates who continued to hem and haw around their war votes: Did any of these supposed "leaders" even recall or maybe read about the Tonkin Gulf "incident"-- you know, the tissue of lies that started a capricious war that broke the country-- and subsequent war resolution? Could any of them actually parse events and motivations, consider who they were enabling, synthesize history to where it crystallized the gravity of their capitulation, Tonkin Gulf-plus-39?

Twelve million people did that, and marched on Feb. 16, 2003 through the streets of the great cities of the world to warn others. "Our" leadership ignored it, and us. They suspended the War Powers Act put in place to make sure Vietnams never happened again, and they didn't once examine the tragic cause and effect thereof. Those in "our" party who did, to a person, now sit in leadership positions in the Congress. All of those 12 million are more fit for high office in this country than any one of them who did. You don't get a pass on that. You get disqualified from teaching junior high social studies for that.

Four thousand American corpses later, more than a million Iraqi, countless crimes against humanity later, 935 lies later, a Constitution shredded in the interest of "wartime exigency" later, Bush took to a podium last week to echo his great successes, the benign City on a Hill being carved out of Mesopotamia for all our sacrifices, even as Iraq exploded, as shells fell on the Fort Apache that is the "Green Zone," as his and McCain's obfuscation unraveled. Any responsible news network would have done a split-screen.

I could only think one word: Tet.

I digress here not to told-you-so, but with a heavy heart for the stupid tragedy of it all, and for finding myself asking again, are there so few people vying to be leaders who can actually expend the thought and simple common sense to step back and see the goddamn forest already?

Ed Fallon is one. He backs Obama, who appears to be another, and even staid Iowa wags have estimated Obama's vast popularity here could translate to a rising-tide effect for Fallon, in the same way Obama's dynamism and organization swept the awesome Donna Edwards to stunning upset of Wynn in Maryland. Obama's energetic footsoldiers in the 3rd District have already expressed common cause with Fallon, as a kindred spirit and ally in putting an end to the ancien regime, the "mindset that led to war," as Obama has said, in whatever party it resides. That same mindset abides corruption to "get things done," and buttresses a bought-and-paid-for ultraorthodox status quo for its own sake, all critical analysis to be shunted into the spam file.

To wit, Boswell's initial snipes against him portend an issue-less and furious ad hominem defensive strategy heading into the June 3 primary. As BleedingHeartland blogger desmoinesdem has pointed out, one fundraising email Red-smears Fallon for his 2000 Nader support (long since atoned for and *yawn*), trumpets Boswell's party "loyalty" twice but barely broaches any concrete
discursive points how Boswell's platform demonstrates that loyalty versus Fallon's-- all on the way to positing "Ed Fallon is no Democrat." To complete the McCarthyist imagery, Boswell reportedly has a spy named "Joseph" shadowing Fallon at public events.

Funny how we could say that about too many guys stamped with Brand D, foremost among them those who caucus with the Bush Dogs and who vote, on anything with Steve Fucking King. Either way, an energized progressive community in Iowa sees Boswell fighting the tide of history, not to mention, with our hard work, a progressive resurgence within the party, with people like Fallon and Edwards in its vanguard. Ask the people losing their homes or schlepping to their second job, or the onetime "career" Maytag workers in Newton-- cause-and-effect is coming home to roost on all of us, making us dutybound as citizens to re-examine those who would sacrifice principle for fake-ass patriotism, and the general welfare for a few dollars more.

"The connection between big money and bad policy is becoming evident to a vast majority of Americans," Fallon said. "As a result you're seeing presidential campaigns that in past years wouldn't've been taken seriously. But this year, one of them is wining."

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At 7:20 PM, Blogger Sini said...

Thanks, DWT, for taking the gloves off!

At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

funny a guy that "looked me in the eyes" and lied TWICE is still pres. Ya think maybe Boswell would have been the author of an impeachment bill. great post and telling it as it is


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