Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Safe to say...

…that if Don Glickstein's rant at Crosscut is "The Progressive Case" against my own personal Congressman, there isn't one.

Accusing McDermott of being a stubborn advocate for universal health care, as opposed to the universal health insurance systems Glickstein favors (a favor returned for paychecks as the one-time - or is it sometime - spokesman for Group Health) may be a case against McD, but it's not the progressive one. Neither is a repetition of the Rovian smears McDermott faced for being right about Iraq.

The tape trial? It wasn't Jim McDermott who "decided it was a First Amendment issue." It was a United States District Court Judge. First Amendment protections shielded him from any criminal prosecution, since he had committed no crime. The Republicans, fronted by John Boehner, were reduced to hounding McDermott through the appeals court on the grounds that he had behaved not criminally, but discourteously when he revealed the uncontested fact that the Republican leadership was engaged in a conspiracy to violate the terms of a settlement involving previous unethical behavior. In other words, Boehner sought damages for harm caused by the truth. If there's a common complaint among progressives about the Democratic Congress, it's that there's insufficient spine among them. McDermott's dogged fight on behalf of basic civil liberties and against the Republican culture of corruption properly belongs in the "progressive case for" column.

Likewise the fact that McDermott has a broad international outlook, with a special regard for the world's poorest regions. I think I'm about as progressive as the next guy, and I just can't see anything wrong with that. Neither, of course, does Glickstein. His real complaint is that while Jim may get all that cash and attention for far off Africa, he doesn't dip deeply in the pork barrel for the home folks. The debate over pork barrel politics is an easy one to distort by simplification, and I don't know that there's a definitive progressive line on the subject. Some - apparently many - of us understand that we have a strong Democratic delegation from Washington - soon, we trust, to become even stronger. While it's every Congressmember's duty to be mindful of the genuine needs of their homefolk as they vote, a Congress in which every member's primary interest is wringing the public sponge dry on behalf of local projects wouldn't produce a particularly progressive outcome. In a delegation such as ours, there is room for a Member who directs our attention to a larger view of the world, and of our own community's place in it. Think what you may about the extensive travel McDermott has engaged in to pursue his agenda of relief for the world's poor, but GovTrack reports that he's managed to be present and voting in the House 95% of the time since 1993. I think we're getting our money's worth there.

Of course, McDermott's agenda isn't entirely internationalist. Glickstein seems dismissive of McDermott's role as Chair of the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support. First, Congressmembers without some measure of clout don't get onto the House Ways and Means Committee, and members of the Committee without a special measure of clout don't get sub-committee chairmanships. Though Glickstein is probably right that "On some issues, he simply refuses to compromise his principles," that doesn't seem to have damaged him among his colleagues to the degree that they haven't put him in the position to affect the lives of families, the health of children, the health and welfare of every one of us. When Hong Tran offers a quotation like "he doesn't do enough to help poor people," she's simply revealing that, like many McDermott critics, she doesn't have any idea what he does.

In fact, it may be a fair critique, rather than criticism, to say that behind that gregarious Irish pol persona that Jim projects, there lies a work horse, not a show horse. Of course, it would be difficult to measure how many critical human services projects have been passed because Chairman McDermott made sure they were scheduled, heard and voted on. If he were to blow his horn every time something significant to the lives of people living right here in the 7th District passed out of his sub-committee, the racket would surely be considered unseemly. There is credit due, though, to McDermott for every bill passed, every dollar authorized - credit which he seldom claims and is less often given. How many of his critics are aware, for instance, that the recent extension of unemployment benefits - a progressive cause cause célèbre - which was passed and signed was the product of legislation not only from McDermott's committee, but in his name. (Do you really think, by the way, that the House leadership would let a member without clout carry that ball?)

Glickstein's charges of conflict of interest offer interest, but lack conflict. Apparently Jim's got some money tucked away in interests that he's had occasion to vote against. "Why the heck do you have money in Peabody?" would be a good question to put to the Congressman. Peabody Energy is hardly a friend of the environment, after all, and McDermott has a sterling record on environmental issues. That's interesting, but if there's a conflict involved, it would sound like McD vs. his own pocketbook. All that's offered is insinuation, which hardly seems like a notably progressive approach to me.

In conclusion Glickstein goes all MoDo on us and declares McDermott "impotent." Once more, for the record. There's no such thing as an "impotent" Ways and Means Sub-Committee Chair. To pretend otherwise is to be somewhat less than, as progressives like to say, reality based.

The progressive case against Jim McDermott? As Gertrude Stein observed of Oakland, there's no there there.

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