Congress and Iraq: The Lying and the Dying
Posted by Lorelei Kelly
"Predatorgate" and the self-immolation of Congress has swept the headlines for the fourth straight day. In that same amount of time, we've lost a 22 Americans in Iraq and civilian carnage is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan and Congress has slashed funding for veterans with brain injuries.
Having worked in Congress for the past 8 years,I can say I'm not completely surprised at the majority's undoing. This is a situation where old tropes explain a lot, like absolute power corrupts absolutely. I have still never found a better report on the degeneration of our legislature than this Boston Globe series from 2004. It sets the stage for what is happening today.
Until and unless there is a balance of power in Washington, this kind of covering-up, lying and trying to circumvent both laws and ethical conduct will persist. Speaker Hastert should resign out of embarrassment for what he has presided over. Add to that the extraordinary corruption of the Iraq contracting process, the Katrina contracting process, the selling off of "earmarks", the arrest and jailing of a series of top Congressional staffers turned "lobbyists," the creation of a K street goon squad, shaking down business interests for campaign contributions, the systemic buying off of journalists, the degradation of the committee and budgeting process, the zero oversight, the acceptance of torture, warrentless spying on American citizens. This is a shameful period in our history.
What's happening today isn't an accident, but an outcome. It points out why liberals need to include a new vision of government--one that unifies us and protects the public--in their message for a changed direction. No more running on that aw-shucks libertarian platform of the government as the bad guy.
Today's leadership has done far more damage than is evident on the evening news.
Since 1995, they've changed the institutional composition of Congress by changing laws so that the minority couldn't organize in the same way that Newt Gingrich and co. did. Once the authors of the Contract With America ascended, they destroyed much of the cooperative infrastructure inside Congress and outsourced policy making to ideological allies and lobbyists. Venues that helped Members stay educated and built bipartisan alliances on public interests--disappeared. Maybe our nuclear dilemma with Iran wouldn't be so grave if the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus still existed. Perhaps our troops would have sufficient body armour if the military reform caucus were still around. Today's caucuses mostly exist in name only, with no staff, while the number of lobbyists has doubled since 2000. Congress has become a reactive shell, with no real ability to retain information or incentive to learn.
But Congress is changing in spite of itself. An example of the power of informal convening happened this past week: Senator Byron Dorgan convened a hearing on Iraq in the Senate. Three retired military officers conveyed as much insight on the war in a couple of hours as a year of regular Senate hearings That was followed by an ad hoc hearing on the costs of the war organized by Representative Lynn Woolsey in the House.
In a speech at the University of Minnesota yesterday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell blasted the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy in Iraq: Looks like good advice for their governing philosophy in general.