This diary is an attempt to clearly describe and explain what I’ve come to believe is the most promising and least time-consuming route to a Congress filled with legislators who actually represent the will, and the best interests, of the American people, while honoring and respecting our Constitution – for fear of genuine, realistic challenges to their jobs should our will and best interests (continue to) be ignored: My proposal is for a limited-objective, but detailed and focused, pledge challenge that candidates for Congress would need to adopt to receive our support, and that they will pledge to honor to the best of their ability despite opposition from the Party to which they belong.
A Congress so-reformed, in turn, could be expected to stand between the American people and the multinational corporation’s ceaseless hunt for profit, not to facilitate that profit-hunt at the expense of the American people, as is the case today, but to prevent the people and assets of this nation from becoming helpless prey for those corporate predators.
Though the pledge concept is quite simple, it will need coordination and publicity by one or more reform groups promoting a nationally-uniform blueprint, and will need to be implemented by local citizens using newspapers, blogs, word-of-mouth, and, where feasible, advertising. And, of course, worthy Congressional candidates will be a necessity for its success. It is Congressional candidates on which this diary focuses, not presidential candidates.
So: How, building on the laudable concept and structure of the AccountabilityNow PAC, might we get from here to there against long odds, in the absence of publicly-financed federal campaigns for office, or equal access to the ballot because of Party-implemented obstacles, or a central source of funding that can compete with those of corporate-underwritten Congressional incumbents and Parties…?
1. Where “we” is the American public at large, irrespective of Party membership, or lack thereof, acting, organizing and fundraising on its own, federal House district by federal House district and state by state, in pursuit of a nationally-uniform reform objective, but without top-down leadership from any single charismatic or well-funded candidate-leader, or established political Party…
2. And where “here” in 2009 is chronicled by these recent accounts illlustrating just portions of the ‘long (and growing) train of Congressionally-tolerated-or-instigated abuses and usurpations’ and Congressional abdications – which both dishonor and harm the American people, and to which we all feel compelled to respond – with which a reformed United States Congress will need to contend [time-pressed and other readers should feel free to skip/skim past these compiled excerpts, referring back to them later as needed]…:
Brian Tamanaha, Balkinization, drawing on reporting by The Independent:
Malalai Joya is an incredibly courageous Afghan woman, only 30 years old, living under the constant threat of being killed because she dares to speak the truth. The people who want to kill her are the people we put into power in Afghanistan.
One would think, given this history, that she would be pleased about the ejection of the Taliban and its aftermath. Not so:
Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments [speaking to a British reporter]. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.
The warlords of whom she speaks—our allies—are the ones who have openly threatened to kill her. She expects that they may well succeed.
It’s natural for a military power to reward its allies in battle with plunder and power after victory, and that’s what we did. The problem is that we claimed to be bringing democracy and saving the Afghan people from tyranny, but the warlords have a long record of terrible behavior that predates the Taliban.
[Joya] was elected to a seat in the Afghan parliament. In the parliament, Ms. Joya objected to a proposed law that would grant amnesty for all war crimes committed in Afghanistan in the past three decades, stating: “You criminals are simply giving yourselves a get-out-of-jail free card.” The members of parliament promptly voted to kick her out of parliament (with no objection from President Karzai).
Now you know more about the folks we are supporting in Afghanistan.
Ordinary Afghan people, according to Joya, feel “trapped between two enemies”: one enemy are the occupation forces dropping bombs on them (that’s us), and the other enemy are “the fundamentalist warlords and the Taliban.”
Although we enjoyed significant support in the population during the first few years of our presence, a recent poll indicates that 60% of Afghan people want NATO to immediately withdraw. Ms. Joya wants us to leave.
Carolyn Eisenberg, Truthout:
Almost everyday, some new senator or representative goes before the television cameras to express grave concern about the apparent “quagmire” that is emerging [in Afghanistan].
While such sentiments are to be welcomed, they are no substitute for effective action. Happening under the radar, these same troubled, skeptical, increasingly pessimistic legislators are within days of providing another $128 billion to fund the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq through September 2010 [which they have since done; President Obama signed that (defense authorization) bill today].
By so doing, they quietly forfeit their constitutional power over matters of war and peace.
It is against this backdrop that the abdication of Congress is so dangerous. We are at a critical moment not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, where, for all the fanfare about change, 130,000 American troops remain.
Because when so many members of Congress grant unconditional funding to an escalating war, it sends a message of frivolity. It demonstrates that their public grumbling is merely noise, that there is no sense of urgency about changing a policy that is pulling the administration into a deeper tragedy. For all the invocations of “a quagmire,” the actual meaning has been ignored: that you can’t get out of the bog, when you keep marching in.
To change this sorrowful narrative, elected officials will have to do more than lament. They need to get on their feet and vote “No.”
John Nichols, The Nation:
The drafters of the Constitution intended to make it impossible for a president to lead the country into war without an explicit declaration from Congress and periodic reviews by the House and Senate to determine whether an international entanglement should continue.
Unfortunately, as America developed what historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. described as an “imperial presidency,” and as commanders-in-chief began to use their bully pulpits and the full force of modern media to promote their wars of whim – and the endless occupations that are their byproducts – constitutional checks and balances decayed.
America has so broken faith with its founding traditions – especially George Washington’s encouragement call on the country to avoid entangling alliances – that proposals to check and balance imperial presidents are dismissed as unrealistic.
But if America is ever going to renew its small “r” republican traditions, let alone realize its small “d” democratic potential, it is hard to imagine a better place to begin than with the question: “Who Decides About War?”
Jane Mayer, The New Yorker:
[Hina Shamsi, a human-rights lawyer at the New York University School of Law] said of the Predator program, “These are targeted international killings by the state.” The Predator program, as it happens, also uses private contractors for a variety of tasks, including “flying” the drones. The U.S. government runs two drone programs. The military’s version, which is publicly acknowledged, operates in the recognized war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and targets combatants in support of U.S. troops stationed there. The C.I.A.’s program is aimed at terror suspects around the world, including in places where U.S. troops are not based.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the defense contractor that manufactures the Predator and its more heavily armed sibling, the Reaper, can barely keep up with the government’s demand. With public disenchantment mounting over the U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan, many in Washington support an even greater reliance on Predator strikes. And because of the program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place.
Eight years later, there is no longer any doubt that targeted killing has become official U.S. policy.
Mr Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, told the BBC: “My concern is that these drones, these Predators, are being operated in a framework which may well violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
“The onus is really on the government of the United States to reveal more about the ways in which it makes sure that arbitrary executions, extrajudicial executions, are not in fact being carried out through the use of these weapons.”
Mr Alston raised the issue in a report to the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee on Tuesday [October 27, 2009].
At a news conference afterwards, he said he had become increasingly concerned at the increase in their use since June, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mark Danner, The New York Review of Books, discussing the Guantanamo torture report from the International Committee of the Red Cross:
News of the “black sites” first appeared prominently in the press—on the front page of The Washington Post — in December 2002. A year and a half later, after the publication and broadcast of the Abu Ghraib photographs—the one moment in the last half-dozen years when the torture story, thanks to the lurid images, became “televisual” — a great wave of leaks swept into public view hundreds of pages of “secret” documents about torture and the Bush administration’s decision-making regarding it. There have been many important “revelations” since, but none of them has changed the essential fact: by no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.
One soon begins to see a pattern: among officials at the top, panic and fear and incompetence lead to a compensating, self-justifying desire to “do whatever’s necessary” to prevent attacks and finally to a consequent injustice inflicted on the innocents at the bottom that is both persistent and politically damaging. Thus the movement from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s call to “just get the bastards to the interrogators” to the overflow of innocent prisoners from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib, innocents who rendered unworkable the very system that the “get tough” directives were meant to snap into effective action.
Chris Mackey, the US Army interrogator, writes of “the gravitational laws that govern human behavior when one group of people is given complete control over another in a prison. Every impulse tugs downward.“
[Guantanamo inmate and Kuwaiti citizen Fouad Al Rabiah] maintained his confessions over time because “the interrogators would continue to abuse me anytime I attempted to repudiate any of these false allegations.” Ex. 175, Paragraph 13.
The record also supports Al Rabiah’s claims that he was punished for recanting.
These threats were also reinforced by placing Al Rabiah into the frequent flier program, an interrogation “technique” that, as already noted, violated the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
As explained in the Army Field Manual, these “prohibited techniques [are] not necessary to gain the cooperation of interrogation sources.” Ex. 101 at 1-8 (FM 34-52 Army Field Manual). In fact, the use of these methods is likely to “yield unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.” Id. (emphasis added).
In combination with this experience, there is substantial evidence in the record that Al Rabiah was led to believe that he needed to confess something in order to be eligible to be returned to Kuwait.
Significantly, the interrogators never believed these confessions, observing that they contained “inconsistencies” and “vast holes,” and expressly concluding that Al Rabiah was creating a “tale” to “please interrogators.” Ultimately, his interrogators grew increasingly frustrated with the inconsistencies and implausibilities associated with his confessions and began threatening him with rendition and torture, and decided to place him in the frequent flier program. These tactics violated both the Army Field Manual and the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, but they did not produce any additional confessions.
The Court shall issue an Order requiring the Government to take all necessary and appropriate steps to facilitate Al Rabiah’s release forthwith.
Jameel Jaffer, ACLU, LA Times:
…Congress this [month passed] legislation that gives the Defense Department the authority to suppress evidence of its own misconduct.
The amendment is aimed at a 2008 appeals court decision requiring the Defense Department to release photographs showing Afghan and Iraqi prisoners being abused and in some cases tortured by U.S. military personnel.
The argument that the government has made in court — and that animates the proposed legislation — would give the greatest protection from disclosure to records that relate to the worst governmental misconduct, because it is those records that are most likely to be inflammatory. Suppressing such records might deprive the country’s enemies of propaganda, but it would also deprive the American public of information that is crucial to the democratic process.
The legislation establishes a regime of censorship that would extend to many images of the military’s activities abroad.
Supporters of the legislation have said that the bill is motivated by concerns about security, but no democracy has ever been made stronger by concealing evidence of its wrongdoing.
Talat Hamdani, The Huffington Post:
I am the mother of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an NYPD Cadet who died in WTC Tower II, and I am one of the few Americans who have travelled to Guantánamo to observe the proceedings there. At the 9/11 defendants’ hearing last month, I witnessed for myself the mess that is Guantánamo “justice.” I, and many other 9/11 family members, believe that the only way we can see real justice is to transfer these cases to federal courts and abandon the broken system that has come to symbolize the grave missteps of the last administration.
The military commissions system, even with recently proposed modifications, still falls short of the legal standards that make our criminal justice system capable of delivering reliable justice. Abandoning [our criminal justice] system is an abandonment of our values of fairness and justice that so many who died on 9/11 stood for, and that have been the foundation of our democracy for over 200 years.
Even if the military commissions WERE able to proceed at a faster pace than they have so far, trading justice for expediency is not the American way.
U.S. Navy JAGs Suzanne Lachelier and Richard Federico of the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Military Commissions, Department of Defense, in a new court challenge to the 2006 Military Commissions Act:
The [Supreme] Court went on to hold, in a definitive interpretation of the “law of nations,” that “a military commission ‘can be “regularly constituted” by the standards of our military justice system only if some practical need explains deviations from court-martial practice,”‘ … Despite the fact that the MCA declares itself to be a “regularly constituted court,” 10 U.S.C. Sec. 948b(f), it is in patent violation of Common Article 3 as construed by the Supreme Court. Accordingly, it exceeds Congress’s powers.
Most significant, however, are the provisions that subject aliens alone to MCA jurisdiction, 10 U.S.C. Secs. 948c, 948d(a) and (c), because the pre-amendment UCMJ made no such distinction either under its regular “good order and discipline” jurisdiction or special law of war jurisdiction.
Jonathan Hafetz, ACLU, speaking at Washington University School of Law:
Trials, stripped to their essence, are about truth and justice. In the medieval age, trial was by ordeal—where a prisoner was required to undergo some painful task, like walking across burning coals or being submerged in water—to test his innocence. Centuries later at Guantánamo, the Bush administration came up with a new way of arriving at the truth: [Unilateral Executive Branch] “Combatant Status Review Tribunals,” where prisoners seeking to test their detention were denied the right even to a lawyer, to see the evidence against them and summon witnesses in their favor, and to an impartial judge. The stakes could not have been more significant and the process more inferior—less [process], even, than you receive in my hometown of Brooklyn to challenge a parking ticket. The Bush administration also came up with “military commissions”—now going their third reiteration (talk about putting lipstick on a pig)—long allowed evidence gained by torture and other abuse and whose rules best be described as “make them up as you go along.” The results are no less arbitrary than medieval trial by ordeal. But they are surely worse in that—now, in the twenty-first century and hundreds of years after the Enlightenment and American Revolution—we not only know better, but have time-tested system of our ordinary criminal courts that we have shunted aside.
Barry J.C. Kissin, AfterDowningStreet:
On September 16 and 17, 2008, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees respectively, conducted “Amerithrax oversight” hearings consisting of questioning FBI Director Robert Mueller. Despite widespread concern about the integrity of Amerithrax, the colloquy during these hearings was largely feeble. Congressman Nadler did manage to ask the $64,000 question. Salon.com journalist Glen Greenwald recounted this as follows:
Nadler asked one of the most central questions in the anthrax case: he pointed out that the facilities that (unlike Ft. Detrick) actually have the equipment and personnel to prepare dry, silica-coated anthrax are the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground and the Battelle Corporation, the private CIA contractor that conducts substantial research into highly complex strains of anthrax. Nadler asked how the FBI had eliminated those institutions as the culprits behind the attack. […]
Seven months went by before the FBI responded.
On its face, the FBI’s response is absurd. The response literally says that after identifying “two facilities” that received samples of anthrax from the USAMRIID (Bruce Ivins’) flask, these facilities were excluded as possible sources of the attack anthrax because they “never received” anthrax from said flask.
The FBI’s response is not only absurd; it is, to the extent it states anything at all, demonstrably false.
That the FBI has engaged in cover-up in its Amerithrax investigation is readily apparent. This memorandum addresses the urgent matter of what it is that is being covered up.
So far, Congress has failed in its oversight role with respect to Amerithrax. An important example of this failure is the absence of any reaction on the part of Congressman Nadler or any other member of Congress to the miserable FBI response highlighted in this Introduction.
Federal Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, via The Hill:
“There have been many instances where we’ve come to a committee hearing, after having read in the paper of something that should have been notified to us, where it’s followed up my mea culpas by the intelligence community,” Schakowsky said. “And examples where the committee actually has been lied to.”
“You can understand that the committee has felt very frustrated that the executive branch has not notified us of intelligence activity,” she said. “We’re in the process of reviewing several instances where the executive branch may have violated the [notification] requirements that are in the National Security Act.”
Marcy Wheeler, Firedoglake, drawing on reporting by Charlie Savage of the New York Times:
As I reported on Thursday, the first thing the [Senate Judiciary] Committee did on Thursday was accept a whole package of amendments from Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, doing things like limiting the library records under Section 215 [of the PATRIOT Act] which must be shown to have some tie to terrorism or spying.
The committee accepted those changes, with almost no discussion, on a voice vote.
Well, as Savage points out, that package came from the Administration.
A Democratic staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Sessions’ amendments were a verbatim transfer of the text of amendments the Obama administration had privately sent to Congress on Wednesday.
See what Jeff Sesssions–I mean Barack Obama–did in complete secrecy and behind the cover of Jeff Sessions’ skirts the other night?
They absolutely gutted the minimization procedures tied to pen registers! Pen registers are almost certainly the means by which the government is conducting the data mining of American people (using the meta-data from their calls and emails to decide whether to tap them fully). And Jeff Sesssions–I mean Barack Obama–simply gutted any requirement that the government get rid of all this meta-data when they’re done with it. They gutted any prohibitions against sharing this information widely. In fact, they’ve specified that judges should only require minimization procedures in extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise, there is very little limiting what they can do with your data and mine once they’ve collected it.
The whole thing is disgusting: Obama sneaking these in in a last-minute classified briefing. Doing so under cover from Jeff Sessions (What? Dianne Feinstein and Pat Leahy don’t want responsibility for this??). Pat Leahy letting that happen. A voice vote, so no one will ever hold Leahy and Feinstein and Whitehouse and Franken and others responsible for doing this.
Jason Leopold, The Public Record:
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, denounced a Republican amendment adopted by the House of Representatives Thursday to deny all federal funds to the advocacy group the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as blatantly unconstitutional and a threat to unpopular organizations everywhere.
Nadler said the Republican initiative, the Defund ACORN Act, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, singles out a specific organization by name for exclusion from participating in any federal program, in direct violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against Bills of Attainder. The amendment was attached to a student loan bill.
“Today’s Republican amendment is in blatant violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against Bills of Attainder,” said Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “Congress must not be in the business of punishing individual organizations or people without trial, and that’s what this amendment does. Whatever one may think of an organization, the Constitution’s clear ban on Bills of Attainder is there for the protection of all of our liberties.”
On Monday, the Senate voted 83-7 in favor of an amendment that blocks ACORN from receiving transportation and housing funds. That measure was introduced by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-NE. Johanns introduced a second amendment Thursday, this time to cut off any funding ACORN may receive from the Department of the Interior. The measure passed 85-11 and received a “yea” vote from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA.
In a floor statement after the House voted 345-75, which included the support of 172 Democrats, to cut off federal funds to the group, Nadler spoke out against the amendment.
Federal Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, on Bill Moyers Journal:
MARCY KAPTUR: Congress has really shut down. I’m disappointed in both chambers, because wouldn’t you think, with the largest financial crisis in American history, in the largest transfer of wealth from the American people to the biggest banks in this country, that every committee of Congress would be involved in hearings, that this would be on the news, that people would be engaged in this. What we’re seeing is — tangential hearings on very arcane aspects of financial reform. For example, now we’re going to have a consumer protection agency to help the poor consumer, who doesn’t understand all of this, rather than hearings on the fundamental new architecture of reforming the American financial system, so that we have prudent lending, capital accumulation at the local level again; that we encourage savings and limit debt by the American people. Our country needs this. Those aren’t the hearings that are happening.
BILL MOYERS: How do we get Congress back? How do we get Congress to do what it’s supposed to do? Oversight. Real reform. Challenge the powers that be.
MARCY KAPTUR: We have to take the money out. We have to get rid of the constant fundraising that happens inside the Congress. Before political parties used to raise money; now individual members are raising money through the DCCC and the RCCC. It is absolutely corrupt. It’s good people…
BILL MOYERS: Those are the fundraising groups both parties-
MARCY KAPTUR: Parties.
BILL MOYERS: In the Congress.
MARCY KAPTUR: And then people wonder, ‘Well, why doesn’t Congress get along?’ Because they are made into arch enemies by the type of fundraising system that is embedded in the very guts of the institution. So, you’ve got to clean that out.
William K. Black, The Huffington Post:
The financial sector is a tool to help those that make real tools, not an end in itself. But five fatal flaws in the financial sector’s current structure have created a monster that drains the real economy, promotes fraud and corruption, threatens democracy, and causes recurrent, intensifying crises.
The financial sector has become far more unstable since this crisis began and its members used their lobbying power to convince Congress to gimmick the accounting rules to hide their massive losses.
[Financial firm] CEOs can directly, through the firm, and by “bundling” contributions of its officers and employees, easily make enormous political contributions and use their PR firms and lobbyists to manipulate the media and public officials. The ability of the financial sector to block meaningful reform after bringing the world to the brink of a second great depression proves how exceptional its powers are to corrupt nearly every critical sector of American public and economic life.
Jane Hamsher, Firedoglake:
Just as it was during the bank bailout, the goal of the White House was clear: more important than saving the financial system was keeping the financial institutions happy and stopping them from financing Republicans.
Whose primary objective would be to keep anyone from funding a GOP ascendancy, to sell out health care reform worth billions for a hundred fifty million in pro-reform advertising?
Someone like Rahm Emanuel, who works through the Blue Dogs in the House to make the House bill conform to the deals he sets up in the Senate. Rahm wanted a public plan with “triggers” and had been pushing for it since January. Lo and behold, who is insisting that any public plan in the House have triggers — Mike Ross and the Blue Dogs.
The PhRMA deal on July 8 says that there won’t be any drug price controls, and the next day, Blue Dogs Heath Shuler and Debbie Halvorson author a letter demanding — no drug price controls:
Instead, they are asking Waxman, Rangel and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) to support the drug industry’s offer to spend $30 billion help cover those costs – a deal that is backed by the White House and the Senate Finance Committee.
The American Hospitals Association deal was signed on July 8. The hospitals want higher medicare reimbursement rates for rural providers. On July 15, the Blue Dogs threaten to block health care reform — if it doesn’t increase reimbursement rates to rural providers.
Jim Hightower, JimHightower commentary, drawing on Washington Post reporting:
No, no, it’s against Senate ethic rules for influence peddlers to finance a member’s golf junket. But, wait! There is one slippery little loophole that allows Chambliss and other lawmakers to collect hundreds of thousands dollars each from well-heeled lobbyists and corporate executives, putting the cash in a secretive, personal political pocket known as a “leadership PAC.”
While members can’t spend this money on their own campaigns, they can spend it on just about anything else. So, if a guy like Chambliss gets the twitch to fly across country for some golfing, coupled with some wining and dining, a couple of corporations can put $50,000 or so in his leadership PAC, which can then provide a private jet, hotel rooms, green fees, etcetera, for a weekend schmoozefest between the donors and the donee. To add to the loopiness of this loophole, lawmakers don’t even have to report which lobbyists put up the money or who went on the junket. Chambliss reported one $50,000 golf outing in these terse terms: “PAC event/Lodging/Banquet/Golf.”
Note that those who so loudly proclaim that they’re playing by the rules are the ones who write the rules.
3. And where “there” is a publicly-accountable and responsive federal legislature which operates and debates in public in a democratic manner, whose members serve the greater public interest before and at the expense of Party-preservation or self-interest, and who respect and honor Constitutional limits, and therefore individual liberty, by responsibly fulfilling their sworn, irreplaceable role as an independent, separate branch of government.
Four crucial premises which inform this approach:
A. Whether you are a fan or a critic of President Obama, the presidency is not where the real Constitutional power lies in our federal system, regardless of what the national, profit-serving, status quo-enforcing media, and far too many incumbent legislators, would have us believe, having worked diligently to subvert our Constitutional system for years or decades now. Rather, the ‘first among equals’ branch – our federal legislature – is where the Founders intended the policy-making and decision-making power to be vested in Washington – including, crucially, the war and spending powers – on behalf of we, the people.
B. Congress is in desperate need of reform. Not so much in its rules and structure, as in the actions and lack thereof of its incumbents, for which I blame the endless quest for private campaign funds and the unquestioned top-down abuse of power by Party leadership (whether in Congress or the White House) that is tolerated or welcomed by its irresponsible members. Genuine oversight of the Executive Branch seems to be a thing of the past in our Congress, as does any desire to draw on the great expertise of the broader American public in examining and fixing our many federally-created problems.
C. The two dominant political Parties, in part because of the inherent nature of such organized factions, and in part because of their lock on sources of corporate funding for exorbitantly-expensive federal election campaigns, have fundamentally lost their purported reasons for being and have devolved into little more than power-aggregrators for a very small number of exceedingly-powerful individuals. Powerful individuals who are internally selected to head the Parties – often selected based primarily on their proven ability to fundraise and remain in office – without regard for avowed Party platform pledges, or the will of the nominal rank-and-file members of that Party outside of Congress. The result is top-down control of not only the Party, but of the Congress that the majority Party controls – too-often, these days, not just from Capitol Hill but from the White House. This has drastic real-world implications, as the examples in #2 above help demonstrate, for the equal participation of our federal representatives in Congress and for the democratic self-government that was intended to be practiced in that Congress, for the Constitutional separation of powers between the Legislative and Executive Branches, and therefore individual liberty, and for the lives and well-being of everyone living not only in America, but in the many parts of the world in which our military and CIA are actively deployed due in part to the dangerously-concentrated power now exercised by the U.S. Executive Branch of government.
D. As Bill Egnor has helpfully sketched out for us, existing restrictions on access to the ballot for non-Party (and new/third party) members (many dating back to post-Civil War efforts to disenfranchise African-Americans) are so onerous in many states that only registered members of an existing political Party have a realistic and affordable chance of getting their names on the ballot. Thus, as is widely lamented but reluctantly recognized, more often than not supporting either a registered Democrat or a registered Republican, rather than an independent or third party candidate, will be the most feasible method of getting a replacement federal Congressional candidate on the ballot and into office. Though independent candidates should be welcomed wherever possible. Our search, then, is for Democrats or Republicans who choose Party allegiance not simply for personal gain, but in pursuit of a particular policy agenda, and an agenda that’s subordinate to their primary Constitutional job of faithfully fulfilling the role of federal legislator while honoring their oath of office. We, however, should start insisting on another limited agenda in addition to, and with higher priority than, the nominal (and generally unclear and/or disregarded) agendas of the existing Parties, so as to tightly focus on the most important current federal objective that, of necessity, must precede all others: a reformed and accountable Congress.
The Concept of a Pledge
The suggestion that I’m making here, that would need to be organized and publicized by a national group, or groups, and put into effect by groups of voters in individual federal districts and states, almost certainly in the face of established Party opposition (however effective or ineffective), is this:
That the registered Democratic or Republican (or, if possible, independent) Congressional candidate who runs against an incumbent or for an open seat be asked to pledge, in addition to their avowed Party affiliation, support for a specific, limited non-Party but national agenda of our own making before receiving the support of district or state voters. Ideally, of course, locals would recruit such candidates before next year’s primaries, and their ‘pledge candidacy’ would fuel individual campaign donations from people all across the country alerted to their pledge via the internet. Also, ideally, such candidates would not be drawn from only one Party.
This would be an effort – if obviously not foolproof – to identify candidates who will, despite their formal Party membership, if elected to Congress with others similarly pledged, work – as a loose caucus of shared interests but not as a formal Party or subset of an existing Party – to enact, as a first priority, our democratizing, Party-threatening pledge agenda, and thereby – hopefully sooner rather than later – re-open access to the ballot, and genuine responsiveness and accountability in our Congress to the American people, whose will is now stifled, and voice silenced, by the iron grip exerted by the Two Party System and its corporate-owner constituency.
A “loose caucus of shared interests” obviously subordinated to the public trust and oath of office of a federal legislator – isn’t that how Parties started in the first place? Now, however, the Party structure’s own self-perpetuation and its leaders’ addiction to power, rather than any claimed agenda or public-interest purpose, is too often the first, last and only consideration self-serving Members of Congress take into consideration.
Let’s call it the PIC Pledge – for a Publicly-accountable and Independent Congress – which would ask that federal candidates hoping for our money and our votes publicly pledge to:
1. Work, as their top priority, to enact legislation allowing publicly-financed federal campaigns for Congressional (and presidential) office – legislation which does not discriminate against non-Party candidates. [The details of this should be defined so as to state which minimum acceptable provisions such legislation should contain, including, as part of the reform, some provision for encouraging ranked-preference/instant-runoff voting; the current publicly-financed campaign legislation introduced in Congress – S. 752 & 751 and H.R. 1826 – does seem to disciminate against non-Party candidacies, but may be a workable starting point.] Furthermore, pledge to work, as needed, given pending Supreme Court decisions, to promote and enact a Constitutional Amendment mandating publicly-financed campaigns for federal office.
2. Work (with members of any or no Party) to democratize and open the legislative process in Congress (including disregarding undemocratic Party dictates); to re-establish meaningful oversight hearings (untruncated by artificial time limits, for example), via both rules and legislation, including working to end dangerously-excessive Executive Branch efforts to hide its doings from the public; and to resist encroachment on the Legislature’s prerogatives by the Executive Branch regardless of presidential Party affiliation. [This, of necessity, will bring successful pledged candidates into conflict with their nominal Party leadership and caucus, and such candidates will need to be prepared to pay the resulting politically-motivated price. There is, however, strength in numbers, and a group of pledged legislators, perhaps joined by some principled incumbents, would have more ability to challenge the status quo than individual legislators on their own.]
3. Protect the Constitution at least as ardently as amorphous and ill-defined “national security,” and work to educate colleagues about the importance of being a Constitutional Congress. Such a pledge would, of necessity, involve reasserting Congressional decision-making about the deployment of American Armed Forces abroad, starting with re-examining and/or ending destructive, dishonest campaigns such as our current armed interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
What do you think? Critiques and other impressions and suggestions (not to mention volunteers to get the ball rolling!) are welcome.