A few weeks ago, Representative Louise Slaughter came out with a report called 'America for Sale' on the cost of Republican corruption. The link is no longer working, and I'll explain why in the next paragraph. The report itself was well done, and actually quantified the cost to taxpayers of what has been so obvious for so long, the looting of America by corrupted elites. The report elicited attacks from Republicans, who smeared Slaughter with charges that writing the report itself was an unethical use of taxpayer funds. Now, Louise Slaughter is a member of the House Rules Committee, so documenting the costs of corruption was completely reasonable. What is truly remarkable is that not one Democratic member stood by her. Not one issued a statement. No one from the progressive caucus - most of whom are in safe seats - came forward public to stand by their colleague. I'm sure there were pats on the back in private, but then, that's kind of the point.
And now, in a final insult, the report was removed from Pelosi's leader web site, apparently because of worries that the Republicans will file ethics charges against Pelosi for hosting it (it supposedly violates House Franking rules, which are incoherent and a huge mess and part of the tyranny of Republican rule in the House). Enough is enough. Whoever made the boneheaded decision in Pelosi's office is just out of touch. Leaders serious about ending corruption do not hang out to dry members who stand up against the looting of the country. Leaders serious about governing and wielding power do not scurry in hiding every time Republicans talk about ethics. They do not try to obey arbitrary incoherent rules that are written by Republicans and broken by the other side at will.
If Democrats win in 2006 (which is quite uncertain), Pelosi does not sound like she can do what is necessary to save this country. She acts like a small-minded summer camp councelor for spoiled Democratic members, and unless we are vigilant and aggressive this mindset is going to carry on over to whatever gains we make in 2006. Right now, there's this half-joke among Congresscritters that members don't speak in caucus meetings without first thanking everyone in the room. Members waste each others' time. Staffers are kept out of the loop, and lie to each other in vicious and pointless turf wars where the only goal is to get better offices. This diseased culture comes from years of being smacked around by Republicans, with little indignities like Republican Committee staffers getting better Blackberries and big indignities like Republicans changing rules whenever it suits them. The way to reverse this culture is to have leaders who do not back down.
Yes, it's that bad. I've been told that the way to gain power in the Democratic caucus is to get elected, and then this is key, to not die. That's how you become a committee leader. And apparently to become leader you promise not to rock the boat and make sure that every gets their precious little committee assignment, regardless of merit. Listen to this pathetic podcast by Representaive Frank Pallone, who jokes about what a bad job he's doing as the Democratic member in charge of 'message'. Yes, in fact that's his job as the Communications Chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, where he "coordinates the party's message on the floor of the House of Representatives."
And the symptom is that when House Republicans say jump, Nancy Pelosi says 'how high?' And that's not because we're in the minority. It's because Pelosi allows this kind of stupidity to hamstring the caucus. And if you think this will end if we ever take the majority, prepare to be disappointed.
Standing up to this ineffective, anti-progressive, anti-meritocratic mechanism that coddles Democratic members is going to be key, whatever happens in 2006. The rallying cry for Democrats in the House should not be 'Universal health care for Democratic incumbent Congressmen', as it seems to have been since 1994. New candidates coming into office should realize that it's time for open elections for committee slots, for leadership posts, and for every other position of power in the House.
I don't like Rahm Emanuel's politics and I don't agree with every part of his strategy in running the DCCC (as if I have proven some great capacity to win races...), but the reason he is respected is because he doesn't subscribe to this ridiculous and insulated mentality. He is blunt and aggressive, and that is a necessary tonic, and key to understanding the New Democrats in the 1990s. Partly they were lobbyist driven, but partly they were driven by an exasperated sense of unprofessionalism among traditional older progressives and lazy Democrats. Now of course the New Dems have become just as captured by insider-itis, but the same motivating impulse that frustrated them in the 1980s frustrates us today. New groups coming into Congress in 2006 should realize that it's time for a change, and time for openness, accountability, and democracy. Nancy Pelosi should realize this too. The time for kowtowing to Republicans on everything from where you host your web content to the war in Iraq is over and done with. In order to build a progressive America, we need to get a real cultural change in Congress, a change driven by strength and leadership.
That's what the netroots wants, and that's what we're going to get. It's going to take time, but we're coming.