Gadfly is Marty Aussenberg, a columnist for the weekly Memphis Flyer. Marty is a former SEC enforcement official, currently in private law practice in Memphis, Tennessee. (A full bio is below the fold.) An earlier version is posted at The Memphis Flyer.

The events of the past week in the U.S. House of Representatives have been rather dramatic. When Congressman John Murtha, from my old home territory of Western Pennsylvania, called for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq “at the earliest practicable date,” it set off a tidal wave in Washington. This wasn’t, after all, a wild-eyed liberal, like Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who had previously called for a timetable for withdrawal (Washington Post). This was a blue collar Democrat, with a history of supporting the Pentagon in all of its warmongering activities, including increasing defense budgets, new weapons systems, “star wars” missile defense, and other pet projects so dear to defense hawks. Lest his conservative bona fides be questioned, he even offered a resolution this year seeking an amendment to the Constitution to allow voluntary prayer in public schools.

While it isn’t clear whether or not Murtha was an independent contractor in launching his broadside attack, or just the canary in the mine for the Democrat caucus in the House, testing the to see whether there might be support for a rapidly-phased withdrawal, it is clear that Murtha’s announcement caught a number of folks by surprise, mostly the members of his own party. Not, however, the members of the majority, who quickly figured out a way to relegate Murtha’s proposal to parliamentary oblivion. Murtha’s resolution, was quickly referred to a committee so it couldn’t be promptly considered or voted on by the House.

But the Republicans simultaneously presented their own version of the Murtha resolution, considerably abbreviated from the one Murtha submitted, and notably lacking the qualifying language “at the earliest practicable date,” of Murtha’s resolution, substituting instead the word “immediately.” Here’s what the GOP resolution says:

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

This resolution was submitted by Rep. Duncan Hunter, the powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, whose finest moment was undoubtedly when, at a press conference, he served (literally) examples of the culinary delights the prisoners at Guantanamo were being served to contradict the by-then ubiquitous assertions that those prisoners were being abused (Crooks & Liars video).

The Republican resolution put the issue in the starkest terms, and eliminated not only the important qualifier on Murtha’s resolution (“at the earliest practicable date”), but also eliminated a detailed preamble Murtha had placed in his version which recited all the reasons he had listed during his press conference for his belief it was time for American forces to leave Iraq (e.g., no progress, 2,079 deaths, G.I.’s the target of insurgents, $277 billion appropriated, etc.).

Continued below:

Murtha’s resolution reflected the reasoning that had already been expressed by military intelligence experts for prompt withdrawal (NiemanWatchDog and NiemanWatchDog and also served to further debunk the notion that withdrawal should be conditioned on the state of preparedness of the Iraqi army, an illusory goal, according to the authoritative piece by James Fallows in the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly. And let’s not forget that the majority of Americans now favor a short-term withdrawal from Iraq (Polling Report).

But the Republicans couldn’t be bothered with such details. They wanted to put the question, down and dirty, to the House, knowing that, reworded as it was, there was no way their resolution would pass, and even more importantly, that they could avoid a debate on the war that wasn’t based on phony jingo-patriotism (the American equivalent of “Islamo-fascism”), which is precisely what the “debate” that ensued on the House floor degenerated into.

In other words, the Republicans really weren’t interested in debating the wisdom of a withdrawal on the terms, or for the reasons, Murtha suggested; they wanted to rub Murtha’s face in the very idea of withdrawing troops at all, in essence saying to the Democrats, “so you want withdrawal, do you; well, we’ll give you withdrawal,” or as Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee put it:

Since they [Democrats] have been wanting it [debate], we’re going to have it. They’re going to take the heat and take the debate.

The same resolution which shoved Murtha’s resolution off the House agenda also placed the substitute resolution on that agenda for immediate debate, without the necessity for committee action, one of the privileges of majority rule. The Democrats, realizing they had been outflanked, vociferously protested the substitution of the Republican resolution for Murtha’s. “Give us a real debate, don’t bring this piece of garbage to the floor,” said Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts.

And, of course, the flashpoint of the debate came when Rep. Jean Schmidt (they don’t call her “mean Jean” for nothing) made her now-infamous statement accusing Murtha of being a cut and run coward. Which, to his credit, caused my congressman, Harold Ford, Jr. to, according to the account in the New York Times, “charge across the chamber’s center aisle to the Republican side screaming that Ms. Schmidt’s attack had been unwarranted.” Unwarranted! Not exactly “give me liberty or give me death,” but a fighting word nonetheless.

A different account of Ford’s outburst appeared in the Washington Times: “Say it to Murtha,” Mr. Ford supposedly shouted at Rep. Tancredo while he [Ford] was being restrained by other members. Ford also, by some accounts, supposedly menacingly jabbed a finger at Tancredo during their confrontation, coming dangerously close to kicking some Republican butt (now that would have been worth the price of basic cable C-Span). Ford, in spite of his willingness to storm the Republican ramparts in support of his fellow congressman, wasn’t willing to support him in a much more important way—by co-sponsoring the bill, which 13 of his Democrat colleagues, including Reps. Rangel, Jackson-Lee and the outspoken (see above) Rep. McGovern, found the kojones to do. Putting his vote where his mouth was apparently didn’t interest Mr. Ford.

And as if to emphasize the point, here’s how Congressman “Finger Jabber” Ford, characterized the discussion on the House floor during his November 21st appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball” (transcript).

Open and honest? Debate? Oh really, Mr. Ford? I guess, despite your theatrics, that scamming the congress into considering a resolution that was not Murtha’s in an effort to discredit the resolution that was his, and thereby evading the discussion of a responsible “exit strategy,” was your idea of “open and honest.”

To show how “open and honest” the debate was, J.D. Hayworth, Ford’s Republican counterpart on “Hardball,” during his remarks in the well of the house floor, displayed the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post from that day (November 18th), both of which led with headlines that characterized Murtha’s announcement as calling for “immediate” withdrawal. That the MSM got it wrong is one thing (we’re used to that), but the fact that Hayworth didn’t have the integrity to refer to the actual wording of the Murtha resolution speaks for itself. (I’m convinced Hayworth and Schmidt have their hair wrapped too tightly—have you seen their “do’s”—and that’s what makes them so bitter).

Ford’s remark may be why one of Matthews’ other guests on the program, Stuart Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Political Report,
said of Ford’s appearance:

[T]hey [Democrats) are divided. When you listen to Harold Ford and compare that to Ted Kennedy or something, how many parties do we have here? Their problem is that they don‘t have a single message.

Ford ‘s statement undercut his party’s righteous position on the Murtha withdrawal proposal, and worse, contradicted his party’s leaders on the floor, none of whom wanted a bogus debate on the bogus Hunter resolution. Nonetheless, when it came time for a vote, only three of the over 400 who voted on the Hunter resolution voted in its favor (Rollcall).

The rest of the Democrats ran for cover, fearing that in the war against un-patriotism being waged so much more successfully by the GOP than the war against terror, they would be the victims, when they could (and should) have maintained their righteousness on the Murtha proposal and refused to vote at all on Hunter’s. Six representatives (including New York’s Jerry Nadler) did precisely that, bless their hearts (as we say down here).

There was, perhaps, no better example of the Democrats’ “cut and run” reaction to Murtha’s resolution than Paul Hackett, the Iraq war veteran whose narrow loss for an Ohio seat in the House to “Mean Jean,” was widely touted as a referendum on the administration’s handling of the war. During his appearance on the “Hardball” show following his defeat, (as he did during his campaign), Hackett unambiguously supported an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Here’s what he said:

[NBC Correspondent David] GREGORY: All right. But those are generalities. So, what should the mission be? You define it for him [Bush].

HACKETT: I think right now the mission is, WE PICK UP AND WE GET OUT OF THERE as efficiently and cleanly as possible [emphasis mine].

GREGORY: Right away, bring troops home today?

HACKETT: I think that’s what we’re moving toward anyway.


But when he appeared on Hardball as a candidate for Mike DeWine’s Senate seat, on the November 23rd edition of the show (transcript not yet available), Hackett seriously undercut his own position by resisting support for “immediate” withdrawal, even backing away from supporting Murtha’s resolution to do so. Oh Paul—we thought we knew ye. If Hackett thinks Bush & Co. are “chickenhawks,” maybe we should start calling him, and his ilk, “chickendoves.”

Sadly, as fractious and fractionated as the Republicans have become, as low as the president’s poll numbers may be (or may be likely to go), and as graphic as the picture of the party in power’s corruption is becoming, the Democrats still haven’t figured out how to capitalize on their adversaries’ weaknesses. And if Rep. Ford’s and candidate Hackett’s performances on “Hardball,” are any indication, they won’t be ready to do so until they’ve figured out how to minimize their own.


Mr. Aussenberg is an attorney practicing in his own firm in Memphis, Tennessee. He began his career in the private practice of law in Memphis after relocating from Washington, D.C., where he spent five years at the Securities and Exchange Commission as a Special Counsel and Trial Attorney in its Enforcement Division, during which time he handled or supervised the investigation and litigation of several significant cases involving insider trading, market manipulation, and management fraud. Prior to his stint at the S.E.C., he was an Assistant Attorney General with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking in Philadelphia and was the Attorney-In-Charge of Litigation for the Pennsylvania Securities Commission, where, in addition to representing that agency in numerous state trial and appellate courts, he successfully prosecuted the first case of criminal securities fraud in the state’s history.

Mr. Aussenberg’s private practice has focused primarily on investment, financial, corporate and business counseling, litigation and arbitration and regulatory proceedings. He has represented individual, institutional and governmental investors, as well as brokerage firms and individual brokers, in securities and commodities-related matters, S.E.C., NASD and state securities regulatory proceedings, and has represented parties in shareholder derivative, class action and multi-district litigation, as well as defending parties in securities, commodities, and other “white-collar” criminal cases.

Mr. Aussenberg received his J.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and his B.A. degree in Honors Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Immediately following law school, he served as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow with the Delaware County Legal Assistance Association in Chester, Pennsylvania.

He is admitted to practice in Tennessee, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, before the United States Supreme Court, the Third and Sixth Circuit Courts of Appeals, and the United States Tax Court, as well as federal district courts in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He is an arbitrator for the NASD, New York Stock Exchange and American Arbitration Association, has published articles (“Stockbroker Fraud: This Kind of Churning Doesn’t Make Butter”, Journal of the Tennessee Society of C.P.A.’s,; Newsletter of the Arkansas Society of C.P.A.’s; Hoosier Banker (Indiana Bankers Association), and been a featured speaker on a variety of topics at seminars in the United States and Canada, including: Municipal Treasurers Association of the United States and Canada, Ottawa, Canada; Government Finance Officers Association; National Institute of Municipal Law Officers, Washington, D.C. ; Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants, Memphis, TN; Tennessee Association of Public Accountants, Memphis, TN (1993)

Mr. Aussenberg has two children, a daughter who is a graduate of Columbia University and holds a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and is currently a student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and a son who is a graduate of Brown University and is working with a conservation organization in Marin County, California while he decides what to do with the rest of his life.

Mr. Aussenberg is an avid golfer whose only handicap is his game, an occasional trap shooter whose best competitive score was a 92, and an even less frequent jazz drummer.

0 0 votes
Article Rating