So how exactly did Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich and Maxine Waters get so much more conservative than the typical American?
When it comes to impeachment and the war in Iraq, the polls are clear.  As early as the fall of 2005, a Zogby poll showed that close to 50% of the American people supported impeaching President Bush if it could be proven that he lied about the war in Iraq. The number went up to 53% in the Northeast and 72% among registered Democrats. What’s more, the latest Gallup poll shows that 58% of Americans want the United States to withdraw from Iraq within 12 months, 46% believe that the United States “can’t win”, and another 20% think that the United States “can win but probably won’t”.

If the polls are clear on what the American people think of impeachment and the war in Iraq, it’s also clear that even the most liberal Democratic members of congress don’t agree.  John Conyers, for example, declared on the February 16th edition of Democracy Now that he wasn’t even in favor of debating impeachment.

We don’t have the luxury to impeach this president and this vice president. We have the responsibility to stop the war in Iraq, and I think it’s proceeding along sound lines.

Even though Senator Russ Feingold has clearly laid out the argument that the only way to stop the war in Iraq is to defund the war in Congress, progressive luminaries like Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters have both rejected the idea


Speaking for the liberal wing, Lee said that the “Out of Iraq” caucus is not seeking to cut funding to the troops. But the meeting failed to reach the consensus that leaders are seeking.

So how exactly did Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich and Maxine Waters get so much more conservative than the typical American?

Watching the guerilla video of anti-war protester Tina Richards confronting Representative David Obey in Congress makes it painfully clear how most American politicians view their constituents.

Obey, a liberal Democrat who voted against the Iraq War Resolution may just be having a bad day, but he’s also exasperated with Richards, a woman in his district whose son has done several tours as a Marine in Iraq, and what he perceives as her failure to understand the restraints that he’s operating under. Even though the financial relationship is reversed (The people pay Congress. Congress doesn’t give the people an allowance.), he considers himself the adult and Richards the child.  Do you see a magic wand here, he snarls as he opens his coat. We don’t have the votes to defund the war. But if only you idiot liberals would get out of the way we would have the votes to end the war.

Obey later apologized, although it was unclear whether he was sorry he insulted Richards or that he got caught.


While the tactic of filming Obey without his consent was slimy (George Allen knew he was being filmed before he made his self-destructive race baiting crack welcoming macaca to the real world of Virginia.) he might have been more on guard had he actually seen the camera and not revealed the fundamental truth we all know but so rarely see acknowledged by a member of the political elite.

The United States is not a representative democracy.

American politicians operate under a set of restraints set by the military industrial complex, powerful lobbying groups, the corporate owned media, and the rules of the free market. Their job is not to take the people’s views to the elites, but the elites’ views to the people, to generate a set of options acceptable to the ruling class that the people are then free to chose among.

But there’s an added twist. The elites are not by any means united on how they want to govern. There are deep divisions within the ruling class. There’s the authoritarian faction best represented by George Bush. Scare the people. Make them read the Bible. Prepare them for a total “war on terror” that will never end.  Then there’s a more moderate faction best represented by Al Gore. If capitalism is to function at all, it needs to have restraints. If it doesn’t, it will simply destroy the environment and, eventually, itself.

Not surprisingly, the authoritarian and moderate factions within the political and cultural elites tend to be clustered around whatever sectors of capitalism they represent. So, for example, Colorado Springs, the Vatican of Christian fascist America is home not only to Focus on the Family, but also to the Air Force Academy and the defense industry. On the other hand, the film industry in Hollywood, the giant pharmaceutical plants in New Jersey between New Brunswick and Princeton and the cluster of colleges and universities around Boston simply can’t operate if people believe that the world is 6000 years old and was created by God. They require a well-educated, relatively secular pool of skilled workers.

In other words, if the elites were united, there would be little need for politics and the whole fiction of democracy would end with little fanfare. But since they are so deeply divided, they need pitchmen to sell their ideas to the people, or, rather, role models to demonstrate acceptable behavior and opinions. The result is that instead of being a representative democracy, the United States is a representative democracy turned upside down.  The American people wind up internalizing and “representing” the political views of those very elites who should be representing them.

It’s the politics of the children’s table.

My mother, for example, was a liberal Democrat who supported Humphrey in 1968 and wound up voting for McGovern in 1972. She refused to watch war movies, thought that “blacks and whites would eventually have to live together whatever they thought”, and wouldn’t have been capable of voting Republican, however bad the Democratic candidate might have been.

My father on the other hand was more conservative. While he usually supported organized labor (He voted for Mondale in 1984 because Reagan “broke the air controllers”.), he was also a Marine Corps veteran who strongly identified with the military. Politicians of either party like John Kennedy who he perceived as being pro military got his vote. Politicians like Jimmy Carter who came across as weak and indecisive did not. While war may not always be the answer, it was always worth trying. We always had a flag hanging from the front of the house, and it was always handled, carried, and folded properly.

As I grew up, I usually found myself acting out both political roles, trying on different costumes in order to see which one I liked best.

The first memory I have of expressing a political opinion was in Kindergarten, just before the last helicopter took off from that roof in Saigon. I had been fascinated with model tanks and airplanes at a very young age so one day for “show and tell” I brought in a model of a Huey that I had built (with my father’s help). At recess, I decided to “strafe” a couple of girls in my class, holding the toy helicopter in my hand over the girls while making machine gun sounds with my mouth. The girls were very upset, went to the teacher to accuse me of spitting on them, and I was made to sit under a table in the corner of the classroom as punishment. When I emerged from my pre-pubescent tiger cage, I stood up, pointed at the teacher, and said “Jane Fonda. Jane Fonda”.

Websites like the Daily Kos and Democratic Underground are the children’s table of the Democratic Party. Its readers are well read, passionate, and engaged in the study of politics but they are kept far away from the center of power and are not allowed to frame the terms of the debate.  Segregated off onto a separate table, like children at a family reunion, they rarely question the arrangement itself. Why are we sitting at this table far off in the corner of the room while the adults have serious discussions among themselves? Instead, they compensate by taking on the personality and opinions of the adults they hope to join some day. Some are “fans” and supporters of Barack Obama, others of Hillary Clinton, still others of John Edwards. There are the difficult children who believe that if only the children whine loudly enough for impeachment and for the end of the war, the adults will pay attention, impeach Bush and end the damned war. Then there are the good sons and daughters who make a point of understanding just what a difficult time mommy and daddy have at work, how they’re not as powerful as we all think they are. The Democrats don’t have the votes to impeach. If they defund the war, it will cost “us” the White House in 2008. Just be patient. This all takes time. Still others just sit quietly and wait patiently for “Fitzmass”.

This would all be fine if all of the various adult roles the children on the Daily Kos and Democratic Underground model were equally possible. The problem, however, as David Obey not so eloquently expressed, is that the options all of the adults in the Democratic Party have are extremely limited. They cannot impeach. They cannot end the war. They cannot restore habeas corpus. While the Republican family lives in a big house in Greenwich and its children have a realistic shot at growing up to be anything they want, the Democratic family lives in a walkup in the North Bronx. Men like David Obey, John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich and women like Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee are hard working, blue collar citizens who can only raise a fraction of the money that politicians on the right can. They do the best they can but, in the end, their kids aren’t going to Harvard.

In other words, the “good kids” on the Daily Kos are more in touch with reality than the bad kids. Shut up. Mommy and Daddy work hard. Leave them alone.

Instead of depending on the Democratic Party and on harried liberal Democratic politicians to end the war in Iraq, Americans should leave the children’s table and get out on their own. Groups like David Swanson’s After Downing Street Coalition, International Answer, World Can’t Wait, and United for Peace and Justice are, for all their many faults, a force outside of the two party mainstream. A mass, bipartisan anti-war and pro-impeachment movement doesn’t depend on liberal Democrats, but it’s goal doesn’t necessarily have to be about attacking them.

On the contrary, supporters of the Democratic party, far from ignoring or red baiting the anti-war movement, should embrace it. While the Democratic Party is limited in both resources and in options and while the progressive wing of the Democratic Party more limited still, the American people still have the ability to call on a force outside of the two party system, the threat of non-cooperation of a broad section of Americans with the war machine, a force that would effectively get the Democratic Party off the hook and take the responsibility of ending the war out of their hands. A “surge” of popular resistance would, in effect, tie the hands of both parties. If the threat of disorder were great enough, what you’d see would be a bipartisan group in Congress who would find a way to end the war and take the issue off the table for the election of 2008, which could then be about issues the Democrats want to talk about, social security, health care, the minimum wage, social justice. In other words, the Hagel/Feingold commission could do the hard work of ending the war and restoring the Constitution, and Barack Obama could smile his way all the way to the White House.

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