I got an personal email from Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean today. On a Sunday morning, the DNC chief wrote me to take issue with what I wrote on March 7 in this space. I said that pressure from Democratic party leaders was the reason not one member of the House has filed a bill of impeachment against our president for trashing the U.S. Constitution.
The article clearly hit a nerve.
“The DNC is not in the business of telling Congress to go easy on this President,” Dean wrote. “I’d be grateful if you could correct the report.”
It’s nice to be noticed as a columnist, and I will clarify my point. I agree with Dean that the DNC as an organization is not telling Congress anything. Indeed, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), vice chair of the DNC, is one of the latest in a slowly growing number of Democratic members of the House to sign on to Rep. John Conyers’ December bill (HR 635) calling for a special panel to investigate impeachable crimes by the president. But that said, I’ve also learned from people close to the members of Congress who’ve been feeling the heat that Democratic Party leaders–the people who run the key party organizations such as the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the Democratic House Campaign committee, and the DNC–are putting intense pressure on members to prevent a bill of impeachment.
Those same people are the reason that Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) found himself all alone for days after he filed a bill in the Senate proposing to censure President Bush for his crime of secretly authorizing illegal warrantless electronic spying on Americans by the National Security Agency. They’re the reason why even after intense citizen lobbying, only two other Democratic senators, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, have co-sponsored Feingold’s motion.
Dean, who felt the sulphurous breath of the DNC on his neck during his presidential nomination bid in 2004, well knows its power, as wielded by the party’s conservatives. Indeed, he tells me that the leadership does not “speak with one voice” and that he’s working to “change the direction of the Party.” It’s an effort in which one can only wish him well.
The “mainstream” Democratic losers like Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Charles Schumer, who want the Democratic Party to remain a top-down, hollowed-out shell of an organization incapable of challenging Republican power, are frightened silly by the groundswell of public sentiment for impeachment, and for ending the war in Iraq. While Dean, as DNC chair, may be trying his best to shift the party in a more progressive and oppositional direction, they are busy undercutting progressive candidates for office, financing “acceptable” candidates (who are likely to lose their races), and preventing independent action and confrontation in Congress ala Feingold’s motion.
Fifteen years ago, the late Rep. Henry Gonzalez of Texas filed an impeachment motion against the first President Bush for his invasion of Iraq, which Gonzalez said was unconstitutional. He did it on his own, and nobody stopped him, though the president went after him for it later.
Where is today’s Henry Gonzalez, when the current president’s impeachable crimes, including his illegal invasion of Iraq, are so much more serious?
The answer is that the Democratic Party leadership, or at least key elements of it, has beaten them into silence, fearful that they won’t get campaign money, or that the party will punish them in some other way, through lost committee assignments or perhaps even a primary challenge.
Sen. Feingold is a welcome exception to the prevailing cowardice that grips the Democratic Party incumbents in House and Senate.
But it is a good sign that Chairman Dean is asking for a correction. It’s a sign that the grassroots rebellion against Democratic Party complacence is having an impact.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.
He can be reached at: email@example.com