Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Worrying about the "institutional gravities of Congress"

This explained something for me. To give it a little context, it’s from a radio program featuring a story about U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, and why he was – unaccountably – in favor of military spending even though he had been against it.

For Rep. Lewis, the institutional gravities of Congress and the corporate-sponsored Democratic party were stronger than the living will of his constituents and the memory of the Freedom Movement combined. So the question for Black America now is, if a black congressman near the end of his career with a safe seat and the historical stature of a John Lewis could not speak and would not vote for truth against power in the Bush era, what can we expect from elected black Democrats now that a black face is in the White House?

This came to my attention in a daily email from opednews.com, a valuable aggregator website that prowls for news and comment useful to us progressive thinkers. You can sign up for it too.

As I said at the top, this explained something for me. One of the mysteries of political observing in South Florida is why our two Democratic members of the U.S. House, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20) and Kendrick Meek (FL-17), fall so neatly in line with their local Republican colleagues, the Diaz-Balart brothers (FL-21 and FL-25) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), on Cuba issues such as the travel ban. This shows up in these days of changes in Cuba policy when both Meek and Wasserman Schultz are dubious about the modest changes ordered by Barack Obama. While the Diaz-Balarts put out a statement calling it a “serious mistake,” outgoing Republican Sen. Mel Martinez curiously was a little milder, at least in his recognition that the policy change would be good for Cuban families now permitted more contact between their branches in Cuba and the United States.

The two phrases – “the institutional gravities of Congress” and “the corporate-sponsored Democratic Party” – were apt and evocative in describing what we constituents are up against in the wishes we beam to our members of Congress. They sit up there stewing in the same office buildings and dining halls and debate chambers and grow away from their constituents, and then they go party with the lobbyists and big corporate donors and grow even further away from us. As John Lewis grows away from his anti-war constituents.

We need some help to break through these lines of thought that live in the minds of our members of Congress. These are issues of framing, how to word arguments. We’re not too far from the start of campaigning for the 2010 Congressional elections, which will be bigger than ever in Florida with an open Senate seat (Mel Martinez’) and the possibility of wholesale change in state government if Charlie Crist goes for Senate rather than re-election as governor. Time to be thinking not only of who will run but also how to help shape the candidates’ platforms, and how to reduce the importance of money in campaigning – now that we’re all so much poorer.

Will you have as much money to give to political candidates next year as you did in 2008? Not I.

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