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August 01, 2006

President Clinton and Jim McDermott

Nobody can touch Clinton for clarifying issues in a manner that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.  He said over and over again last night that the Republicans believe that the source of America’s greatness lies in the big corporations and the Democrats believe that the source of America’s greatness lies in ordinary citizens living their lives in the best way they can.  That is the reason the Republicans believe in the concentration of wealth and power and we believe that government should be open and empowering of people.  They have an ideology; we have a philosophy.  And if you favor ideology, facts are irrelevant and argument is the providence of weak minds.  We favor an inclusive community and try to set it up so people can get together and figure out what to do.

Clinton was in town for yesterday for three events, two public.  The first was a fundraiser for Maria Cantwell, which I’m sure was lovely but was a bit more expensive than I chose to pay.  Andrew shared some about it over at the NPI blog.

I went to the less expensive McDermott event at Benaroya Hall and it was lovely.  We were in the position of having to wait for our main speaker who is notoriously late but the set-up worked for me.  Taking advantage of the acoustics at Benaroya Hall, they opened with four wonderful musical groups: the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble, the Garfield High School Alumni Duo, Stanley Jordon on the guitar, and Children of the Revolution.  Thom Hartmann was emceeing and he took the opportunity before introducing Jim McDermott to discuss the history of the freedom of speech from the signing of the Magna Carta through the inclusion of the Bill of Rights to well, Jim McDermott.

When McDermott came on he said that he was so excited about the entire program that he momentarily considered calling his Republican friends and thanking them for making this all possible.  He said, “I’m trying to defend the people’s right to know and I needed a little help from my friends.”

I had only had a sketchy picture of McDermott’s legal difficulties before yesterday.  Between the information provided in the program and Jim’s talking about it on stage, I understand the importance of what he has done on behalf of all of us.

Here’s the short version:  Jim McDermott was on the Ethics Committee in 1994 back when that committee was still a functioning committee in the House.  Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House, was under investigation for a number of transactions, including a multi-million dollar book deal with Rupert Murdoch.  At McDermott’s insistence, a special counsel was appointed to investigate the charges.  A fine of $300,000 was imposed on Gingrich.  The agreement included a promise not to orchestrate a media response to downplay the importance of the violations.

Shortly after, a tape of just such a phone call orchestrating that response was provided to McDermott because of his role on the Ethics Committee.  John Boehner was on a trip to Florida with his family and was on the call from his car outside a pancake house while the rest of his family was in eating breakfast.  A couple with a police scanner picked up the call, decided it might be important and taped it.  When McDermott listened to the call, he recognized Gingrich’s voice and understood that Gingrich was manipulating the message to the press in direct violation of his agreement with the Ethics Committee.

McDermott thought the public ought to know about this and provided the tape to the New York Times.  The ethics charges and Gingrich’s violation of his agreement were a significant part of the reason for his forced resignation in November 1998.   

The Republicans in turn pressed the Justice Department to investigate McDermott for illegal activities, which they did but found nothing to prosecute.  So John Boehner sued McDermott in civil court, the first time in history that one member of Congress has sued another.

That was nine years ago.  The case has bounced back and forth up to the Supreme Court (where McDermott won) and back to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, which is notoriously conservative where McDermott has been required to pay some of Boehner’s court costs.  There have been minimal attempts to settle out of court but nothing has been offered by Boehner that has made sense to McDermott.  The next hearing is set for October 31, 2006.

Well, sorry.  I guess that wasn’t the short version, maybe the medium length version. 

As McDermott said in his closing remarks before turning the stage over to Clinton, “I can’t let my country down; I can’t let my constituents down; and I can’t let the Constitution down.”

McDermott introduced Clinton with the famous words from Clinton’s first inaugural address: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” 

This wouldn’t be a bad rallying cry for this upcoming election, something that Clinton focused a lot on when he spoke.

He started by reminded us of how little can be done when the Republicans have both Houses of Congress and the Presidency.  It’s no wonder that it looks like it’s hard to hear a strong Democratic message.  It doesn’t get play.

That’s when he talked about the differences between Republicans and Democrats that I wrote about at the top of the post.  He provided several examples of what happens when you govern by ideology rather than basing decisions on reality.

He talked about one that potentially impacts Seattle big time – protecting our ports.  The 9/11 commission strongly recommended that the US check a minimum of 20-30% of incoming cargo ships.  That is the minimum that actually serves as a deterrent for terrorists to try to slip arms and bombs in by that means.  Currently we check 5%.  Before the 2004 election, the Democrats introduced a bill to double the amount of ships to be checked to 10%, a good beginninng.  They were going to pay for it by reducing the increase in the tax cut for the wealthy.  No go.  It was more important to the Republicans to give the top 1% of wealthy Americans $5000 more each in tax cuts per year than to make 300 million Americans safe.  That is ideology. 

Clinton had many more examples, in better healthcare and clean energy, more biofuels, greater conservation, better public transportation, fighting global warming, addressing bird flu and on and on.   

He closed with a reference from a book that Ron Suskind wrote recently, entitled “The 1% Solution” where he documents the Republican leadership talking derisively about Clinton and Colin Powell and others being trapped in the “reality-based world”.  He said that as a kid from a troubled family, he had fought to get into the real world and he wasn’t about to agree to get out of it.

It was a great talk and a great evening.

Posted by Lynn Allen on August 1, 2006 at 11:10 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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