Blue Dog Blues
Why is progressive Lynn Woolsey working so hard for center-right Jane Harman?
By Norman Solomon
This is a grim story about the care and feeding of a Blue Dog.
Right now, Southern California congresswoman Jane Harman is facing a serious primary challenge from a genuine progressive. Harman is a member of the center-right caucus of House Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition. She has chosen not to join the Progressive Caucus.
In sharp contrast, her opponent, Marcy Winograd, is calling for the government "to invest in housing, education, healthcare, transportation—not to perpetuate a war economy that is draining us, robbing us of money that we desperately need." And Winograd adds: "I challenge my opponent to stop voting for this war machine."
While belonging to the largest caucus on Capitol Hill (with a membership now above 80), some members of the Progressive Caucus often say that they need more colleagues who'll be willing to vote against war and in favor of a truly progressive legislative agenda. But if Progressive Caucus members want to move the House of Representatives in a progressive direction, you'd never know it when there's a real chance to replace a Blue Dog with a progressive.
Harman—who once proclaimed, "I am proud to be introduced as the best Republican in the Democratic Party"—has been straining lately to present herself as progressive while she tries to fend off the Winograd challenge.
With that goal, Harman has trumpeted endorsements for re-election from several well-known members of the Progressive Caucus. In particular, she has synced up her campaign spin with two of them: Henry Waxman from Los Angeles and Lynn Woolsey from the North Bay.
Rep. Waxman came through with a January fundraising letter that claimed, "In Marcy Winograd's foreign policy, Israel would cease to exist." The powerful congressman went on to trash the co-founder of LA Jews for Peace as an enemy of Israel.
In the same month, Rep. Woolsey, the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, startled longtime progressive admirers when she headlined the invitation to a fundraiser for Harman's campaign in her Los Angeles area district.
Within days, an open letter to Woolsey—initially signed by Progressive Democrats of America leaders Tim Carpenter, Mimi Kennedy, Donna Smith and me—gained more than 3,000 signatures from PDA activists across the country. We asked Woolsey to cancel her scheduled high-profile appearance at the Harman fundraiser.
"Given your longstanding and exemplary leadership on a wide range of peace and justice issues, it would be counterproductive to aid Rep. Harman's re-election efforts," we wrote. "Her pro-war record is well known." And the letter noted: "Harman has an equally appalling record on civil liberties, having lobbied the New York Times to suppress the story about Bush's wiretaps on the eve of the 2004 election, then going on television to defend the illegal wiretaps."
Our letter continued: "In addition, she voted for the bankruptcy bill, then more recently voted against mortgage relief in bankruptcy court, despite the fact that several thousand of her constituents are facing foreclosure. On the healthcare front, she recently voted against fast-tracking affordable generic medications for patients with breast cancer, brain tumors, Parkinson's and rare diseases."
When Woolsey went ahead with the Harman fundraiser, what her appearance gave to Harman's campaign most of all was the imprimatur of a political embrace from a longtime peace advocate who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Unfortunately, the care and feeding of a Blue Dog tends to be habitual.
In mid-April—just before the opening of the state Democratic Party convention that would decide whether to endorse Congresswoman Harman for re-election—the delegates received robo-calls from a heavyweight member of Congress, who declared: "I'm Henry Waxman, and my congressional district is right next to that of Jane Harman, who I'm proud to support for re-election."
A couple of days later, I was one of more than a thousand delegates to enter the convention hall and find a four-page glossy flyer that had been placed on every chair. Most of the first page was a picture of Harman and Woolsey, standing together in front of the Capitol.
The photo caption was a quote from Woolsey praising and endorsing Harman. The second page was devoted to a letter from Woolsey further extolling her.
When delegates voted later that morning, Harman won endorsement, 599–417.
It's one thing to support a Blue Dog Democrat in a general election against a Republican. It's quite another thing for members of the Progressive Caucus to defend a Blue Dog Democrat against a primary challenge from a genuine progressive Democrat.
Norman Solomon is national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign and the author of many books, including 'War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.' He lives in Marin County. A longer version of this article is online at www.normansolomon.com.
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