The Mugging of Murtha

by , November 18, 2006

They mugged Jack Murtha, and the voters, Thursday morning. As the House Democratic caucus voted to install Rep. Steny Hoyer in the number-two leadership spot, over at the liberal Huffington Post they were running a large picture of Speaker Nancy and Hoyer making nice for the cameras, in a let’s-join-hands photo-op veritably oozing with phoniness. The headline cited Pelosi’s message: "We Made History Now Let’s Make Progress for the American People." It’s like reading the front page of Pravda, circa 1936: "Ten-Year Plan Over-Fulfilled!" over a photo of the Soviet hierarchy posed against the backdrop of the Kremlin.

Back in the half-forgotten days of the Cold War era, Kremlinologists – remember them? – used to carefully monitor the subtleties of these joint appearances: where one official stood, and in relation to whom, supposedly revealed the hidden struggle for power among the inner leadership. Published photos in particular signaled the rise and fall of political fortunes: which is why the Soviets went to the extraordinary lengths of altering photographic evidence that gave comfort to their ideological enemies, literally airbrushing Leon Trotsky and other prominent heretics out of existence.

In this spirit, then, examine the CNN photo of Nancy’s coronation and notice its composition: Rahm Emanuel to the left of her, Hoyer to her right – a veritable Praetorian Guard that is little short of menacing. The former torpedoed antiwar candidates in the primary and snubbed them in the general election, while the latter defeated antiwar leader Jack Murtha – frowning in the background – for majority leader on the strength of a smear campaign of extraordinary proportions. Are the men surrounding Madam Speaker an honor guard, or a police escort? Who’s in charge here?

Arrayed against Murtha was a united front of the Democratic Party establishment, from a George Soros-backed "liberal" consumer-complainer group to an anonymously run YouDontKnowJack.org, featuring replays of the infamous Abscam tapes. In the video, Murtha rejects an offer of a bribe while FBI agents disguised as wealthy Arabs – the Borat-style mustaches are a riot – try to lure him into a compromising position, without much success. Murtha was completely exonerated in a subsequent investigation – but that didn’t stop the smear brigade from surfacing this age-old sludge.

To hear some Democrats, adherents of an ideology that revolves around the pork barrel, denounce Murtha as "corrupt" is the ultimate in unintentional humor. Aside from the hypocrisy, however, there is the rather more interesting aspect of this contest as a clash of political cultures.

The gruff, regular-guy congressman from Pennsylvania, a longtime friend of the military (and especially veterans), is a typical bring-home-the-bacon congressman of the Democratic breed; not everyone can be Ron Paul. Hammered for calling the "anti-corruption" rules favored by Pelosi "crap," Murtha might have answered that Hoyer calls for a relaxation of the rules involving foreign junkets sponsored by "nonprofit" "educational" organizations – i.e., foreign lobbyists.

Go here for a fascinating breakdown of their respective campaign contributors, which seems to debunk the popular idea that the War Party is simply the voice of the armaments industry. And I would note an intriguing detail: Hoyer has an unusually high total contribution coming from "ideological" and "single-issue" groups.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to debunk the smears and engage the Hoyerites in a full-fledged debate: the knifing of Murtha was done quickly, in the dark – a secret ballot of the Democratic caucus, and then that phony photo-op. As their mandate lies bleeding on the floor…

The Great Realignment of 2006 lasted a little over a week before it turned into the Great Sellout. It is a perfect illustration of how the War Party controls the leadership of both major parties and maintains its grip on the levers of power. Given near-monopoly status on account of repressive ballot access laws in most states, the parties can thwart the popular will. Given a mandate for peace, the Democratic Party leadership has effectively rejected it and reversed the election results.

Americans voted for peace, and they’re going to get more war. That’s how our Bizarro democracy works, and all I can say is God bless Bizarro America, land of the duped and home of the cowed.

Back when the Democrats were AWOL on the Iraq issue, Murtha changed the debate over the war by coming out for a rapid American withdrawal. His stance caused a sensation: here was a conservative Democrat, a veteran Marine, whose campaign chest is heavy with cash from the defense sector, surely no Dennis Kucinich – and he wants us out now! Close to the military establishment, Murtha is seen to reflect opinion in the senior ranks that this war is unwinnable and likely to spread, stretching the fighting capacity of the world’s last superpower to the breaking point. His high-profile stance represented a threat and had to be smashed – as it was.

It is instructive to observe how readily supposedly "liberal" groups stabbed the antiwar movement in the back by fueling the "Murtha = corruption" meme: they caviled that the conservative Catholic congressman is anti-abortion and not exactly a San Francisco Democrat, either in style or substance. With his blue-collar demeanor, Murtha is the exact opposite of the white-wine-and-brie crowd – i.e., big business and the "labor" aristocracy – that mobilized around Hoyer.

As support for a quick exit from Iraq gathers strength among the public, the Washington elite draws closer together in defense of a failed policy, and the differences between the Democrats and Republicans begin to meet and merge. In the face of a popular rebellion against the madness of our foreign policy, both wings of the War Party present a united front against the electoral onslaught. Faced with the "choice" of John McCain versus Hillary Clinton in 2008, both pro-war and avidly interventionist, where does the antiwar majority go?

The choice between Hoyer and Murtha was clear. While the loser is a hero to the antiwar movement, the victor was characterized by the Washington Monthly as follows:

"Hoyer has always advocated a more hawkish approach to national security than many Democrats. In 1985, he broke with his party to support funding for Reagan’s MX missile, and in the 1990s pressured President Clinton to lift the arms embargo against Bosnian Muslims, and to intervene more aggressively in the Balkans. Unlike Pelosi, he voted to authorize Bush to invade Iraq. Then, last November, after Murtha – a longtime Pelosi ally who had run her whip campaign in 2000 – called for an immediate withdrawal, Hoyer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) urged Pelosi not to join Murtha, arguing that doing so would hurt Democrats politically."

I warned that this sellout would earn something of a record for swiftness, and I deeply regret being right. Believe me, nothing would be better if we could hand the job over to the newly installed Democratic Congress and relax as they extricate us from the Iraqi quagmire. Yet that clearly is not happening: instead, the Democrats, content with purely symbolic measures, are abstaining when it comes to Iraq, neither challenging the present policy of "stay the course" nor erecting any roadblocks to possible future escalation of the war.

Now we hear talk of a "final push," a sudden increase in the number of troops to leave some sort of semi-permanent imprint on the chaos. How many more have to die in order to save the face of the Washington know-it-alls?

This once again underlines the basic principle at the heart of any peace movement worthy of the name: put not your trust in politicians. The people voted to get us out of Iraq, and instead the Democrats will stand idly by – at best – while we get in deeper. They can concentrate on extending the welfare state and wait for the Baker Commission to somehow magically come up with a comfortably "bipartisan" solution. It isn’t going to happen.

The sellout continues apace, and you can’t say you weren’t warned. Antiwar.com hasn’t hesitated to say what isn’t popular and speak truth to power, especially when it comes to the complicity of both parties in taking us down the road to war. We cannot rely on anything but a mass movement from below to end the war, and the mugging of Jack Murtha confirms it. That’s why the continuity of Antiwar.com is so important – and why you should join with hundreds of others in ensuring that we are able to carry on our work.

The response to our fundraising effort this week has been frankly atrocious, and I don’t think I’m amiss in thinking that this has much to do with the Democratic victory. Many of our readers and supporters apparently believed this would inaugurate a new era of peace, the neocons would be driven out of the temple of democracy, and the troops would come home shortly afterward. Now that they are beginning to realize this is nothing more than a pipe dream, they have a chance to redeem themselves.

We frankly cannot continue to operate Antiwar.com with the present level of contributions. Unless you, our readers and supporters, come through with a massive show of support, we’ll be forced to make huge cutbacks: more than half the staff will have to go, and we’ll be left with a skeleton budget and the looming possibility of imminent closure. It isn’t a pretty picture.

The complete defeat of the antiwar Democrats at the hands of the War Party contains a lesson that needs to be absorbed, but surely it implies that bedrock institutions like Antiwar.com are essential to the cause of peace.

We don’t have any illusions of a quick victory in the battle to change American foreign policy. We have been fighting the War Party since 1995, so we have no inflated expectations in that regard. It is a long, hard slog, and that’s what this fundraising campaign has turned into: we’re fighting the illusion that we can let the politicians take care of our problems all on their own, without any impetus or pressure from below.

Now, perhaps, that illusion has been shattered. The fate of Jack Murtha and the public pronouncements of Democratic party leaders bode ill for congressional action to end the war. You’ll be needing Antiwar.com around for quite a bit longer, but we can’t do it without your contribution. Help save Antiwar.com – contribute today.

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