a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The other debate this Thursday — Gordon Clark and Chris Van Hollen

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 29th, 2008

Anticipation is building for the Biden-Palin vice presidential debate this Thursday — but another debate earlier the same evening here in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District deserves attention as well.  The League of Women Voters is sponsoring a debate between Representative Chris Van Hollen (D), Gordon Clark (Green Party), and other challengers this Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Rockville Library (21 Maryland Drive; Meeting Room 1; map). The debate will be preceded by a “Meet and Greet” event at 6:15 p.m. in Meeting Room 2 of the same building.

For a quick overview of where Van Hollen and Clark stand on a variety of issues, I recommend “Gordon Clark vs. Chris Van Hollen On The Issues.”*  As that pamphlet shows, there’s a strong positive case to be made for Gordon Clark.  If you want universal health care, if you oppose the InterCounty Connector (ICC), if you want strong, immediate action to rein in global warming, and if you oppose adding yet another war to those we’re already waging, you’re on Gordon Clark’s side.

But as a long-time Democrat, I’m also supporting Mr. Clark this election because I want to send a message to the Democratic Party and its leadership — Van Hollen is chair of the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — that I’m very dissatisfied with their leadership these last two years.

The main example, for me, is that Van Hollen joined Democratic leadership in stonewalling the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.  I remain convinced that this was nothing less than a violation of Van Hollen’s oath of office that he would protect the Constitution — not the Democratic Party, not the country, but the Constitution — against all enemies foreign and domestic.  (Clark has said he would support impeachment.)

As the saying goes, the Democratic leadership’s resistance to impeachment was worse than a crime, it was a blunder: it signaled that the administration was off the hook for any of its encyclopedia’s worth of crimes and corruptions, from torture to warrantless wiretapping — and that it could defy Congress with impunity.  The consequences have been all too plain: Harriet Miers, Josh Bolten, and Karl Rove are about to get away with defying subpoenas issued by the 110th Congress.  And now junior Bushies like the Palins are about to make subpoena defiance just another ho-hum legal ploy available to Republican scofflaws.

On Iraq, Mr. Van Hollen has voted for bills attaching timetables to further funding, and against ones without such controls; his early opposition to that war is to his credit.  But as part of a leadership with nothing to show for two years and a squandered 2006 mandate for change in Iraq, I’m no longer inclined to give Van Hollen the benefit of the doubt on that issue.  Worse, Van Hollen has all too often joined Republicans and all too many Democrats in cosponsoring bills that threaten to add a war with Iran to our ledger, and has actually voted against legislation trying to prevent that calamity.

Oddly, the drumbeat of bizarre concessions by the Democratic leadership to the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and corporate America has grown even louder even as an Obama presidency appears within grasp.

Until this weekend, the cave-ins on warrantless electronic surveillance and on offshore drilling seemed like the most disappointing surrenders imaginable, but now a $700 billion bailout seems to have dwarfed even that.  Given that a draconian Bankruptcy Bill was passed against Main Street Americans just over three years ago, it passes understanding that a genuinely democratic, progressive, populist Democratic Party would participate in a bailout for Wall Street without concessions for noncorporate Americans, without apparent reforms of the financial den of thieves that created the mess, and without apparent real, voting stakes for U.S. taxpayers in the companies benefitting from the coming largesse. As DCCC chair, Van Hollen’s personal opposition to that Bankruptcy Bill now pales in comparison with his support for a hideously expensive bailout — one that may snuff out the possibility of significant, desperately needed social spending in the years ahead (even if a President Obama manages to wind down our military adventures).

I’ve met Gordon Clark several times now and find him to be a serious, credible candidate who I agree with on the issues and who I can support without reservation.  Nevertheless, I take no pleasure in opposing Mr. Van Hollen, who has advocated many of the causes I support — support for labor, opposition to torture, an end to the war in Iraq.

But he has rarely actively championed any of them.  Instead, as Mr. Van Hollen has advanced to ever higher positions within the Democratic Party, I feel he has receded from view of — and gotten out of touch with — his constituents here in Montgomery County.  We didn’t oust a Republican moderate in 2002 simply to install a Democratic apparatchik who toes the leadership party line unless his vote can be spared.  Yet that seems to be what has happened with Mr. Van Hollen.

If Van Hollen had meaningfully broken with the Hoyers, Pelosis, and Emmanuels even once, I might feel differently. Some things are worth stepping down or creating a break within a party about — impeachment, the FISA Amendment Act, threatening war with Iran.  By contrast, Van Hollen has at best very quietly disagreed with, and at worst actively supported, some rather repugnant policies.  He thus supports a Democratic Party power structure that increasingly appears to be a collaborationist part of the problem rather than an oppositional part of the solution — and I then can’t help but suspect that as DCCC chair, he may be building a future party I’ll be no happier with.

I’m a former died-in-the-wool Democrat.  But I’ll not be treated like a safe vote, or have my district treated like a safe district if I can help it.  Nor will I be taken for a fool.  In particular, Van Hollen’s explanations on impeachment and on Iran have made no sense whatsoever, other than as talking points from higher up that he has chosen to relay verbatim.

If I have to decide between loyalty to a party, or loyalty to the principles I believe that party ought to stand for, it’s really no contest at all.  Thus I’m bound to say: Gordon Clark for Congress.

* I’ve set up a copy of this document that I’ll be annotating with links to many of the votes, cosponsorships, and other data it lists.
EDIT, 9/30: “InterCounty Connector (ICC)”  for “ICC.”

6 Responses to “The other debate this Thursday — Gordon Clark and Chris Van Hollen”

  1. Nell Says:

    If you want universal health care, if you oppose the ICC, if you want strong, immediate action to rein in global warming, and if you oppose adding yet another war to those we’re already waging

    Surely that’s “support the ICC”, yes? If ICC=International Criminal Court?

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    In this case, ICC = InterCounty Connector, a boondoggle toll highway project here in Montgomery County. A big deal for environmental and smart growth advocates, but it’s supported by nearly the entire Maryland power structure, from Gov. O’Malley on down — even though it was Ehrlich who rammed it through during his administration.

  3. mick Says:

    Sure it isn’t International Criminal Conspiracy? I could oppose that. It sounds bad.

    Seriously, it seems that you’ve come to a decision about how to handle the “BUT WE HAVE TO ELECT A DEMOCRAT!!!” election year hysteria: ignore it and go with what you think is right. You’ll take heat from party regulars, as we previously discussed, and if Obama loses it will be YOUR fault, no doubt;), but I admire your courage and will follow your lead and do likewise – if Savannah even has a Green Party. So far I can’t find it.

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Actually, I’m doing a kind of mixed strategy: some Clark and other (e.g., Million doors) work, tabling, lawn sign (when/if I get one) at the local level, but also some pro-Obama work in that contest. Not particularly courageous, actually, just one small step away from all Democratic Party, all the time.

    The ICC is kind of a teeny Montgomery County, MD version of the “there’s only one party” problem. Locals have opposed it for literally decades, but business/realty types want it believing against all evidence that it will reduce congestion, and will at any rate feed shoppers to a development in PG County, if I understand correctly. Now Gov. O’Malley (D) is pushing it through, with many local Dems either lined up for it or saying “what can we do, it’s a done deal.” Delegate Mizeur helped try to stop it, though.

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