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Politics Mondays: Memo to Contrarians & Conspiracy Theorists: Stop Lying About Barbara Lee by David Sirota

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is a progressive champion, and a smart legislator. I have known this for a while, thanks to the time I worked with her and her office while a staffer for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Unfortunately, some of the people trumpeting her work are trying to manipulate her behavior into some sort of “proof” that progressive Democrats who voted for the Iraq supplemental bill sold out the antiwar movement.

During the debate over the Iraq bill, Lee crafted a tougher antiwar bill that she said she was considering trying to amend to the Iraq supplemental. Some contrarians who seem more interested in protesting than ending the war claim that Lee was barred from offering her legislation up for a vote. This is flat-out untrue.

Lee is on the House Appropriations Committee - the panel that crafted the Iraq supplemental. When that supplemental bill came through the committee, Lee had a chance to offer her legislation up for a vote. She refused. To say that Democrats barred any vote on Lee’s legislation is a fabrication.

Let me be clear: Lee’s refusal to offer her legislation was a very, very smart move. She displayed the same smarts I got to see firsthand when I worked with her during my time working with the founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Bernie Sanders. She likely calculated that it would have been defeated in committee and that such rejection would have been a major legislative setback for the antiwar movement.

Additionally, it is true that no amendments were allowed on the supplemental bill when it reached the floor. But that is because had amendments been allowed, progressive lawmakers knew that Lee’s amendment would fail and worse, that Republicans would offer an amendment to eliminate the antiwar provisions out of the existing bill that such amendment would unfortunately pass by a wide margin, and that this stripped down supplemental would pass with 300 votes - again, a scenario that would be a major setback for the antiwar movement (and a similar situation that would have happened had the supplemental been voted down altogether). And if you don’t believe that would have happened, then I have some real estate to sell you… and other organizations that asked their members for guidance about whether to support the supplemental or not were not trying to exclude Lee’s amendment out of some pro-war motivation any more than Lee refused to offer her amendment out of some pro-war motivation. They asked for guidance on this binary question because THAT WAS THE BINARY QUESTION BEFORE LAWMAKERS ON THE FLOOR OF THE HOUSE.

Folks can honestly disagree with whether passing the Iraq supplemental was a good or bad tactical move in pursuit of the goal of ending the war. I happen to think it was a very good move because I think when faced with whether to vote yes or no, a yes vote gets us closer to ending the war than a no vote. But I very much respect people who disagree on the merits of the tactics. After all, this is not an easy question with cut and dry answers in an imperfect legislative setting with an imperfect bill.

However, what I don’t respect - and what no one else should respect - are people who fabricate stories out of whole cloth in order to justify their own political relevance. I also don’t respect people who bill themselves as leaders of progressive political movements who simply haven’t spent 5 minutes learning the legislative process. Whichever is at work here - lying or sheer ignorance - is unacceptable, especially from professional political activists. Whipping up wild conspiracy theories does nothing but confuse people on the most important national security issue in a generation. That is an abominable disservice to the progressive movement, because it precludes issue organizing by destroying issue credibility.

Many voices who opposed voting “yes” on the supplemental have done really important work pressuring Congress - work that helped make sure the Democratic leaders themselves did not strip out the binding language to end the war. But these same voices truly damage their own ability to continue their important contributions when they fabricate storylines that have no relation to reality. There are many more fights to go to end this war, and forsaking their credibility out of spite is a sad display of destructive immaturity.

David Sirota is a political journalist and bestselling author. He is a senior editor of In These Times magazine. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and The Colbert Repor. He has been published in, among others, the Washington Post, the NY Times, the SF Chronicle. His writing is also syndicated at Working for Change.
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David Sirota

Monday, March 26, 2007

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