By: Harry Waisbren
Marcy Wheeler wrote a fantastic post on a report from The Hill over how “the president picked up the phone several weeks ago to find out why Conyers was “demeaning” him.” The Hill discussed the story in context to how it highlights Obama’s sensitivity to criticism from the left, while Marcy wrote about it in regards to Obama’s view that criticisms from even his strongest supporters (chairing congressional committees no less) can be “demeaning”.
Conyers is far more than a disgruntled progressive falling out of love with Obama.
That said, he is in many ways the archetypal disgruntled progressive. The issues the Hill cites–Afghanistan, health care, Gitmo, and PATRIOT–are many of those that progressive everywhere split with Obama on.
Obama was always a hawk on Afghanistan. He was always a moderate on health care reform–though he did campaign on a public option. It’s the latter two issues the Hill cites–Gitmo and PATRIOT–that violate Obama’s campaign stance that “no one is above the law” and that he would revisit FISA immediately (the Administration has rejected such efforts now, including the HJC bill aiming to do just that). Conyers’ complaints with Obama are the complaints we all have.
Then again, unlike the rest of us, Conyers is Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which just so happens to be the committee that oversees these “rule of law” issues.
And it’s on that level where the accusations of “demeaning” seem most important. Obama has asked Congress to roll over on issues and, in SJC at least, succeeded in getting top people (like Pat Leahy) to do so. On PATRIOT and Gitmo, Conyers has thus far refused to do so.
So who is demeaning whom? If the President demands that a Democrat who has served in Congress since Obama was four years old, one who paved the way on civil rights issues to make it possible to elect an African American man President, and one who played a key role in Obama winning the primary, just roll over on legislative issues, who is demeaning whom?
This is an important story in relation to Get FISA Right, as we are also a coalition who have supported Obama yet who have the gall to “demean him” by publicly disagreeing with his stances on the Patriot Act in particular while pushing for him to do better. If the president is making these sort of demands from Chairman Conyers of all people, regrettably, it might shed light on how he currently views our attempts to open up a substantive discourse with him in regards to these policies on which we would like to show him the way.
Such an attitude certainly betrays the notion—still expressed at the top of the Organizing for America website—that he is asking us to believe in our own ability to bring change to Washington. However, words have consequences, and the inspiration behind Obama’s words can not be undone.
We all must continue to believe that we hold this capacity, and just because Obama is in Washington now (and appears to be feeling its effects) it does not mean that we must go back to believing merely in his own ability to bring change.
It is a citizen’s duty to act—as Marcy says, citizenship is something you do—and we all should internalize the belief that YES WE STILL CAN!