Friday, September 18, 2009

Trial by YouTube

I would like to make a point about my vote not to end federal funding of the group ACORN. We are starting down a slippery slope into a culture where we react in knee jerk fashion to the daily whims of Fox News and its cast of characters. I would have been willing to vote for a suspension of ACORN’s funding pending an investigation. I would have liked to have been able to vote on that measure in a stand alone bill that addressed concerns and put in place a plan to evaluate the complaints. But instead, ACORN was tried on YouTube, convicted n Fox News and sentenced by the Congress. The same purveyors of truth, justice and the American way that continue to promote the myth of “death panels”, delivered the death knell to a national non-profit organization that serves the urban poor. I am not saying ACORN is innocent of wrong doing. I am saying YouTube is not the proper venue in which the Congress should decide guilt or innocence. It seems there are many who promote process and transparency when it suits their needs and then promptly abandon those noble needs when it’s convenient to a vendetta.

Even in our own community, the paper of record one day will boldly shout for transparency and a proper public process and the very next day criticize those who thought an amendment to the Student Aid bill, which had zero funding for ACORN, was not the place to address these YouTube concerns.

We have seen this pattern before. In 1950 Joe McCarthy stepped to the microphone in Wheeling, West Virginia and held up a piece of paper that he claimed listed 205 card-carrying communists in the US State Department.

There was no trial. There were no hearings prior to that accusation, just a Senator at a microphone making a claim to grab headlines. The same day, the Senator sent a telegram to President Truman, revising his figure to 57 known communists and demanding that Secretary Acheson dismiss these enemies within. The telegram to the President concluded, “Failure on your part will label the Democratic Party of being the bedfellow of international communism. Certainly this label is not deserved by the hundreds of thousands of loyal American Democrats throughout the Nation, and by the sizable number of able loyal Democrats in both the Senate and the House.”

Much like today’s calculus, the goal is to tar all who do not bend to the will of the righteous who make accusations. The current drum beat says I must be with ACORN because I did not vote to end their funding. The truth is no one in the chamber yesterday knew enough about this situation to make a truly informed vote. Most, including many of my Democratic colleagues and friends, voted because they did not want to be associated with ACORN and found themselves in the crosshairs of Beck, O’Reilly or Dobbs.

President Truman wrote a response that was never sent to Senator McCarthy that I found in the Archives. It seems almost naive compared to what we hear from the halls of Congress today. It read:

Dear Senator:

I read your telegram of February eleventh from Reno Nevada with a great deal of interest and this is the first time in my experience, and I was ten years in the Senate, that I ever hear of a Senator trying to discredit his own Government before the world. You know that isn’t done by honest public officials. Your telegram is not only not true and an insolent approach to a situation that should have been worked out between man and man but it shows conclusively that you are not even fit to have a hand in the operation of the Government of the United States.

I am very sure that the people of Wisconsin are extremely sorry that they are represented by a person who has as little sense of responsibility as you have.

Sincerely yours,


On far too many subjects and issues important to our nation, reasoned discussion and passionate debate have been replaced by lies, distortions and a race to the bottom. Why debate, when one Member standing at a microphone can make whatever accusations he/she may like without evidence? Why have a conversation when all the proof one needs can be found on YouTube?

The Congress is letting itself be bullied by the purveyors of partisanship, and truth and fairness are becoming afterthoughts. The immediate satisfaction of a resignation or elimination has become intoxicating to some. It is not healthy for our institution, our democracy or our future.

There was a moment I had hoped the tone of Congress would make a turn for the better, but it seems the old tried and true ways of slash and burn politics prevail. Needless to say, it has been a frustrating week.