How ironic that I made my decision to challenge Jane Harman in 2006 after watching her Meet the Press interview in which she lambasted the New York Times for breaking the story about the Bush administration's massive illegal wiretapping. "Oh my God," I told my husband, who was doing Sunday sit-ups in front of the television set, "this woman needs to be challenged -- on the wiretaps, on the war, and on her collusion with the Bush mob."
By the time I poured my coffee and grabbed my cell phone, I was off and running, campaigning as an insurgent Democratic Party peace candidate in the 36th congressional district.
Now we see another page in the script. Reporter Jeff Stein tells us that Harman's sycophantic defense of the FISA violations was part of the deal: Harman, in return for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' help in halting an FBI investigation, would do her best to defend and deflect attention from the illegal wiretaps. The fact that Harman, herself, was wiretapped, perhaps with good reason, is simply serendipitous poetry.
And now it gets interesting. Will the Democratic Party establishment ignore this latest development in a longstanding corruption scandal? With Harman's next primary more than a year away, ignoring her quid-pro-quo may seem to be a viable strategy. But if ignoring it doesn't work, then the party establishment may need to distract people with something even more insidious than a Democratic Party congresswoman in bed with agents of a foreign power. Diverting attention elsewhere could make establishment Democrats do something they have so far refused to do -- prosecute the Bush administration torturers, shine the spotlight on those who gave the orders and provided legal cover to water board and more. This is the kind of diversion a progressive Democrat could relish. Impeach the war criminals. Prosecute those who gave the orders to torture.
Since the Harman-AIPAC story broke -- again -- friends and bloggers, including members of the Progressive Democrats of America have emailed me, asking, "Will you run again in 2010?" My response has been, "Or sooner?" (Politicians, even grassroots activists like myself, know how to answer a tough question with a question.) Whether Harman and the Democratic establishment can stand this heat, this pall, remains to be seen, though I wouldn't be surprised if a special election snuck up on us before 2010. Demands that Harman step down are already echoing in the halls of the blogosphere and among the grassroots of the 36th district.
The best part about this story is not what we know, but what we don't know, the questions that beg to be answered.
According to the New York Times, the AIPAC lobbyists had it all figured out. Haim Saban, the wealthy television producer, would threaten to withhold campaign contributions to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party if Pelosi refused to appoint Harman as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
Surely, this wasn't the first time AIPAC representatives promised to harness the almighty dollar for political purposes. Who else has AIPAC colluded with on the Hill? If the tapes are out there, Harman got caught, but isn't this a much larger story than just one woman bedazzled by men with money in their pockets and nuclear warheads in their backyards.
It is time AIPAC register as a foreign lobbyist.
During my congressional challenge to Harman, I dreaded answering questions about Israel and Palestine. The subject was nothing but a landmine, especially for a Jewish woman, like myself -- a believer in universal human rights -- challenging another Jewish woman, like Harman, in a district that included a substantial number of Israel supporters.
Right after the 2006 primary, however, Israel's invasion of Lebanon put the issue squarely on the table. As the Israeli bombs turned Lebanese neighborhoods into blood-filled craters, Harman went on television to justify the invasion. Never mind the carpet bombing.
Days later, after I, together with LA Jews for Peace, organized demonstrations in front of the Israeli consulate, Harman invited me and a dozen others who worked on my campaign to meet with her in her office. I implored her, literally begged her, to call for a cease-fire in the middle east. She wouldn't hear of it and drew back when I suggested she at least talk to members of Americans for Peace Now, a US offshoot of an Israeli peace group.
Was Harman a true believer in Israel and AIPAC or was she caught up in a script that had spun out of control?
Hard to say -- given the fact that so many of our Los Angeles-area law makers, from hawkish Howard Berman, Chair of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, to Henry Waxman, Chair of the House Energy Committee, have yet to raise a critical question about US military dollars funding Israel's use of white phosphorous and DIME explosives that instantly amputate in the open-air prison of Gaza.
As much as this story is about Harman, about her collusion with a Bush administration bent on breaking the law, it is also about the pernicious influence wielded in Washington by lobbyists for a foreign government.
It doesn't matter if it is Israel or China or Saudi Arabia.
We need to remind Harman and the rest of Congress who they represent: we the people of the United States of America.
Marcy Winograd is the Co-founder of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, LA Chapter of Progressive Democrats of America.
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