Sunday, February 10, 2008


[Note: Since Thursday, with some fear and trembling I began posting my blogs on Daily Kos, one of the world's most viewed political weblogs. I have ventured out into this world—and boy has it been a steep learning curve!—because I want to reach more people with my concerns about the Iraq war and civil liberties. Milo’s Janus Outlook will, of course, continue to be my primary point of expression. Sometimes, like today with John Quincy Adams, when I am writing for Kos on a subject I have written about earlier on Janus, I will be using historical material that I’ve used in earlier blogs. You can skip those parts. But, be careful because I may be using them in a new way. Thanks for your patience! It was your encouragement that gave me confidence to put my stuff out for wider view.]

The response to yesterday’s post, “
Debate the War,” was sobering. Am I whistling in the dark hoping for a serious debate on the war in Iraq? I say, “Is there a John Quincy Adams in the House (or Senate)?”

The sobering part was a comment from Snud with a link to an article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stones, titled “
The Chicken Doves”. The first paragraph makes clear where he is going:

Quietly, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been inspiring Democrats everywhere with their rolling bitchfest, congressional superduo Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have completed one of the most awesome political collapses since Neville Chamberlain. At long last, the Democratic leaders of Congress have publicly surrendered on the Iraq War, just one year after being swept into power with a firm mandate to end it.

Taibbi charges the Dems with systematically taking over the anti-war movement, packing it with party consultants more interested in attacking the GOP than ending the war. I don’t know about the truth of that charge, but there reason to take seriously his conclusion:

The really tragic thing about the Democratic surrender on Iraq is that it's now all but guaranteed that the war will be off the table during the presidential campaign. Once again — it happened in 2002, 2004 and 2006 — the Democrats have essentially decided to rely on the voters to give them credit for being anti-war, despite the fact that, for all the noise they've made to the contrary, in the end they've done nothing but vote for war and cough up every dime they've been asked to give, every step of the way.

Taibbi’s conclusion was echoed by
orionwest in his comment on my piece. He said that Obama and Clinton’s voting records are exactly the same to continue the war. He rejects the argument that Obama has given—he could also have included Clinton—that they were afraid Bush would let the troops starve and so voted for funding.

Matt Browner Hamlin offered another perspective in his diary “
Stopping Sexism vs Stopping Retroactive Immunity”. He spoke of his efforts over the last four and a half months to pressure the major Democratic presidential candidates to use their platform to speak out forcefully against retroactive immunity for telecom companies and the expansion of executive powers sought by the Bush administration. He argues that leadership from these candidates could set the tone for the FISA debate and raise retro-immunity to the level of presidential politics.

He points to an example of the power a presidential campaign has to impact the media. On Thursday night, MSNBC’s David Shuster made a shocking sexist comment about Chelsea Clinton’s role as a surrogate in her mother’s campaign. The response from the Clinton campaign was swift: the Clinton campaign “pushed back as hard as they could and made sure that MSNBC got the message.” On Friday NBC News responded and suspended Schuster.

Hamlin agreed with the Clinton response and went on:

But what would it look like to see the Clinton campaign put on a full court press to get the traditional media to recognize the critical importance of what is happening in the Senate? What if in addition to fighting sexism in the media, the Clinton campaign started to demand the media report on the state of the Constitution and the rule of law?

What better way could Obama and Clinton (and McCain, for that matter) demonstrate their leadership capabilities to the country than as Senators at this critical time in history? It would be real-world leadership instead of virtual-world sound-bites on the stump.

Reading the responses to my post today reminded me of another time in our history, when our nation’s leaders refused to talk about the most critical issue of their time. Slavery was so deeply entrenched and so great was the fear that the issue would result in the breakup of the United States, the subject could not even be discussed in Congress.

While the members of Congress could agree not to discuss such a distasteful matter, they had a harder time deciding what to do with the anti-slavery petitions that flooded in from groups all over the North. Congress could—and did—agree not to initiate any legislation themselves about the matter, but what about the right of citizens to petition their government? Many of the petitions came from women’s groups, their only voice to the government because they didn’t have the right to vote or to hold elected office. Congress enacted a “gag rule” to insure that these anti-slavery petitions would be summarily rejected without any action or even discussion.

How could it be that the Congress refused even to debate the issue that was tearing the country apart? John Quincy Adams didn’t accept the Congressional consensus. Adams was President for one term (1825-1829) who came back to Congress as a member of the Massachusetts delegation until his death (1831-1848). The story is told in a little known book by eminent historian, William Lee, Miller, Arguing about Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress. For nine years Adams labored to get the issue of slavery into national debate by Congress. Almost single-handedly – with little support from his colleagues, northern or southern -- he defied gag orders, accusations of treason, and assassination threats, until he succeeded. His campaign to get slavery discussed has been called by some historians “the Pearl Harbor of the slavery controversy.” It was the beginning of the end of slave-holding in the United States.Where is our “John Quincy Adams”?

It is easy to whip up on our presidential candidates and members of Congress. We are more inclined to let ourselves off the hook for our failure to press the issue in our communities and among our friends. John Quincy Adams had not only his conscience to sustain him in his nine year fight; he had hundreds of thousands of petitions pouring into Washington demanding an end to slavery. We need to insure that Congress has the equivalent from us in the hinterland. Hats off to all of you who have been doing it for years! But that is not enough. Each of us has circles of friends and groups where we can push the issue in the way we are asking members of Congress to do there. Let’s hold our ourselves to the same standard we are asking of our leaders. Let the debate commence!

- Milo

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