Monday, January 16, 2012

Jim Cooper and the bloggers

`I'll start at the end of Jim Cooper's meeting with a handful of local bloggers at Bongo Java Saturday. As Rep. Cooper wound up the meeting and left I hailed his communications director, Katie Hill, to follow up with questions I did not get a chance to ask.

I referred her attention to this week's Nashville Scene interview with her boss where he responded to the Scene's questions about the long awaited federal court house by criticizing the line-jumping that more influential Congressmembers did to get their projects through. I offered the feedback that inside moves that members made to check and out-maneuver one another is really not an issue of principal. Whether Nashville moves up or down in consideration is really an inside-baseball issue and that many voters expect our elected representatives to make the inside moves we cannot make to give us more of an advantage.

Rep. Cooper had already told our klatch that he wanted to return to a Congressional era in the past less dictated by ensconced Congressmembers pulling strings behind the scenes. I asked Katie rhetorically what era he meant, given that the DC of Jim Wright, Tip O'Neill, and LBJ seemed focused on back-room arm-twisting and influence.

Rep. Cooper had already told us that he considered high-visibility and independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to be ineffective on Capitol Hill. Right after he said that I chimed in that many in the Occupy movement referred to Sen. Sanders as effective at bringing more national attention to their cause. During my exchange with Katie, I suggested that some might consider Rep. Cooper's principled stand on the fight for infrastructure for their states and districts as ineffective. I was thinking in terms of the "Chicago Way": you don't bring a knife to a gun fight. I reiterated to Katie that these internal matches are not moral questions and to make them such might be considered "ineffective" by some who want to see infrastructure. However, I added, the issue of indefinite detention is a moral question.

Rep. Cooper had already responded to my question of whether he would support legislation to take indefinite detention out of the 2012 defense authorization bill by not really answering whether he would support it. He called indefinite detention a "murky, presidential powers/Supreme Court issue". He continued: "the current law on that is that if they are a proven terrorist or there are a lot of factors here that then they can be detained, but it is infinitely worrisome anytime it is a citizen." I would put it more strongly: it's not just worrisome, it's an absolute violation of basic human rights. Rep. Cooper called this a "gray area", and he argued that Congress has failed to make sense of this 'murky area". He mentioned the drone attack on Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen on foreign soil. He seemed to suggest that we have been down the rabbit hole since World War II. However, he also insisted that President Obama is trying to get us away from this by winding down the war in Iraq. I did not get how this connected with defending the rights of citizens who are more likely to be indefinitely detained, who are more likely to disappear under this act.

Rep. Cooper had already given the Occupy movement its due after I posed the question as to whether their focus on jobs and wealth distribution was a diversion from the focus on the budget deficit. He handled the pitch ably. He responded that Occupy "balanced the debate". He tied his priority of "getting the budgets right" with helping people, and he emphasized that solving the budget deficit is consistent with the radical democracy of Occupy Wall Street. Rep. Cooper indicated that the deficit numbers are only important if they help or hurt the common people. But he did not address the question of how banks and other powerful finance interests were hurting people, only how Congress's lack of accountability was hurting people.

And that gets me back to a question that I raised with Katie after our time ran out with Rep. Cooper: there are larger moral issues here than the internal mechanism of Congress. The moral issues involve even more of a clear ethical distinction regarding indefinite detention or wealth disparity than they do regarding the privilege of congressional pecking order. If there ever was a time when Congress worked equitably, it was not just a matter of the internal clockwork. It was also due to a healthier, more progressive democracy outside.

In my opinion Jim Cooper should do whatever it takes to bring home the bacon to his district, but he should also focus more broadly on larger civil rights and economic challenge that have brought American democracy to a watershed. That is what I tried to convey to Katie before I left on Saturday.

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