Pelosi’s hand-picked DCCC chief seems to have a problem opposing Republicans

Before I begin, two points. One, by the headline phrase “opposing Republicans” I mean “opposing Republican House leaders” — it seems that DCCC chief Steve Israel is running a “protect Republican leadership” operation. Read on.

And two, this is ultimately not a Steve Israel post — the good folks at DownWithTyranny are all over that man, and not in a good way. This is a Nancy Pelosi post. Again, read on.

Steve Israel promised to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker in 2012 — How did he do?

Howie Klein at DownWithTyranny has been following progressive (and not-so-progressive) Democratic candidates for a while, and knows whereof he speaks. There’s much from Howie on Steve Israel, Nancy Pelosi’s hand-chosen once-and-future DCCC chairman, in a recent important post, and I want to highlight it here.

For those who don’t know, the DCCC is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the House group officially responsible for electing Democrats to the House. The House party leader — in this case, Ms. Pelosi — appoints the head of the DCCC. Nancy Pelosi chose Steve Israel last time to work his make-me-Speaker magic (which failed), and as this story shows, wants him do to more of that in the next election cycle as well. (Bottom line, Pelosi won’t be Speaker after 2014 either. Read on.)

Howie tells us what Steve Israel actually does. The story starts here (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

This Cycle’s Biggest Turkey: Meet Steve Israel (D-NY)

Nancy PelosiAll the votes are counted and all the races decided– although there’s a Republican vs Republican runoff in Louisiana and a recount pending in North Carolina that could put Blue Dog Mike McIntyre’s razor thin win in jeopardy– and the make up of the new Congress goes from 240 Republicans and 190 Democrats to 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats [note: 11 seats gained]. Nationally Democrats won slightly over half a million more votes in congressional races but because of grotesquely partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina winning a majority of seats is virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, earlier in September Nancy Pelosi predicted that Democrats would win back the 25 House seats they needed to make her Speaker again. In fact, she told the media, the Democrats were on track to win a net of at least 27 seats. The man she had picked to chair the DCCC, Steve Israel, had given her the dope. “Steve,” she gushed to the press, “has sufficient reptilian tendencies to do the job.”

That phrase “reptilian tendencies” — and the implied underhandedness and willingness to betray — was meant by Pelosi as praise. Turns out the reptile doesn’t just bite Republicans. He’s a traitor who also bites Democrats if they’re insufficiently Doggish:

A former Blue Dog and New Dem, Israel left those caucuses to pursue a leadership role in the House Democratic Caucus. He excels in raising money from corporate interests and especially from Wall Street and making sure they feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

In a rationally organized societal situation Steve Israel would be sharing a prison cell with Duke Cunningham or Tom DeLay. Inside the House Democratic Caucus, he’s hailed as a leader. Even after he dismally failed to win the 25– let alone the 27– seats he promised Pelosi, he was reappointed DCCC chairman [by Pelosi] for the next cycle. … It became apparent from the moment Israel took over the Committee that winning back the majority wasn’t his primary goal; restocking the Caucus with “his kind of Democrats” [Blue Dog types] was his primary goal.

That’s pretty plain. Keep that phrase “Wall Street” in mind.

How do Steve Israel and the DCCC really operate?

And now for a little story of how Mr. Israel works his Blue Dog magic. Here’s Klein with an insider tale from the Rob Zerban–Paul Ryan 2012 House race (yes, that Paul Ryan, and yes, this year’s House race). Do you think Zerban, who did quite well, got any help from Israel? Quite the contrary — Israel, who controls the purse of DCCC expenditures on House races, well and truly stiffed Paul Ryan’s Democratic opponent. And he told big Dem donors to stiff him as well. Read on:

Early in the campaign I met a very wealthy, very powerful woman who I had been avoiding for a couple of years. … And then… a wrinkle. It turns out she’s one of the biggest Democratic contributors in California. And, I was told by an intermediary, she was willing to raise big money for Rob Zerban, the progressive candidate against Paul Ryan who was being stonewalled by Steve Israel and the DCCC– and who was a top priority for Blue America.

I’m easy; I even agreed to meet at the single most repulsive plutocratic watering hole in Los Angeles. I was sitting and reading Chris Mooney’s brilliant new book, The Republican Brain when she swept into the restaurant. The first words out of her mouth, perhaps before even “hello,” were that “your candidate” wasn’t really going to run. She had just spoken with “Steve,” she assured me, and he had told her not to waste her time or money. Rob Zerban wasn’t the Democratic candidate and wouldn’t even be running. The meeting went downhill from there.

Thanks to independent funding from ActBlue, Zerban funded and ran a credible race (Klein says 2012 was “easily the closest Ryan has ever come to being defeated since he was first elected in the traditionally Democratic seat in 1998”). Imagine what Zerban could have done with Democratic party support. He might — gasp — have won. Again, this was a Dem-voting Obama district in 2008.

Klein’s piece is fascinating, and I urge all of you to click over and read. Klein writes well and with knowledge, an invaluable combination. Look for phrases like “relentless and determined DCCC sabotage.”

So why doesn’t Israel want people like Zerban — who impertinently challenge Republican House leaders — to win? Why does Israel seem to protect Republican House leaders — like Ryan and Cantor — from any credible Democratic challenge, when he pours DCCC money into any number of losing Blue Dog candidates?

Klein has one explicitly stated reason, and one that seems implied (though I don’t want to put words into his mouth). The explicit reason is the internal corruption of the DCCC chain of enablers and consultant-suppliers — search for the phrase “systemic corruption that defines the DCCC” to read that discussion.

But a second one seems to be Israel’s slavish relationship with Wall Street money. Read the Klein quote above involving “Wall Street”. Then scroll down to the conclusion of Klein’s piece (again looking for the phrase “Wall Street”). Would Wall Street actually have the guts to tell Israel, in essence (and this is my imagined quote, not Klein’s): “We’ll fund your pro-corporate guys if you don’t oppose our pro-corporate guys in the other party. Deal?”

I don’t know about you, but if I were a conscience-less Wall Street greed-bucket cum ego freak, that’s how I’d play that hand. It’s certainly a winning one. But maybe that’s just me — I too play to win.

My question for Nancy Pelosi

So here’s the Pelosi part of the post. Israel (ostensibly) works for Pelosi. So I have one question for her (or her team), just one. Klein writes:

“Israel and the DCCC routinely claim that progressive candidates they don’t want to support can’t raise any money and are therefore not serious contenders. They especially tell this to the lazy Beltway media and punditocracy, as well as to big donors and institutional donors.”

Dear Ms. Pelosi — Are you taken in by this story as well? This is a serious question. Your fans would like to know if you’re also a victim of Israel’s obviously false explanation, or if there’s some deeper (and deeply self-serving, deeply self-defeating) dynamic going on as well?

Madam Leader? Team? Please, I’m right here, where I always am.

Look, there are two ways at this point to look at Ms. Pelosi:

1. She’s either a true liberal (whatever that means) who gets regularly rolled by the Blue Dogs in her coalition, starting with Steny Hoyer and Steve Israel, plus all their ilk (remember the Public Option?).

2. Or she’s a complicit Democratic leader, playing the needed left-of-center role that — knowingly or not — enables all those NeoLiberal atrocities (like extending the Bush Tax Cuts).

The enabling role is this: while the actual control group of the Obama-Clinton–led Democratic party betrays progressive goal after progressive goal, lefties like Pelosi paint a useful we-tried face on each of the losses. In this way the party never quite loses its faux-progressive cred. Looks like a sweet system to me, if you’re a Keystone-loving, NAFTA-signing, drone-killing corp-enabler like Obama.

Rolled or complicit? Either way, it seems Pelosi is not helping much — in this man’s estimation, at least — well-intentioned or not as she may be. Time for a change? If so, what kind?

Time for an Open Rebellion Caucus?

What’s a progressive to do? Do we want Steny Hoyer to mount the Speaker’s gavel (or the House party leader’s chair)? No.

But do we want true party progressives to serve notice that they are NOT on board with Blue Dogs AND complicit leader-led cave-ins, including Pelosi’s? Yes. We in the bleachers, who actually suffer the effects these congressional-millionaire–enacted laws, would like that very much.

So what are we asking for? I think we need an Open Rebellion Caucus within the Democratic Party office-holder class — one that openly rejects NeoLiberal policies and stands with true progressive constituencies first, not party first. Party-first is the death of progressives in office, say I.

Do they have to be named the “Open Rebellion Caucus”? No — they can be the “Puppies & Light Caucus” for all I care, or “Kittens & Cupcakes for All” — though I do think the “Open Rebellion” branding will get a ton of real progressives to love them a whole lot more than they do right now. Perhaps those newly-loving grassroots progressives will even finance their careers much more than they do right now.

Besides, if Steve Israel can found something “shady” called the bipartisan (heh) “Center Aisle Caucus” — search Klein’s article for the phrase and explanation — surely there’s room for an “anti–Steve-Israel-and-complicit-ilk” caucus as well. What’s sauce for the goose, as they say.

But whatever happens, whether our bright new caucus is formed or not formed, just remember — progressive office-holders look pretty ineffective from the outside, from out here in the hinterlands. As a result, it’s hard to raise money for most of them — which means they are even more dependent on largess from the Steve Israels of the wicked political world. A vicious circle if ever there was one. You could even call it a “reptilian” circle — with the reptile head reporting to Nancy Pelosi. Ouch.

Dear Progressive Office-holder: Maybe selling yourself as a strong, unwilling-to-be-complicit, more-effective kind of office-holder is worth a shot. Who know? Maybe someone (or a big bunch of you) should try it and find out.

Say I.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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