In one of the first columns that ran in this space ("Puritan, My Ass," Jan. 3, 2002), I wrote, "Without New England, this nation would be up the creek without a paddle. If you took away the moderating influence of the Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine Congressional delegations, we would have a ship of state steered by a crew of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Tom DeLay."
Six years later Falwell is dead, Robertson is back to being a marginalized kook, and DeLay, forced out of Congress in disgrace, is now a Fox News pundit who coughs up such fur balls as, "Until Obama proves otherwise, he's a Marxist."
And yet Congress still consistently fails at its job. That is, Congress continues to go against the will of the American voters and enable the most corrupt political regime in the nation's history.
Just this past week, two votes proved this beyond any reasonable doubt.
First, the U.S. House approved the looting of another $160 billion from our Treasury to fund the Iraq war. This is money that has been authorized without deadlines, benchmarks, questions asked or strings attached.
Second, the House approved a FISA bill that grants immunity to Bush and the telecommunications companies that have been illegally spying on Americans for five years. Not only that, the bills also allows the illegal spying to continue.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) explained to his colleagues why he could not vote for it: "The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President's illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home."
If anyone is still wondering why Congress has a lower approval rating than even a president and vice president with historically low approval ratings, these two votes are, in a nutshell, why.
The American people overwhelmingly voted in November, 2006 to change the makeup of Congress in order to avoid votes like these. The people wanted Congress to put a stop to the disaster unleashed by the White House. Two years later, that disaster is bigger than ever.
It is no surprise to learn that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, leaders responsible for this "capitulation," are not from New England.
New England's Congressional delegation is, in fact, in line with the will of the American people, while the delegations from the South, Southwest, Midwest and elsewhere are not.
For example, the vote on the War Forever Bill was 268 Yes vs. 155 No. New England's delegation voted as one against the bill. The No votes were, from Connecticut, Courtney, Murphy, DeLauro, Larson; from Massachusetts, Capuano, Delahunt, Frank, Lynch, Markey, McGovern, Neal, Olver, Tierney, Tsongas; from New Hampshire, Hodes, Shea-Porter; from Rhode Island, Kennedy, Langevin; and from Vermont, Welch. The lone exception in New England was Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.).
The same pattern was seen on the FISA Bill, which passed 293-129. The New England delegation voted No with the exception of Shays and Langevin (D-R.I.).
As the blogosphere has suggested, we need more and better voices in Congress. Rep. Langevin may have had his reasons for voting for the FISA Bill, but his constituents should hold him accountable.
Shays' constituents have a good chance to send him packing in November. A fresh face, in Jim Himes, is running against him. Of the FISA vote Himes said, "In Congress, I will always stand up for the fundamental American belief that no man, and no corporation, is above the law."