Interview With Sherrod Brown
met Sherrod Brown, the Democratic congressman from Ohio
and that state's former secretary of state, at an inconvenient
time. It was the last week in July, which meant that Brown,
like everyone else in Congress, was busy trying to squeeze
every last bit of urgent Washington business in before taking
off for August recess.
I saw Brown the day before the CAFTA vote, a grueling fiasco
that ultimately proved to be a tough 24 hours for everyone
with any job connected with Congress. Stories are only now
trickling in about Tom Delay, Bill Thomas, Mike Oxley and
Jim Kolbe charging down the hallways of the Cannon building
shouting threats in all directions, like the Four Horsemen
of the Beady-Eyed Apocalypse. Brown, a youngish, gregarious
type with a philosophical attitude toward his job and congress
in general, was taking one last break before the big nighttime
CAFTA square-off; he greeted me at his door in a wrinkled
shirt and socks.
had scheduled an interview with Brown on another subject,
but I also wanted to ask about the Ohio electoral scandal,
an issue that he's played a significant role in publicizing.
Brown, along with fellow Ohio member Stephanie Tubbs-Jones
and Michigan Democrat John Conyers, is one of just a handful
of congressmen still trying to get the press to take a second
look at Ohio. Last week, he didn't sound hopeful.
thing is, we're not really free to keep pursuing it,"
he said. "The reality is that we have too many other
things going on. We have more important immediate concerns."
the eve of the CAFTA vote, Brown sounded like a man who
didn't want to use all of his rhetorical bullets on Ohio.
When I asked him about Ken Blackwell, the Ohio secretary
of state who has come under fire for his conduct during
the last election, Brown chose to speak in generalities
rather than refer to the specific charges laid out in the
report issued by his colleague Conyers.
of the things Blackwell did undoubtedly hurt turnout,"
he said. "And turnout traditionally aids the Democrats.
Part of the Secretary of State's job is to get people to
vote. I think what we saw with Blackwell was that he never
encouraged more people to vote."
asked him if he thought anyone would ever be able to tie
Blackwell's numerous indiscretions to the Bush campaign.
doubt it," he said. "I doubt we'll ever know."
shit, I thought. This is depressing.
promised in this space last week that I would have an interview
with Brown, but I don't want readers to get the wrong idea—the
man really was busy, and my meeting with him was rushed,
for a variety of reasons. I had also planned to speak with
Conyers, but that didn't pan out, either.
I get the sense that even if I'd had all the time in the
world with those few Democrats still on the record as being
interested in the Ohio story, they wouldn't have had much
to say. The party in general has been so effectively marginalized
that its elected officials now seem to be rationing political
capital the way men in lifeboats ration rainwater.
aforementioned Conyers, the leader of the congressional
effort to reopen Ohio, is in the middle of a desperate struggle
to preserve his relevancy on the House judiciary committee,
where he is the ranking Democrat. Last week, while attending
a committee hearing, I watched as Conyers struggled repeatedly
to get blimp-shaped committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner
to recognize him. In the hearing I watched, Conyers and
other Democrats (especially our own Jerrold Nadler, who
appears to inspire Sensenbrenner's particular loathing)
had to shout out "Mr. Chairman!" four, five, or
even six times before Sensenbrenner would open the floor
for their remarks. In the current Congress, Democrats have
to fight just to force the Republicans to respect normal
have gotten so crazy in this Congress, and in this political
environment in general, that the Democrats now have to watch
their backs 24 hours a day, just to make sure they're not
being cheated out of something.
the abovementioned judiciary committee, there was an incident
recently that underscored the problem. During the debate
over the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (also
known as CIANA; this was a bill designed to prevent minors
from traveling across state lines to circumvent parental-notification
regulations for abortions in their own states), representative
Nadler introduced a series of proposed amendments. But Sensenbrenner,
in the official committee report, took it upon himself to
rewrite the amendments in his own language. Nadler's amendments
had to do with exempting from prosecution certain people
(relatives, taxi drivers, etc.) who may have assisted the
minors in crossing state lines; Sensenbrenner rewrote them
in a way that implies that these people were all sexual
predators. An example of the rewrites:
VERSION: a Nadler amendment allows an adult who could
be prosecuted under the bill to go to a Federal district
court and seek a waiver to the state's parental notice laws
if this remedy is not available in the state court.
REWRITE: Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have
created an additional layer of Federal court review that
could be used by sexual predators to escape conviction
under the bill.
bill had nothing to do with sexual predators.
bring this up because ideology is increasingly not the defining
characteristic of this Republican party. What distinguishes
this party is its cheating. In CAFTA, in defiance
of House rules, they hold the floor open for as long as
it takes to get their vote. They not only do this, they
proudly announce that they're doing this. In the House,
they have made a habit out of disallowing Democratic witnesses,
shutting off debate, conveniently miscounting votes and
committing brazen acts of slander and libel, like this Sensenbrenner
party routinely refuses compliance with FOIA requests, as
well as requests from the Inspector General and the General
Accounting Office. It lied and continues to lie outrageously
with regard to the Iraq war. It has convinced the country
and even themselves that there is something immensely clever,
and even principled, about the way that it lies, cheats
and bends laws and rules to get what it wants.
recent years it has been fashionable to compare these current
Republicans with the Nazis and other totalitarian monsters.
I've tended to resist those comparisons, but we've reached
a point where it's looking more and more appropriate to
describe the neoconservative attitude toward the rule of
law as having many things in common with those other revolutionaries.
These neocons may not have the authoritarian bent of the
German fascists or the Russian communists. They're far more
interesting in stealing and deregulating than in controlling,
censoring and governing. But it is more and more clear that,
like these other notorious movements, they view adherence
to rules and to the law as a failure of will and a political
is why we in the media need to reexamine the 2004 election.
If they really did steal it, we can't just let it slide.
Because they'll do it again. And forget about the Democrats
being able to do anything about it. They have their own