It used to be that Congress was divided into three camps: Democrats, Southern Democrats and Republicans. Depending on the issues, the outcome often, could be predicted with reasonable assurance.
In the past three Congressional elections, the number of “progressive” Representatives was thought to signal a new era of constructive and’ imaginative legislation that would give people effective citizen rights and remedies. This was particularly believed to be the case with the election of a non-veto-prone Democratic President. Well, folks, wrong signals! The emergence of a fluid but discernible bloc of “mushy liberals” in the House has tipped the balance away from a Congress that cares.
The characteristics of the “mushy liberal” start with a lack of political courage and an absence of political imagination. These attributes invite political seduction by corporate interest groups or the excuse of political pragmatism.
Rep.Thomas Foley, (D.-Wash.) for example, has been moving away from the progressive camp. He is grumbling these days about “those environmentalists” and OSHA decisions and the consumer protection agency legislation. He sounds like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, using the same shallow slogans and expressing a deplorable rejection of the practice of citizens to take government agencies to court. Hearing him, one might conclude that he detests courts.
AS CHAIRMAN OF the House Agriculture Committee, Foley acts as a broker far agribusiness raids on the federal taxpayers. He has taken no interest nor has he encouraged his staff to investigate the massive defrauding of the consumer by meat packers and meat processors in the grading and composition of meat products. His committee’s oversight of the Department of Agriculture’s duties to protect the health and pocketbook of consumers has been pathetically inert.
A close aide to Foley explains his shift to the corporate side as a way to increase the chances of re-election and reduce the chances of business financing opponents who in the past have gotten uncomfortably close for Foley’s taste.
Two relatively junior members of the House from Colorado –Patricia Schroeder and Timothy Wirth — are veering away. Schroeder felt it necessary to sacrifice her former support for the consumer agency bill and emerge as a champion for a coveted but unsuccessful oil industry ploughback provision for excess profits. Wirth was hardly wet behind the ears as a freshman Congressman before he startled his associates by his sympathy with the plight of the natural gas industry.
Both legislators are worried about challenges in next year’s election by candidates of corporatist leanings. Instead of proudly articulating the case of the consumer and other unrepresented groups, they are running scared in the other direction.
Andrew Jacobs (D.-Ind.) is so erratic that it is becoming his trademark. Not so erratic, however, to becloud his votes or intended votes against consumer legislation and the establishment of a national consumer cooperative bank bill to extend credit and technical assistance to consumer cooperatives. ,
IT IS TRUE that the large corporations are even more active in election campaign financing through their executives. And it is also true that it is easy to toss the business camp a few bones to insure an easy re-election.
Those are hardly profiles of mild courage, however. The “mushy liberal” is telling his or her supporters that they have no alternative. Either they take the “mush” or they will get even worse in the form of a more reactionary winner in the next election.
Well, there are growing sentiments among consumer and other citizen groups that indicate they are willing to take that risk. Better a person who stands wrong than a person who stands deceptive, it is said, if the voters are to have a real choice at the polls.
Look for all kinds of creative ways, from parades to complaint-mobiles to door-to-door pamphleteering, to Inform the voters back home of the “mushy liberal” syndrome. Certainly a new agenda is needed for citizens to deliberate and act upon. The old slogans huckstered by the same old political labels are contributing to a record amount of cynicism among the public.