Election 2010

Harman tries to use Peace Action to bolster flimsy progressive record

Facing a tenacious primary challenge from progressive Marcy Winograd, Jane Harman (CA-36), who once described herself as “the best Republican in the Democratic Party,” has been frantically trying to burnish her progressive credentials. This dynamic was on full display at the California Democratic Party Convention, where Winograd successfully gathered the necessary signatures to pull Harman’s pre-endorsement and force a vote on the floor of the convention. In an attempt to appeal to the party base, Harman published a glossy brochure touting her progressive record, leading with a photo of her with progressive antiwar leader Rep. Lynn Woolsey.  The entire document is clearly designed to push a narrative that Winograd’s challenge is unnecessary because Harman is already so progressive. You can download a (roughly scanned) pdf of the brochure here.

The part that caught my eye is the table of lawmaker ratings in her pamphlet that misleadingly includes a rating of 82 from Peace Action. It’s an odd record to campaign on in 2010, since the 82 rating comes from votes that occurred in 2007 (pdf). So what’s her most recent score? A whopping 50 percent.  As staunch supporters of Marcy Winograd’s campaign to unseat Harman, we want to make sure voters in her district are getting the whole story.

At best, Rep. Harman, a member of the conservative Blue Dog caucus that has notoriously watered down progressive initiatives,  has been a fair-weather liberal. Her pro-war record has made foreign policy one of the major points of contention with progressives. The 82 rating in 2007 came after Harman had been hammered for years for her early support of the war in Iraq, and it was politically safer for her to vote in favor of a timeline for withdrawal and speak out against the surge. Notably, she voted that year against a resolution that would have prohibited funding for military action against Iran without prior congressional approval, a sign that she has not learned important lessons about congressional oversight from the war in Iraq.

It’s true that in the recent months Rep. Harman has been expressing skepticism about the war in Afghanistan, and for that she should be commended. But a glance at her record still makes it abundantly clear that people who want a reliable, progressive voice for peace in Congress should vote for Marcy Winograd.

Her reckless and hawkish voting record doesn’t end with Iraq. Since the Harman campaign published their brochure, The Hill (the source for the lawmaker rating tables) has updated their website to reflect Harman’s latest score on our voting record. After eight years of the Bush administration’s disastrous foreign policy, Harman delivered voters hungry for change an abysmal record for a so-called progressive. Harman voted in favor of dangerous unilateral sanctions on Iran that won’t change the Iranian regime’s behavior and are likely to backfire and hurt the Iranian people who are fighting for their democratic rights. She supported a resolution condemning the even-handed report on the invasion of Gaza by Zionist and renowned human rights investigator Richard Goldstone. She voted to spend billions of dollars on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when there was little sign that the military-dominated approach in Afghanistan would net any positive results for US and Afghan security.

But the voting record only tells part of the story. Jane Harman was a cheerleader for invading Iraq when the American people needed politicians who were willing to ask the hard questions and call foul on the Bush administration’s reckless drive to war. There were plenty of politicians—and ordinary Americans—who didn’t need years of hindsight to realize that was a mistake.

Perhaps most chilling has been her fear mongering and aggressive rhetoric on Iran. At last year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, Harman encouraged the fomenting of ethnic tension in Iran to destabilize the regime (she later apologized after being slammed by the Iranian-American community). She called for a “limited window” of engagement, and if that was unsuccessful, military action should be on the table. This is a recipe for war. Nobody expects a short attempt at diplomatic engagement with an arbitrary deadline to address decades of tension between the US and Iran. Harman’s support for harsh sanctions, saber-rattling and keeping military action on the table are a disaster waiting to happen.

Then there is the story of Rep. Harman’s defense of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, full of screenplay-ready ironic plot twists. Rep. Harman was a champion for warrantless wiretapping, going so far as to encourage the New York Times to suppress the story before the 2004 election—a time when that news could have had a serious impact on Bush’s reelection campaign. Then in 2009 the story broke that her phone was wiretapped, and she was caught in a shady conversation with a suspected Israeli agent. Suddenly, she was opposed to wiretapping. Caught on tape, she was overheard telling the suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two former officials for AIPAC, in exchange for their help in securing the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. At the end of the discussion, she reportedly said, “This conversation doesn’t exist.” At the time of the phone call, the FBI had enough information to warrant an investigation, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales squashed the investigation because he needed Harman’s help defending the warrantless wiretapping program.

Voters should not be fooled by attempts to put a progressive sheen on a hawkish foreign policy record. People in the 36th congressional district who want a true progressive foreign policy leader who will speak out against unnecessary wars before they start, will oppose wasting billions of dollars on military pork, and will vote with progressives 100 percent of the time on issues of war and peace, should choose Marcy Winograd on June 8th. Click here to donate to Marcy’s campaign.

Paid for by the Peace Action West Voter Fund.

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