Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Truth About AIPAC Slips Into Daily Kos

Members of AIPAC called to say that Rep. Carson was wrong for opposing the bill because it helped Israel. She tried to explain, but in all honesty, some of the callers were really angry.

by wmtriallawyer - Sept 23, 2007

Before the discussion gets too off track, let me say that the intent of this diary is not to deride AIPAC per se. What concerns me more -- much more -- is a system that allows AIPAC, or anyone else, to influence our government at the highest levels with money. Just wanted to point that out... Yesterday, I promised to diary about my own personal experience with AIPAC. I figured now is a good a time as any, because it ties in well with the frustration I expressed in my diary from yesterday. Hopefully the neat little package will come together once you finish reading this.

A little over 10 years ago, I got my "formal" start in politics. I worked as the field coordinator for Julia Carson during her first run for the House. It was heady stuff for a wide-eyed kid who loved politics. Fresh of my experience from working for Jim Hightower, I wanted to get out there and take the House back from two years of Newt Gingrich maddness.

wmtriallawyer's diary :: :: Our race was one of those "top 25" targets Charlie Cook and gang liked to talk about. And because of it, we got quite a few Washington consultants coming out the campaign to give their advice and support. It was then I began to notice an alarming trend.

Over and over, we began to hear about how we needed to tap into the "Jewish vote." Odd, I thought, because in my naivete I never considered the "Jewish vote" to be some sort of voting bloc. Then, however, the talk of the "Jewish vote" began to morph into the chase for "Jewish money."

This was a real wake-up call to me, because it sounded so insidious and seemed to reinforce a sterotype. We talked about reaching out to other interest groups for votes: African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and lesbians. But we never talked about getting "African-American money " or "gay and lesbian money."

Anyway, we were quickly told that the way to tap into the Jewish vote and money was to demonstrate unfettered support for Israel. So, some of our folks wrote up a few quick talking points, put out a one-pager, and voila! -- we support Israel. That should do it.

I wish it had ended there.

Later, after Rep. Carson was elected, I went up to Hill to work for her. Let me just pause to say it was always a dream of mine to work on Capital Hill. Nothing is so heady to a young person who is a politico to be able to work in the halls of Congress to see how government operations. It was amazing stuff.

Unfortunately, dreams and reality are two different things entirely. I began to see how the "game" was played, that the concern for reelection and keeping power was more important than using power to effectuate change. And that became starkly clear when AIPAC contacted my boss.

My boss went on an all-expense paid trip to Israel on AIPAC's dime. It was one of those educational junkets that interest groups paid for. I was a little concerned about it, but I paid it little mind. She had a wonderful time and learned a lot.

But as the saying goes, nothing in life comes for free. A few months later, Congress was voting on that year's foreign aid bill. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Carson opposed the bill, because it contained far few dollars for Africa than needed to be in the bill. However, there was a substantial amount of money going to Israel.

After her opposition became public, and she voted against it, the calls started coming in from all corners of the U.S. Members of AIPAC called to say that Rep. Carson was wrong for opposing the bill because it helped Israel. She tried to explain, but in all honesty, some of the callers were really angry. Mind you, hardly any of the folks that called were her constituents...they were donors. And they thought they had a solid vote because of the Israel trip. And some of them were plenty rude on the phone.

Rep. Carson became frustrated and one day said, "I just don't know what they want from me."

I was silent when I heard this, but I knew what they wanted. They wanted her vote. And in the back of my head, I was thinking that she shouldn't have taken that trip to Israel.

The whole experience on the Hill, because of instances like this, left me frustrated. I left politics and didn't come back for awhile, because I didn't see that things were going to change at all. Too many people with too many of the wrong ideas about how politics and our government were running the show.

I bring this up, because after yesterday, I wanted to make a simple point. I got back into the political realm for one reason, and one reason only:

The netroots.

You see, to me, for the first time in a long time, I saw the potential for change. As my guru Hightower has always said, it was looking like things would start to change from the "bottom up" as opposed to the "top down." I was inspired to get involved in ways I couldn't have fathomed ten years after leaving the arena.

So I guess part of my continuing frustration comes from seeing how we get off track so much, and how others who are well-meaning activists just don't see the potential. And how we sometimes reinforce that perception with some of our behavior here.

Last night, after posting my diary, I went to another Democratic Party meeting. There is great hope out there, and I heard over and over about how we needed to take our country back. It refreshed me. But I also know I've involved on so many levels now, I need to cut back.

I hope blogging is not the thing I choose to quit. Because it truly gives me the oomph to go forward some days. But from where I sit, if we are going to turn into nothing more than a mirror image of tactics of those we despise, then it isn't worth my effort.

Anyway, that is what I wanted to say. I thank everyone for their e-mails and comments from yesterday. Lots to think about. And I hope this diary gives a little more perspective as to where I'm coming from.

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