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Holding Congress' feet to the fire



Remember November and the first week or two following the election? Were you drunk with success, giddy with anticipation, flush with victory? Were you humming "Happy Days are Here Again"? Yes, yes, yes. Even now many are still feeling euphoric. But to quote that keen observer of human nature, Han Solo, "Don't get cocky, kid."

Because now it's January and the truth is, the election, regardless of how hard we worked, was the easy part.

Like it or not, once they cross the Potomac new electees find an apartment inside the beltline and become politicians. One of the spanking new congressmen even told a New York Times reporter that the first thing he needed to do was start raising money for the next election. He gets an A for candor but probably needs to work on spin. Because this is not the time to begin building a campaign war chest; it is the time to take back our country. Maybe even to right a few of the wrongs that have transpired over the past six years.

And how to do that?

"Holding their feet to the fire" is the most popular slogan designating what progressive voters should do to the new Congress. (On a Google search, one source attributes the origin of that quote to the Spanish conquistador Cortez during his efforts to have King Montezuma spill his guts about the location of the Aztec treasure. Sort of a 14th-century Abu Ghraib.)

What if every day, when this spanking new Congress shows up for work, they had e-mails in their box reminding them how they got to the nation's capital. Each must understand that Democrats, independents and cross-over Republican voters are not averse to placing bets on a different horse in 2008 should this class fail to perform. Theirs is a steep learning curve. And the only option is to get it right the first term. Some of the more obvious pitfalls to be avoided: Don't store money from lobbyists in your freezer; if you've always wanted to play St. Andrews, use your own frequent flyer miles; and I don't have to mention the pages, do I?

A word to the incumbents who were returned: You were drawing a cozy salary while our civil rights were being whisked out the back door, our grandchildren's legacy was traded for corporate profits, and the middle class was hanging on by its fingernails. We've patiently listened for years how your hands were tied and you didn't have the numbers to so much as get a bill out of committee. Well, we don't want to hear any bellyaching about not being able to make headway on issues that really count to most Americans just because somebody at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has a veto. You have the House, the Senate, plus scores of freshmen arriving with a whole lot of backbone.

So while it would be comforting to believe our job was finished when we exited the voting booth, we are a long way from being done. There can be no going back to business as usual for either the voters or the new legislature. I did, however, allow myself one last hurrah. Last Thursday, I joined a group of Orange County Democratic women to toast Madam Speaker Pelosi. Just remember, Nancy, the hundred-hour countdown began when the glass was drained.

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