May 24-30, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Common Sense

By Peter Byrne

On a sunny afternoon in late April, I interviewed Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in the living room of her modest Petaluma home. Woolsey has represented Marin and southern Sonoma counties in Washington, D.C., for 14 years. She was one of the first (and only) members of Congress to actively oppose the invasion of Iraq. She opposed the Bill of Rights—shredding Patriot Act from its inception. Today, after six years of economy- and people-killing neoconservative rule, Woolsey's forthright stands have been vindicated by a sea change in public opinion. Today, a majority of Americans view the ascendancy of right-wing Republicanism with regret and increasing alarm.

The people of the Sixth Congressional District have consistently supported Woolsey's common-sense positions. She explains, "Some of my colleagues say, 'I wish I could take the stands that you do and speak up.' In my inner heart, I say, 'You could, if you were not chicken.' But I tell them the truth: 'If I did not take these stands, I would lose my job.'"

Woolsey does all of the things that a normal representative does: she brings home the public-works bacon; she schmoozes with the party establishment; she raises money for reelection from ordinary people, businesses and even such special interests as a local casino-building Indian tribe backed by Station Casinos of Las Vegas ($4,000). But she has done something remarkable that sets her apart from the typical pork monsters on Capital Hill. She strives to represent the real interests, not only of her constituency, but of the whole American people.

Some of my regular readers may be scratching their noggins at this point, wondering, "Has Byrne gone soft?" It is, of course, a verity that most politicians are narcissistic and amoral beings, if not outright criminals.

For that reason, I do not consider myself to be a Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, etc. But I find myself surprised by Woolsey; I truly admire her integrity and courage. And I find myself gratified to be living in a community that has not blindly followed Bush into his pit of depravity.

One thing that impressed me about Woolsey is her take on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a program that is destroying public education. Woolsey is the ranking member of the House committee that is preparing to "fix" NCLB in 2007--provided, she says, that the Democrats are in the House majority at that time. She points out that the legislation that originally created NCLB was intended to identify school districts suffering from lack of money and the kinds of educational perks that rich communities can offer.

As written by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., NCLB was intended to throw more than $40 billion into under-performing schools, thereby bringing them up to the standards of overperforming schools. But the Bush administration refused to provide the funding necessary to make NCLB work as intended, making it punitive, not proactive.

Woolsey, to her credit, has not backed down from the task of reforming the nation's school system in the face of the well-justified backlash against the Bush rendition of NCLB. Talking with her deepened my understanding of possible solutions to that problem. Unintended NCLB consequences, such as "teaching to the test," need to be liquidated, for example.

Even as Bush began gutting American society, Woolsey and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, founded the Progressive Caucus, which now has 62 members in the House of Representatives. The growing caucus has published a plan to fix this country the blessed instant that Bush's death grip on the House is loosened--assuming the newly elected Democrats are not as craven as the national party leadership.

The theory is that a revitalized Congress can fix Medicare to purchase drugs for ailing seniors; undo the neocon attack on the earth's air and water; restore civil liberties vitiated by the Patriot Act and the unilateral, illegal machinations of Bush's spy masters; and squash Bush's love gifts to the energy industry--not to mention cutting the gargantuan deficit, withdrawing from Iraq, genuinely rehabilitating the Iraqi infrastructure and doing the million other things that have to be done to help Americans rejoin the human race after we allowed ourselves to become a nation led by cowardly bullies and moral pariahs.

Woolsey is sponsoring a rational approach to homeland security called Sensible, Multilateral American Response to Terrorism. It is intended to prevent war, not cause it. She has bills pending that will help to eliminate weapons of mass destruction by making nonproliferation official government policy--once again. She wrote the Balancing Act to massively fund childcare, after-school programs, medical assistance for families and create a "family-friendly workplace." She has initiated bills to protect California's environment, our energy resources, our food quality and to redirect government from dropping bombs on children to nurturing them.

Or at least getting them out of the way. What a concept.

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