Political Intelligence

Doggett Takes a Stand



About 500 people overflowed Austin’s Unitarian Universalist Church at 8:45 a.m. on September 28 to attend a town meeting on Iraq called by Congressman Lloyd Doggett. They weren’t taking a walk around Town Lake on that beautiful morning. They weren’t sipping latte and reading the local newspaper, which failed to announce the gathering or cover it the next day. They weren’t planning their day around the Austin City Limits music festival or their kid’s soccer game.

They were there to bear witness to what Doggett described as the “feeling of helplessness when the war machine seems to be grinding and you can’t do anything about it.” It was a feeling, he said, that was shared even by some members of Congress at times.

But it’s hard to know what’s really going on. The Austin American-Statesman didn’t cover Democratic opposition, including Doggett’s own, to outright war on Iraq until the fourth press conference held by Congressional opponents. And many members of Congress, he said, “think the interest that I see here is not out there.”

Doggett described the roadblocks in front of Congressional opponents to the war. He said there will be a number of amendments offered to the authorization the President is seeking. But Tom DeLay (R-Sugarland) controls the floor fight, so many of these will not reach the floor. There may be amendments passed that will allow Democrats to vote for the authorization but with a few minor concessions. Doggett said he was not a fan of most of the alternatives. “If there is ever a time and issue to put your career on the line for, it’s war and peace,” he said, receiving a loud ovation.

Doggett said he’d received a number of communiqués opposing immediate war from his constituents. “Many of the most powerful telegrams I’ve received from Austin,” he said, “have been from veterans, who know that war is hell.”

Doggett cited a recent Carnegie Endowment report that made a strong case for enforced inspections in Iraq. He also noted that the Bush Administration had junked the possible signing of a treaty on biological warfare at the same time it’s complaining about Saddam Hussein’s suspected buildup of biological and chemical weapons. Doggett said he didn’t think the current economy was the reason for the new war initiative but that it does encourage Rove and others who seek, in Andrew Card’s terminology, to “market” the confrontation with Iraq. He said Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz never stopped their campaign to take Baghdad, after their effort was rejected by their previous boss, Bush I. Now they’ve found an administration eager to march to their drumbeat.


It is a rare day when a major metropolitan daily declines to endorse a long-standing political incumbent, especially if the sitting politician is favored to win. Most newspapers–as representatives of the establishment–position themselves to be on the side of the victorious rather than take a bullet for principle. This is why the Houston Chronicle’s blistering editorial on September 22 endorsing Tim Riley, the long-shot opponent of nine-term Congress-man Tom DeLay comes as such a pleasant shock.

The Chronicle didn’t just recommend Riley, a lawyer who has never held public office, it excoriated DeLay. In 10 short paragraphs, the editorial entitled, “Vote for Riley lets DeLay know he’s on the wrong track,” lays out the case that the Sugar Land congressman has penalized Houstonians out of a slavish devotion to his own perverse fundamentalism rather than acting in the interests of his constituents. Thanks to DeLay, traffic-clogged Houston is the only city in the nation forbidden to receive federal funds for rail transit. He also has consistently sabotaged any efforts to force industry to stop poisoning Houston’s air, among the most polluted in the nation. DeLay even publicly dissed Texas A&M and Baylor because they are not conservative (read: Godly) enough.

The powerful House Majority Whip is on the record saying that “only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world.” In short, the editorial all but labels DeLay for what he really is–a religious zealot whose views are undemocratic. “The congressman finds irksome secular democracy of the type envisioned by the Founders,” the Chronicle editorial board declared.

The editorial is worth quoting at length, if only because it reiterates what critics have been saying about “the Hammer” for years. “Tom DeLay, who will become House majority leader and puppetmaster if Republicans retain control of the House, is obsessed with winning partisan advantage and husbanding personal power. His machinations make him incapable of working with opponents for the common good and subjugate the interests of Houston-area residents to his unbridled ambition.”

We couldn’t agree more.


Not even the staunchest gun control advocate could take pleasure from the recent news that NRA President Charlton Heston is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The progressive disease involves the gradual loss of brain cells; and common symptoms include memory loss, problems with reasoning or judgement, and disorientation. Despite his disease, Republicans have not been shy about using the popular Heston to stump for political candidates this campaign season, including John Cornyn’s bid to be a U.S. Senator.

Unfortunately, the results have been, well, befuddling.

Heston’s handlers took the 78-year-old actor to Texas for two events to raise money for Cornyn in late September. In Dallas, Heston was scheduled to speak for 10 minutes but talked for less than a minute. During his 95-second speech in Longview, Heston told an audience that he had come to “support John Cornyn for president,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He then corrected himself after an uneasy silence from the crowd.

In the days before his Texas trip, Heston went to Alabama on the tab of the state’s Republican Party. There, much to the shock of his sponsors, he endorsed incumbent Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, locked in a tight race against Republican Rep. Bob Riley. State GOP Chairman Marty Connors accused Democrats of “a gross manipulation of Mr. Heston.” Riley’s campaign spokesman is reported to have said, “You have got to wonder if people are acting in Mr. Heston’s best interests.”