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Idealism Without Illusions




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Issue No. 41 (January / February 2003) -- Mark Satin, editor

Congress' top visionaries:
Reps. Filner and Frank and Sen. Tim Johnson

Reps. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) are the most visionary people in Congress, according to Radical Middle Newsletter’s first Congressional Scorecard.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) is the most visionary Senator.

The Scorecard, which focused on the entire 107th Congress (covering 2001 and 2002), may be the first-ever attempt to separate practical but genuinely innovative and long-term thinkers from the merely liberal or merely accommodating.  For our Scorecard for the 108th Congress -- arguably a more accurate measure of "radical middle" tendencies -- just click HERE.

Among the Top 20 visionaries are some of the most “progressive” members of Congress, such as Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). But the Top 20 also includes such “moderate” Democrats as Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX).

And three Republicans were right below the Top 20.

When the national media wants to get provocative quotes from politicians, it always seems to turn to the same old faces. As a result, most of our Top 20 visionaries are virtually unknown to the general public. Hopefully this Scorecard will help push the thoughtful and creative Rosa DeLauros, Maurice Hincheys, and Jim McGoverns of Capitol Hill into the national spotlight. We need them.

Scorecard with a difference

Radical Middle’s scorecard is dramatically different from those of other groups:

-- Getting to transformation. Most Congressional scorecards are meant to shine a spotlight on conventional left- or right-wing views. Ours is meant to shine a spotlight on “idealism without illusions,” pragmatic but at the same time creative and future-focused approaches to public policy.

-- Getting to yes. Most scorecards highlight the negative. For example, the ACLU’s recent scorecard opposed 16 of the 20 measures it tracked, and People for the American Way opposed 20 of 30. We supported every single one of the measures we tracked.

-- Getting to precision. Most scorecards track 20-30 measures. We tracked 100 measures.

-- Getting to commitment. Most scorecards concentrate on recorded votes. With one exception (free trade), we did not look at votes. We didn’t want to record members’ party-line, ambivalent, or log-rolling support for innovative measures. Instead, we looked to see who co-sponsored bills or resolutions -- often an indication that a Congressperson has a real commitment to that measure.

The "Visionary 20"

Few Congresspeople did well on our admittedly demanding scorecard. Only 51 -- out of 535 -- scored 50% or better. (By contrast, 248 scored 50% or better on the People for the American Way scorecard.)

But 19 Democrats and one “Independent” did very well (parentheses indicate key parts, not necessarily all, of their districts):

Rep. Bob Filner (pt metro. San Diego), 75%

Rep. Barney Frank (Newton - Brookline MA), 75

Sen. Tim Johnson (SD), 70

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (pt metro. Cleveland), 70

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (pt metro. Atlanta), 70

Sen. Richard Durbin (IL), 65

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (pt metro. New Haven), 65

Rep. Barbara Lee (Berkeley - Oakland), 65

Rep. Jim McGovern (pt metro. Worcester), 65

Rep. Bernie Sanders (all of VT), 65

Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT), 60

Rep. John Baldacci (Bangor - northern ME), 60

Rep. Martin Frost (Dallas - Ft. W. corridor), 60

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (Ithaca - S’n Tier NY), 60

Rep. Patsy Mink (HI outside Honolulu), 60

Rep. James Moran (suburban VA near DC), 60

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (metro. NJ near NYC), 60

Rep. Lynn Rivers (Ann Arbor - Detroit airp’t), 60

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Evanston - n. Chicago), 60

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Marin County CA), 60

In addition, three Republicans did well enough to deserve honorable mention here:

Rep. Connie Morella (sub’n MD near DC), 55

Rep. Christopher Shays (Stamford CT), 50

Rep. Christopher Smith (Trenton - NJ shore), 50

Congress' rainbow

Who are these “Visionary 20” Congresspeople? And what is it about them that causes (or allows!) them to think so much more creatively than other Congresspeople?

They are not, by and large, your dogmatic liberals. Their mean score on the recent Americans for Democratic Action scorecard would place them exactly 104th.

They may reflect the emergence of a new, creative, knowledge-based culture.

Seventeen of the Top 20 visionaries represent one of Prof. Richard Florida’s Top 70 culturally-creative metro. areas (see The Rise of the Creative Class, 2002). And 17 represent what John Judis and Ruy Teixeira call “ideopolises,” metro. areas whose economies rely to a significant degree on high-tech and professional pursuits (see The Emerging Democratic Majority, 2002).

A more traditional explanation from social psychology may also hold true: Most Top 20 visionaries may be different in some significant internal/experiential way from most of the rest of us.

In 1961, Bob Filner went down to Mississippi as a Freedom Rider (a pioneering attempt to spark integration there), and was thrown in jail there for his troubles -- for two months -- at the age of 19.

Barney Frank is, of course, gay.

Tim Johnson (b. 1946) was raised by worldly parents in small towns in the Midwest, often a great recipe for producing restless and idealistic young people (see, e.g., Carl Sandburg’s Always the Young Strangers, Floyd Dell’s Moon-Calf, or my own Confessions of a Young Exile, Toronto: Gage/Macmillan of Canada, 1976). Johnson had three university degrees and was in the South Dakota House of Representatives by the age of 31.

Of the Top 20 visionaries, an astronomical 30% are Jewish (including Filner and Frank), and an extraordinary 45% are Catholic. One has “no religious affiliation” (Rep. Lee). Only 20% are Protestant.

An impressive 35% are women (compared to 13.5% for the 107th Congress as a whole), and 15% are racial minorities (compared to 11.8%). That’s not counting Rep. Baldacci, now Maine’s governor, who exemplifies our mixed-ethnic future (being part Italian and part Lebanese).

The more you look at the visionaries, the more they seem Congress’ rainbow.

Keeping score

After choosing our 100 bills and resolutions, we classified them under 20 issue areas (#a-t below). These generally correspond to topics dealt with in this newsletter (“RAM”).

Scores were obtained by giving Congresspeople five points if they co-sponsored at least one of the measures under each issue area, 10 points if they were the principal sponsor.

All measures had to be co-sponsored by at least two Senators or three Representatives, unless a bill was serving as “companion” to a bill in the other chamber.

Needless to say, most of these measures never came to a vote.

a. Responsible corporations (RAM #20). In response to Enron and the other corporate scandals, Congress passed the shamefully inadequate Sarbanes-Oxley bill. Its supporters get no credit here. However, some bills did attempt to address the scandals in an adequate way.

Rep. George Miller (CA) introduced a bill that would have prevented corporations from making loans to their officers, directors, and principal shareholders (H.R.5048).

Sen. Levin (MI) and Rep. Stark (CA) introduced bills that would have required companies to treat stock options on their tax returns the same way they treated them on their financial statements (S. 1940, H.R.4075).

Sen. Dodd (CT), Rep. Markey (MA), and Rep. Dingell (MI) all introduced bills that would have significantly improved accounting practices and financial reporting (S.2004, H.R.3617, and H.R.3970).

Sen. Boxer (CA) and Rep. Pascrell (NJ) introduced identical bills that would have limited to 20% the amount of company stock permitted to be held in employees’ 401(k) plans (S.1838, H.R.3640).

b. A little wealth sharing (RAM #13). Sen. Santorum (PA), Sen. Lieberman (CT), and Rep. Pitts (PA) all introduced bills that would have made Individual Development Accounts more available to low-income Americans, basically by giving tax credits to institutions that provided IDAs -- not just financial institutions but also nonprofits and Indian tribes (S.592, S.1025, and H.R.2160).

Rep. Souder (IN) introduced a bill that would have allowed a charitable giving deduction to individuals not itemizing, and would have increased the cap on corporate charitable contributions (H.R.3599).

c. Green taxes (RAM #25). Ultimately, “green” taxes -- on consumption and pollution -- could and should replace income taxes and other taxes on positive, productive behavior.

Rep. Linder (GA) introduced a bill that would have repealed most taxes, and imposed a tax on the use or consumption of most property, goods, and services. A “consumption allowance” would have protected low-income people (H.R.2525). Rep. Tauzin (LA) introduced a largely similar bill that would have retained the payroll tax (H.R.2717).

Sen. Baucus (MT) and Rep. Pallone (NJ) introduced bills that would have required polluters to pay for Superfund cleanups -- taxpayers are getting stuck with bigger chunks of the bill each year (S.2944, H.R.4060). Sen. Boxer (CA) introduced a stronger bill that would have required polluters and other manufacturers to pay for Superfund investigations, enforcements, and clean-ups (S.2596).

d. Energy efficiency (RAM #25). Sen. Bingaman (NM) and Rep. Woolsey (CA) introduced comprehensive energy efficiency / renewable energy bills that would have been unthinkable a generation ago (S.597, H.R.2478).

Sen. Jeffords (VT) and Rep. Pallone (NJ) introduced bills that would have encouraged state programs for energy conservation and efficiency and renewable energy (S.1333, H.R.3037).

e. Renewable energy (RAM #25). Sen. Bob Smith (NH) and Rep. Cunningham (CA) introduced identical bills that would have provided tax incentives for, among other things, solar hot water and photovoltaic systems (S.207, H.R.778).

Sen. Durbin (IL) and Rep. Watts (OK) introduced the “Home and Farm Wind Energy Systems Act” (S.1810, H.R.2322).

Sen. Hagel (NE) and Rep. Thune (SD) introduced bills that would have increased the market share for ethanol and biodiesel in gasoline and diesel fuel (S.1006, H.R.2423).

Sen. Harkin (IA) and Rep. Calvert (CA) introduced bills that would have continued federal funding for hydrogen energy research (S.1053, H.R.2174).

Sen. Dodd (CT) and Rep. Larson (CT) introduced bills that would have invested $1 billion in fuel cell technology over the next five years (S.883, H.R.1830).

Sen. Hatch (UT) and Rep. Camp (MI) introduced identical bills that would have provided tax credits for people and businesses purchasing alternative fuel vehicles (S.760, H.R.1864).

Many renewable energy advocates refuse to consider nuclear power a legitimate renewable energy source. That is not our view. Sen. Domenici (NM) and Rep. Graham (SC) introduced bills increasing funding for nuclear R&D at the Department of Energy, and we include those bills’ co-sponsors here (S.472, H.R.1679). However, we labeled them “n” rather than “x.”

f. Perfecting democracy (RAM #15). Rep. DeFazio (OR) introduced a bill that would have established a nonpartisan, 12-member commission to examine the processes of federal elections -- the electoral college, ballot access issues, internet voting, ballot design, instant runoff voting, the works (H.R.57). Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL) introduced a narrower bill along these lines (H.R.506).

In addition to his deeply flawed McCain-Feingold bill, which we don’t include here (see RAM #15), Sen. McCain (AZ) introduced a bill that would have made TV and radio stations provide free air time to political candidates, and give candidates the same advertising rates they give their biggest advertisers (S.3124).

Sen. Wellstone (MN) and Rep. Tierney (MA) offered bills that would have given candidates the option to reject private campaign contributions in exchange for limited but sufficient public funding. Candidates would “qualify” if they collected a prescribed number of signatures and $5 contributions from registered voters in their districts (S.719, H.R. 1637).

g. Consensus council. Sen. Dorgan (ND) and Rep. Rehberg (MT) introduced identical bills that would have established a U.S. “Consensus Council” to convene politically divergent groups of Americans to build consensus on important national policy issues (S.1651, H.R.3305).

“This would be a non-profit, quasi-governmental entity,” Sen. Dorgan told the Senate. “Its role would be to build agreements among stakeholders . . . and bring these agreements back to Congress or other decision-makers for action.”

h. Preventive health (RAM #22). Sen. Graham (FL) and Rep. Levin (MI) introduced identical bills that would have added preventive health benefits to Medicare (S.982, H.R.2058).

Sen. Clinton (NY) and Rep. Pelosi (CA) introduced bills that would have created a nationwide “health tracking network” to identify disease clusters linked to environmental hazards (S.2054, H.R.4061).

Sen. Daschle (SD) and Rep. DeFazio (OR) introduced bills that would have given patients access to drugs and medical devices not approved by the FDA -- not marijuana, but many remedies and therapies now being used by alternative med- icine practitioners (S.1378, H.R.1964).

i. Emotional health (RAM #14). Sen. Ted Kennedy (MA) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (RI) introduced identical bills that would have focused on the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive needs of children from birth to age five (S.2566, H.R.2636). In addition, Rep. Kennedy introduced a bill that would have increased the number of professionals providing clinical mental health care to children and adolescents (H.R.5078).

Rep. Jackson-Lee (TX) introduced a bill that would have supported programs to promote mental health among young people and their families (H.R.75).

Rep. Jim Maloney (CT) introduced a bill that would have provided grants to states -- and, n.b., local school systems -- to establish bullying prevention programs in the schools (H.R.4774).

Sen. Thomas (WY) and Rep. Brad Carson (OK) introduced bills that would have provided for coverage of mental health counselor services -- and marriage and family therapist services -- under the Medicare program (S.1760, H.R.3899).

j. Great teachers (RAM #23). Sen. Collins (ME) and Rep. Gallegly (CA) introduced bills that would have provided financial incentives for students to become qualified K-12 teachers of mathematics or science (S.1918, H.R.489).

Sen. Domenici (NM) and Rep. Eth- eridge (NC) introduced bills that would have helped schools develop meaningful and effective character education programs (S.311, H.R.228).

Sen. Grassley (IA) and Rep. Gallegly (CA) introduced bills that would have improved education for “gifted and talented” students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds (S.421, H.R.490).

k. Equal women, stand-up men (RAM #16). Sen. Daschle (SC) and Rep. DeLauro (CT) introduced bills that would have made it easier to prosecute employers who paid unequal wages to men and women holding the same jobs and doing the same work (S.77, H.R.781).

Meanwhile, Sen. Bayh (IN) and Rep. Julia Carson (IN) introduced bills that would have created a block grant program and media campaign promoting “responsible fatherhood” (S.653, H.R.1300).

l. Connected to the past and future (RAM #22). A vital society must build connections to the past and future.

Re: maintaining the past, Sen. Breaux (LA) and Rep. Shaw (FL) introduced bills that would have given people tax credits for rehabilitating any “qualified historic home” they owned and used as their principal residence (S.920, H.R.1172).

Re: anticipating the future, Sen. Wyden (OR) introduced a bill that would have authorized creation of an inter-agency program supporting long-term R&D in nanoscience and nanoengineering (S. 2945). And Rep. Holt (NJ) introduced a bill that would have re-established Con- gress’ invaluable, future-focused Office of Technology Assessment (H.R.2148).

m. National service (RAM #15). We support a universal national service requirement; however, the one bill calling for that in the 107th Congress -- MI Rep. Nick Smith’s “Universal Military Training and Service Act” -- created an “open, se- same!” of postponements and exemptions. Thus it is not included here.

Sen. Bayh (IN) and Rep. Ford (TN) introduced identical bills that would have increased Americorps’ annual enrollment from 50,000 to 250,000, with half working in Homeland Security and the other half in local nonprofits (S.1792, H.R.3465).

n. Global governance (RAM #17). Sen. Kennedy (MA) introduced a resolution emphasizing the importance of membership on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and calling on the Administration to restore U.S. membership (S.Res. 88).

Rep. Meeks (NY) introduced a resolution calling on the U.S. and all “interested members” of the U.N. to come up with an international consensus on the definition of terrorism and a comprehensive convention on terrorism (H.Con.Res.321).

Rep. McGovern (MA) introduced a bill that would have established an international “food for education and infant and child nutrition program” -- and would have implemented it via U.S.-based NGOs and on-site volunteers and the U.N.’s World Food Program (H.R.1700).

o. Humanitarian intervention (RAM #5). Rep. McGovern introduced a bill that would have had the U.S. urge the U.N. to establish a permanent standing “rapid deployment force” consisting of 6,000 volunteers from all over the world (H.R.938). Rep. Wynn (MD) introduced a resolution calling for an even larger volunteer force (H.Res.194).

Sen. Frist (TN) and Rep. Tancredo (CO) introduced bills that would have condemned violations of human rights on all sides of the conflict in Sudan -- sent humanitarian assistance to any side not practicing slavery -- and dispatched State Department personnel to help work out a peace settlement (S.180, H.R.2052, and H.R.5531).

p. Free trade -- with a conscience (RAM #6). Trade promotion authority, allowing the President to negotiate free trade agreements that Congress can accept or reject but not stymie by amendment, passed the Senate by a 66-30 margin (23 May 2002) and passed the House by 215-212 (6 Dec. 2001).

“Yes” was the preferred vote here. Although the Trade Act of 2002 was by no means perfect, free trade is in the long-term interest of all nations. And the bill included a multibillion-dollar package of benefits for U.S. workers displaced by foreign competition.

q. Ready microcredit (RAM #7). Microenterprise is the provision of tiny low-interest loans, or “microcredit,” to very poor people in developing countries in order to help them start or expand self-employment ventures and pull themselves out of poverty.

Sen. Sarbanes (MD) and Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ) introduced bills that would have authorized microenterprise development grant funding at $175 million in fiscal 2003 and $200 million in fiscal 2004 -- “a modest increase,” says RESULTS President Sam Daley-Harris, “for one of the most cost-effective development strategies available” (S.3032, H.R.4073).

r. Tough on terrorism (RAM #19). Those at the radical middle -- “idealists without illusions” -- have absorbed the 21st century’s first great lesson: the world includes those who’d stop at nothing to do us harm.

In that context, the USA PATRIOT Act was an imperfect but essential first step. It was principally drawn from bills sponsored by Sen. Daschle (SC), Rep. Sensenbrenner (WI), and Rep. Oxley (OH) (S. 1510, H.R.2975, and H.R.3004).

After passage of the Act, Sen. Schumer (NY) introduced a bill that would have increased security at U.S. ports (S.2426).

s. Tough on the causes of terrorism (RAM #19). Although terrorism is never “justified,” some members of failed states will inexorably be drawn to it -- particularly now that they see how we live. So we’ve got to help the developing world address its socioeconomic problems.

Sen. Boxer (CA) introduced a bill and Rep. Reyes (TX) introduced a resolution that would have addressed in a serious way the growing international problem of tuberculosis (S.2045, H.Res.67).

Sen. Leahy (VT) and Rep. Farr (CA) introduced resolutions calling on the U.S. government to respond to the dramatic and devastating decline in global coffee prices (S.Res.368, H.Res.604).

Sen. Biden (DE) and Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ) introduced bills that would have provided another $1 billion in debt relief for some of the most heavily indebted poor countries (S.2210, H.R.4524). Meanwhile, Rep. Wolf (VA) introduced a bill that would have provided debt relief to countries only if they met certain requirements relating to political freedom, transparency, accountability, and good governance (H.R.391).

t. World peace (RAM #17). Rep. McCollum (MN) introduced a resolution urging the President to double Peace Corps funding, and double the number of volunteers (H.Con.Res.341).

Sen. Durbin (IL), Rep. Tony Hall (OH), and Rep. Houghton (NY) introduced bills that would have attempted to slow or stop the trade in “conflict diamonds,” smuggled diamonds whose profits are used to fund violent rebel groups in Africa (S. 1084, S.2027, H.R.918, and H.R.2722).

Rep. Kucinich (OH) introduced a bill that would have established a Cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace (H.R.2459).


Unfortunately, our wonderful four-page Scorecard, which gives "+'s" or "-'s" to each of our 535 Senators and Representatives in each of the 20 categories above, and tallies up the "scores" for each, cannot be adequately reproduced on this web page.

If you'd like a printed copy of the Scorecard (along with a printed version of the text above), we are happy to provide.  Just send us your name and address via E-MAIL, or write us at P.O. Box 70188, Oakland CA 94612.


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