Senior Democratic Congressman David Obey Throws in the Towel: More Bad News for Democrats?

Congressman David Obey, who has represented a Wisconsin district since 1969, has decided to retire. Obey was first elected back in 1969 and is today the 3rd ranking Democrat in the House and Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. For someone with the ego, power and good health that Obey has, this must be a recognition that he was facing a difficult, even losing battle in November.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, "Liberal Titan Obey to Retire" by Diana Marrero:

In his 41 years in Congress, David Obey developed a reputation as a fighter – the type of politician who called it like he saw it and didn’t shy away from conflict.

On Wednesday, the 71-year-old veteran lawmaker from the 7th District said he was too "bone-tired" to keep fighting and would step down from public office.

"The way I looked at public service, I believe the job of a good politician was to be used up fighting on behalf of causes you believed in, and when you are used up, to step aside and let someone else carry on the battle," he said in an emotional retirement announcement Wednesday afternoon. "Well, today I feel used up."

Obey, one of the most powerful members of Congress, chose to make his announcement in the congressional hearing room where he has helped shape the country’s spending priorities over the last few years as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. His wife, Joan, and two sons joined him as he spoke about his congressional career and his reasons for leaving the U.S. House.

That someone who has won 25 straight elections (mostly wins with over 60% of the vote) has decided to call it quits this year means that the anti-incumbent mood in this country is far more intense than previously believed.

It also means that Russ Feingold, who is also up for re-election as a Senator from Wisconsin, might be in a much tighter battle than expected. His likely Republican opponent is Dick Leinenkugel, a moderate Republican who served as the state’s Commerce Secretary under a Democratic governor. Leinenkugel is a famous name in Wisconsin. Dick Leinenkugel is the 5th generation offspring of famous beer makers (the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company) who brew Leinies. He’s exactly the kind of opponent (also a former marine who graduated from Marquette magna cum laude ) who should give Feingold a tough campaign. Here are words from Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor applauding him before he was appointed to his state job:

“Dick is a leader of one of the state’s marquee companies. He knows what it takes for a company to succeed in this state and I am confident his talent and experience are what we need to help create the jobs of tomorrow and move our economy forward.”

Obey was one of those larger than life politicians, someone with genuine convictions and principles, who seem rarer and rarer. As a youth, he was a Republican but when he was between 16-18, he changed to the Democratic party after seeing one of his teachers branded a communist by backers of Joe McCarthy. In Congress, Obey chaired the commission to write the House’s Code of Ethics. Among the reforms he instituted in the House was one requiring members to disclose their personal financial dealings so the public would be made aware of any potential conflicts of interest.

He is considered to be one of the most liberal members of Congress and has spoken out often against America’s military adventures abroad. He voted "no" on authorizing military force in Iraq; "no" on declaring Iraq part of the War on Terror with no exit date; and "yes" on investigating Bush for impeachment for lying on Iraq, as shown by his record over at Ontheissues.org (prior link). Obey also proposed a graduated surtax to pay for the war in Afghanistan, even as the head of his party escalated that war. War, he argued, requires sacrifice; paying for it on a credit card, in his opinion, is not much sacrifice. He indicated several times that he disagreed with Obama’s escalation policies but would give the young president one year to see if they work. Now this check on Obama, from his own party, is gone. (For more on Obey’s voting record, see Project Vote Smart).

Obey also is an outspoken critic of the mainstream media which he considers often trivializes stories and panders to the public:

Reporters are too “focused on trivia, driven at least in part by the financial collapse of the news industry and the need, within the 24-hour news cycle, to fill the airwaves with hot air,” Obey said. “I say that regretfully, because I regard what is happening to the news profession as nothing short of a national catastrophe. …

Obey was an avid player of the harmonica (see a video clip here) even playing a few bars of "Amazing Grace" at his retirement news conference.

In a sense, his loss is as much a blow for progressives in the House as Ted Kennedy’s death was to the Senate. Like Teddy he was well liked by many Republicans including Melvin Laird, the Congressman he replaced and former Secretary of Defense.

Said Laird in the same Journal Sentinel story linked above:

"We did not always agree on every issue but we were always able to discuss our different viewpoints with admiration and respect for each other," he said.

Laird added that the Congress has grown increasingly polarized over the years and knew that Obey was "tired of the bickering and partisanship that exists."

He was not afraid of mixing it up even with fellow Democrats over what he thought was right. Wikipedia notes the following controversy:

On June 25, 2009, Obey got into a fight on the House floor with fellow Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. After the House floor had largely cleared following a series of votes, Obey and Waters split apart from a heated conversation about an earmark requested by Waters for a public school employment training center in Los Angeles that was named after herself. Obey rejected the earmark as violating policies against so-called "monuments to me." Waters revised her request to go to the school district’s whole adult employment training program, so the district could decide whether the money would go to the school named after herself. Nonetheless, Obey let it be known that the earmark would be denied. She approached him and complained, shouting, "You’re out of line!" while walking down toward the well in the House chambers. Obey shouted back, "You’re out of line!" before turning and walking away, but stopped, turned back toward Waters, and shouted, "I’m not going to approve that earmark!"

Waters then attempted to portray Obey as the bad guy by yelling out, "He touched me."

According to Politico, Obey is also critical of Obama’s funding requests for Afghanistan when Obama as done so little on the unemployment question:

An immediate issue is President Barack Obama’s must-pass war funding bill, which Obey has been slow to move; he’s demanding answers first from the White House and party leaders on where the jobs funding Obey wants will come from.

“I know there’s a time problem with that,” Obey said of the war funds. “But there’s also a time problem in terms of issuing pink slips to teachers whose jobs we saved last year that could be lost this year if we don’t recognize our responsibility.”

“Yes, the deficit is important long term, but the most important deficit right now is the jobs deficit and the income deficit for people who are out of work. I want to know what the hell we are going to do about it.”

Those are exactly the kind of tough, populist words that the tin-eared Republican-leaning Obama needs to hear. Obey has frequently called out Obama’s stimulus plan as insufficient and inadequate. With Obey’s retirement, Nancy Pelosi also loses another valuable ally (she also last Jack Murtha to death recently) hence driving the Democratic Party likely farther to the right (Obama’s plan all along?).

Barack "Offshore" Obama is going to make the Democratic party pay for his huge mistakes on: the bank bailouts; the Wall St. bailouts; the auto bailouts; the war escalations; the failed reform of health care; the non prosecution of wrongdoing in the Bush administration; inaction on the housing/mortgage crisis; inaction and indecisiveness on the employment/underemployment crisis; and now, the BP environmental catastrophe which is a direct result of Obama’s reversal of 27 years of bans on offshore drilling.

Expect a Republican House to begin impeachment proceedings against Offshore Obama next January.

In any event, thanks Congressman Obey for your 41 years of service.

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