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Losing David Obey

I rise to second E.J.’s ode of admiration for David Obey, one of Congress’s longtime liberal heroes and legislative titans, who announced today that he won’t seek re-election. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and even before that one of its most influential members, Obey often shaped public policy out of the public spotlight. Not that he wasn’t outspoken (boy, was he ever), but he wielded the power of the purse in an arena that has never drawn the level of journalistic interest it should command.

For those who know Obey, it came as no surprise that Nancy Pelosi picked him to preside over the House in the final, climactic moments of its deliberations on health care earlier this year. No member of the House knew its rules better than he, and there was no one tougher and less susceptible to the Republicans’ last-minute grandstanding -- as his flat, firm put-down of an out-of-order amendment from GOP leader John Boehner made clear. For Obey, who’d championed the cause of universal health care since he was first elected in 1969, wielding the gavel as Congress finally enacted such a program had to be deeply gratifying.

Obey is one of the two old bulls of the Appropriations Committee who played key roles in Nancy Pelosi’s ascent to speaker. The other was John Murtha, who died unexpectedly earlier this year. Both Obey and Murtha were impressed by Pelosi’s skills soon after she came to Congress in 1987. “She was operational,” Obey told me back when I was profiling Pelosi half a decade ago. By that, he meant that she had a keen sense of how to cut the deals that enabled her legislative priorities to be enacted, and that meant she understood the political needs of her fellow members -- and possessed the requisite toughness to see those deals through. As Pelosi ascended within the Democratic caucus, Obey and Murtha helped her to win the support of members for whom her liberal politics were not reason enough to back her rise.

With Obey’s retirement and Murtha’s death, Pelosi has lost two key lieutenants. The other senior members who have been her counselors and confidantes and who championed her rise, like House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, tend to come from liberal districts much like Pelosi’s own (Miller’s is right across the Bay from hers).

Obey’s first election, in 1969, made news. The seat he won had long been held by Republican Melvin Laird, who left it to become Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Defense. Obey ran on an antiwar platform, and his election signaled the widespread weariness and growing disgust with the Vietnam War. Over the past year, he’s voiced similar dissatisfaction with Barack Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. With Charlie Rangel and Pete Stark, Obey is among the last remaining members of Congress to have initially won election running against our involvement in Vietnam, and, as such, Obey brought a unique perspective to the debate over the Afghan War. It is one of many reasons why this tough, seasoned, principled liberal is going to be missed.

By Harold Meyerson  | May 5, 2010; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  Meyerson  | Tags:  Harold Meyerson  
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Comments

I admire this columnist but he does tend to make the right case for the wrong reason. David Obey has been a hero of clear thinking, before being a lightning rod of policy, and I would vote for him whether he ran or not. But, in a chronically mislaid grasp of these distinguishable virtues, Meyerson climaxes his encomium with the extremely inapposite reference to Obey's views on domestic legislation, with his heroically candid perception of the debâcle in Vietnam. The sagest Conservative in domestic policy could just as easily have seen that light, rupture as it might have done, his many, expedient friendships; it hasn't been Liberalism with which David Obey has seen. It has been with the eyes of cold-blooded empiricism.

Posted by: CarterNicholas | May 5, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Obey suffers from delusions of grandeur...he THINKS he's important when he is only a very small person. Eat cheese back in Wisconsin...bet you can do that with success....you flunked Congress test.

Posted by: powerange | May 5, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Here we go again with the liberal urban legend about Vietnam. Tell you what Meyerson, let's count backwards.
-- What happened in 1978 - Vietnam invasion of Cambodia
-- 1976 - 1 million "liberated" vietnamese take to the boats.
-- 1975 - 500 thousand South Vietnamese sent to concentration camps for up to 20 years. Montagnards exterminated. Laos and Cambodia flll like Dominoes. Khmer Rouge in Cambodia begins the process of exterminating a quarter of the population.
-- 1975, 29 April - 19 regular army North Vietnamese Division take Saigon...regular army divisions....in "Our Great Spring Victory," the local "Viet Cong" are not mentioned ONCE.

Last lesson for a morally vacuous Meyerson who it seems can wink at the most horrendous attrocities as long as they're committed by REDS. The "Viet Cong" the South Vietnamese Communist Party were NEVER separate from the North Vietnames Politbureau...you get that Meyerson...from 1954 on they took their orders from Hanoi. The Viet Cong troops, utterly decimated (probably on plan) in Tet likewise were commanded from Hanoi. So Meyerson, the war had more to do with France vs Germany than "People's War People's Army."

So your gloating is really gloating over genocide and slavery and murder and crimes beyond your comprehension..bordering on Mao, Stalin and Hitler....and you snicker and primp..how disgusting you are.

Tell you what Meyerson, I understand you don't know diddly about history and what you do is tinted pink by the blinders you wear. But how about for a change sticking to something you do know about...depravity in the DC government and bias in the WaPo.

As for Obey...looks like he's one more McGovern liberal, the people who ran Scoop Jackson out of the Party and moved it so far left it can scarcely speak to Americans, who hasn't the stomach to take on the Tea Party and face the music for cramming something the American people hate right down their throats. For that reason, he a coward, a yellow bellied coward.

Posted by: wjc1va | May 5, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh, my gosh! The Messianic missals on several WP sites tonight praising Obey are starting to turn my stomach. This guy is an arrogrant creep who is brilliant only in his mind (and in the minds of a few WP writers who need to get refunds from the journalism schools they attended if these are examples of what they learned). Everyone knows that the guy is leaving because he a)wasn't sure he'd win reelection and b)even if he did he would represent the LOSERS!

Posted by: georges2 | May 5, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Dave didn't have the courtesy to announce his retirement in his district.

Posted by: dritei | May 5, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

So the old liberal lions are dead or dying like flies think Murtha, Kennedy, Kennedy, Obey, soon ole Harry Reid and grandma Pelosi.

Yup. tired ole liberals.. out of ideas,out of money, and soon all of them... out-of-office.

Change we have Hoped for !

Posted by: pvilso24 | May 5, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

Ole Dave was going down, he knew it, so he bailed out. Been there since '69. His pension will be amost 300K a yr, not counting benefits. President Obama, will he be making enough.

Posted by: gsms69 | May 5, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

People nearing retirement age in the 7th District of Wisconsin have had only two Congressmen since they were born, Laird and Obey.

Posted by: jbritt3 | May 5, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

The retirement of David Obey is a welcome event by Constitution Believing American Citizes. This merely represents the leaving of another "constitution shredder", and thank God for that.

David Obey will definitely NOT BE MISSED by decent, law abiding, tax paying Americans. HE WILL BE MISSED BY BIG BUSINESS, THOSE PEOPLE WHO PROFITED BY DAVID OBEY BEING IN HIS POSITION.

HOPEFULY, NANCY PELOSI, HARRY REID, AND BARACK H. OBAMA WILL SOON GO THE WAY OF DAVID OBEY, AFTER THE VOICE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE IS HEARD. HE WILL NOT BE MISSED BY "WE THE PEOPLE"

Posted by: barrysal | May 6, 2010 1:54 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Mr. Meyerson. Obey was right about Vietnam and most everything since. His effectiveness is amply evidenced by the wild hatred expressed by the right wing posts you see here.

Posted by: twm1 | May 6, 2010 4:23 AM | Report abuse

Fidel Obama continues to march his lemmings off the cliff. Everyone knows Leftists are gutless weasels, but sacrificing your career for an empty suited affirmative action Marxist? Wow..

Posted by: wewintheylose | May 6, 2010 4:52 AM | Report abuse

Obey is a Democrat marxist TRAITOR who should be indicted, tried and executed for his career of anti American activities, NOT allowed to live off of US taxpayers for the rest of his disgusting life. Meyerson is similar marxist scum. Liberal has nothing to do with marxism which is a herd philosophy that gives all power to a soviet government. Obey and Meyerson are simply unprincipled marxists.

Posted by: bruno77 | May 6, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Now if America could only lose Chuck Shumer, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and all the other feckless, socialist wannabes we would have a real country again.

The ObamaNation would be banished forever and the nightmare ended.

November! It may be a new start.

Posted by: battleground51 | May 6, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Isn't it wonderful the Mulla-in-chief is losing his imams. If only the rest of the liberal imams and imamets would leave!! Remember November - maybe it will happen!!!

Posted by: dehowejr | May 6, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Obey was able to identify a lost and hopeless cause in Vietnam does not make him a genius. Once people realized we could win every battle and still lose the war, others worked to end the war as well, and rightly so.

But cutting and running in Afghanistan is just not the same thing. Like it or not, while we have been there long enough to have accomplished our mission -- had we retained our focus -- and while Iraq was a foolish distraction that has cost untold casualties there and among our troops, we should not and cannot abandon that war effort.

Mr. Obey's desire for national healthcare for 41 years means he was out of touch with the American people for virtually the entire time he was in office on this issue. Wait until the bill comes due for this disaster. Good riddance to Mr. Obey, who it looks like was finally being figured out by the voters.

Posted by: buggerianpaisley1 | May 6, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Obey was able to identify a lost and hopeless cause in Vietnam does not make him a genius. Once people realized we could win every battle and still lose the war, others worked to end the war as well, and rightly so.

But cutting and running in Afghanistan is just not the same thing. Like it or not, while we have been there long enough to have accomplished our mission -- had we retained our focus -- and while Iraq was a foolish distraction that has cost untold casualties there and among our troops, we should not and cannot abandon that war effort.

Mr. Obey's desire for national healthcare for 41 years means he was out of touch with the American people for virtually the entire time he was in office on this issue. Wait until the bill comes due for this disaster. Good riddance to Mr. Obey, who it looks like was finally being figured out by the voters. And aside from his lifetime pension and healthcare benefits, he'll be taking his campaign warchest with him when he goes. Why waste it on a failed re-election? Classic example of a guy who was only too happy to spend one groups money to solve another group's problems.

Posted by: buggerianpaisley1 | May 6, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Dave for your service to our great state of Wisconsin and keeping the progressive spirit alive. Wisconsin is an interesting state of contrast. It's progressive but also the birthplace of the Republican party. We always walk the fine line of balance which is why I love this state so much. Have a great retirement.

Posted by: bluecollarbluejeans | May 6, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Obey's retirement may include a musical tour. His recent performance with Dr. Francis Collins was pretty impressive as they played a sort of "Appropriations Blues" song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HySPuXzQ4LI

Posted by: mfrank03 | May 10, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

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