John Douglass: Embodiment of a Ruined Election System

October 29th, 2012

Published on The People’s Voice, by David Swanson, Oct. 28, 2012.

In April I had a chat with Congressional candidate John Douglass who had just about wrapped up his party’s nomination for Congress here in Virginia’s Fifth District. Douglass is a retired Brigadier General, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and a former deputy U.S. military representative to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. 

He spent years buying weapons for the military and then years selling weapons to the military as CEO of Aerospace Industries Association. In Congress he would be back on the buying side of the revolving door of death dealing.

Obviously a candidate for war, right? That’s not what people were telling me, and not what Douglass himself says. He tells me he’s for peace and for moving from an offensive military to one that is truly defensive. Rather than wars in the Middle East, he says, he’d like to search every container that enters our country and control every passage across out country’s borders. Such policies, he says, don’t threaten anyone or produce terrorism.

But, here’s the catch. In recent years in this district, Congressman Virgil Goode (a Democrat turned Republican), Congressman Tom Perriello (Democrat), and the current incumbent Robert Hurt (Republican) have voted for every “emergency” supplemental war spending bill they could get their hands on, along with every “defense” appropriations act. Perriello said he was for peace and justice and the rule of law, but would never commit to anything, and always voted for war, becoming a leading advocate for more wars since leaving office. So, I asked Douglass if he would commit to anything. Douglass, I may have neglected to mention, is a Democrat.

To avoid asking about hypothetical situations, I asked Douglass if he would have voted against any of the war funding bills that his predecessors voted for. “Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t,” he replied. “It’s hard for me to put myself in their position from not being there.”

Think about what that means. In this government of the people, the people have no ability to determine whether a bill deserved support or not, even years after the fact, much less when it counts, because the people are not all members of Congress. Those of us who lobby a Congress member to vote a particular way on something have no business doing that because we are not in their position. Their job is to represent us, then, without asking us what we want, since we are not qualified to say.

Douglass said that, “Once the troops are committed, it would be hard for me not to support them.” He said he would vote to fund even wars that he had opposed launching. I asked if it would make a difference to him if the majority of the troops told pollsters they wanted the war ended. I asked if it would make a difference to him if the top cause of death for the troops was suicide. Summing up his answer: Nope, he replied, and the question is too theoretical.

So, I asked about a particular bill now in Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill which limits funding in Afghanistan to withdrawal. Would he sign onto it? Again, no commitment. “Probably,” he said. This wasn’t a theoretical bill, but it was a bill that he said he hadn’t read. Still, he would not commit to the principle or to the bill as I described it. Has he found a moment to read the bill since April? How should we know? He doesn’t say, and we don’t have media outlets that ask such inconvenient questions.

I asked Douglass if he would have voted, as Rep. Hurt did, against this year’s National Defense Authorization Act in opposition to the power of indefinite detention. Again the answer was: “Probably.” Probably he would oppose authorizing presidents to lock us up forever without a trial. Probably … //

Here’s audio of the full conversation with John Douglass.

(full text, audio, relevant links).


Books: Lessons of the American Revolutionary Left of the 1970s, on New Politics, book review by Dan La Botz, October 26, 2012;

Addiction to Smokeless Tobacco in America, on Global, by Charles Foerster, Oct. 27, 2012;

From the Editors: Marvin Mandell and Betty Reid Mandell, on New Politics, Summer 2012.

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