John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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David Obey

Posted on May 6, 2010
David Obey plays a mean harmonica.

I know that because we traveled to Ireland once as part of a CODEL, and one night, as we had a few pints in a Dublin pub, he pulled out his instrument and played a few ballads as we sang along.

That he plays a mean harmonica should come as no surprise.

He comes across as being mean, although I have always gotten along well with him.

Obey is a grouchy guy.  He gets grouchier the more tired he gets.  He was especially grouchy when Republicans took over the Congress and cut some of his beloved spending programs in the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

There is good reason to spend money on Foreign Operations, although foreign aid spending is extraordinarily unpopular with the American people.  Polls show that most folks think we spend about half our budget on foreign aid, when it actuality, it makes up very small percentage of the budget.

Explaining that to people back home is a losing proposition.  And I am sure that made Obey even more frustrated and grouchy.

Obey is a big spending liberal Democrat.  He would make no bones about that if you asked him point blank.  The stimulus bill that President Obama signed at the beginning of his Administration was an Obey creation.  He will argue until he is blue in the face that it worked, although I don’t think that argument works with the American people.

After four decades in the Congressional trenches, Obey is hanging up his spurs.  He says that he is “bone-tired,” and that if he decided to run again, he would have won.  I believe that he believes that if he would have run again, he would have won, although there is plenty of evidence to offer a counter-view.

Obey has largely been pro-life and pro-gun in his voting records, which allowed him to be liberal on spending and military issues.   He replaced Mel Laird, who became the Defense Secretary for Richard Nixon in 1968, in the heat of the Viet Nam War, and I am certain that his political views were largely shaped in reaction to that era.

Obey is a throwback to a different era of politics.  He has been an appropriator for most of his life, so seeing the once powerful Appropriations Committee become a tool of the leadership must be painful for him.  He is a big spender, and watching how our country has become steadily more broke, making more spending very, very difficult, must also be painful for him.

Obey’s retirement is a big deal, because it is further evidence of a coming shift in the leadership of the Congress.  What is most interesting about the Democrats who currently run the Congress is how old they are, especially in comparison with the Republicans.  Pelosi, Hoyer, Obey, Dingell, Waxman, Miller, Rangel, Levin, McDermott, Lewis, Conyers, are all over 70, and more importantly, their views are all out-of-date, formed in a different era.   Most Republican leaders are in their forties or fifties.

Not only is Obey “bone-tired”, but his ideas are bone-tired too.  We can’t afford big government spending programs, and the war on terror has made the old peacenik views of the military obsolete.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his retirement would be the first of many from this cadre of old-timers.  I assume that at some point most of them will decide that it is time to step aside and give someone else a chance to run the country.