Today, in the depths of a terrible war, on the brink of a decisive battle for Baghdad, let us have a serious debate about where we stand and where we must go in Iraq. That is the debate we should have—but it is not the debate that this resolution would bring. — Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT)
Our Constitution and the process that created it enshrined discourse and debate, especially on the most difficult issues of the day, as a fundamental and essential part of good government. In a broad society fraught with multiple competing interests, it is through this process that our government comes closest to best accomplishing its noblest purposes. In this view, circumventing debate or closing off debate too early leads to bad government. Of course, there comes a time when talk must cease and action must take place in order for good government to actually come about.
Senate supporters of the Warner-Levin resolution that would toothlessly rebuke President Bush for ordering a troop surge in Iraq (an action that follows recommendations made by the great and infallible Iraq Study Group) are in a complete dither over their inability to muster 60 votes to stop debate on the resolution so that it can be brought to a vote.
Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) was positively flummoxed over it on the NewsHour Tuesday night, strangely claiming that the Republican minority were refusing to let them debate and vote on the resolution which “would, in fact, get more than a majority and perhaps more than 60 votes.” Come again, Senator? I you have 60 votes, then get cloture and prove it. Don’t say such stupid things on national television.
Oops. My bad. Politicians do that kind of thing all of the time. And the MSM only calls them on it if they’re on the MSM crap list.
The weird thing about this is that opponents of the Warner-Levin resolution were voting to continue debate, not to close it off. In their view, the matter is not yet ready for a vote. Senate Democrats now understand the frustration senate Republicans felt when they held a slim majority but were unable to muster enough votes to bring legislation to a final vote. And I’ll wager that senate Republicans, now in the minority, are thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t exercise the so-called nuclear option to disallow filibusters on judicial and administrative nominees.
Senator Joe Lieberman, now an Independent Democrat, had some very strong words for the resolution’s supporters in his Monday speech on the senate floor. He said, “It is altogether proper that we debate our policy in Iraq. It should be a debate that is as serious as the situation in Iraq and that reflects the powers the Constitution gives to Congress in matters of war. But that, sadly, is not the debate that the Warner-Levin resolution invites us to have.”
Lieberman called the resolution “an accumulation of ambiguities and inconsistencies.” (Gee, I thought most legislation was like that.) He then went on to rip on his colleagues for pursuing a historically unprecedented and “wrong” action. He said, “I contacted the Library of Congress on this question last week and was told that, never before, when American soldiers have been in harm’s way, fighting and dying in a conflict that Congress had voted to authorize, has Congress turned around and passed a resolution like this, disapproving of a particular battlefield strategy.”
Of course, the resolution (which senate majority leaders have shelved for the time being) was not primarily intended to micromanage the battlefield. It was meant to send a stinging rebuke to President Bush, a man the Left hates as much as the Right used to hate President Clinton. The majority were pandering to their base, rather than offering any kind of help. In doing so, Lieberman claimed, they would actively and negatively alter the state of our affairs in Iraq. Actually, they intended this non-binding resolution to simply open the door for something with far more teeth.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery says (here) that Congressional Democrats are making a bad political move with their intense focus on embarrassing President Bush via non-binding resolutions. She says they would have been better to express concern but give support. Then if things went badly, they would have come off as prescient. Now, however, if things go well they will share none of the praise. And if things go badly, they will share part of the blame for having helped cause the disaster. They have unwittingly offered President Bush “a partial alibi.”
Emery says that while Congressional Democrats are keyed into “the mood of the moment,” things can quickly change. “[T]he present, intense as it is, is often a poor predictor of what will come next.” Citing historical examples, she warns, “In the long run, those seen as courting defeat are not thought of fondly.” Those in solid districts won’t lose elections, but presidential elections have proven extremely difficult for Democrats to win ever since they “closed down a tedious war against the will of a Republican president.”
Those are pretty dire predictions. I don’t know how things will actually turn out. Democrats held Congress for two decades after they shut down Vietnam, so it doesn’t appear that they suffered the wrath of voters. I suppose it can be construed to seem that the two presidents they have been able to elect since then were anomalies, but I don’t know if that’s the way it really works.
At any rate, I believe that the push to pass resolutions censuring President Bush for his management of Iraq will come back to hurt Democrats in the long run. It comes across as spiteful Bush hatred rather than something that is designed to help the country. Although left politicos won’t see it this way, it comes across to the average guy the same way the Clinton impeachment came across. You can argue all day long that it is the right thing to do, but it smacks of something quite different to the average American.
Bush is not blame free in all of this. He and his administration have worked for the past several years to completely shut down debate about Iraq under the mantra that any debate was tantamount to insubordination. Now that he has finally changed strategies to something that could work; however, the legislative branch is showing that it is tired of being ignored. So tired, in fact, that they are willing to risk actual insubordination. As my mom used to tell me, two wrongs don’t make a right.
The point is that in a pluralistic society, we need open debate about the important issues of the day. We should have a hardy and robust debate about how to deal with Iraq in specific and with radical Islam in general. Decisions should be reached and executed within the framework of each government branch’s constitutionally mandated duties. And the voters should make elected officials accountable for those decisions. It’s not a clean and clear cut process. But it is designed to achieve good government.