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Wednesday, July 2, 2008 01:28 pm

A blank check for war

Democrats — good for platitudes, little more

Untitled Document President George W. Bush, who has never chosen to take responsibility for addressing the mess he created in Iraq, has now been given permission by Congress to finish his presidency without doing so. After the U.S. House voted 268-155 to provide $162 billion in additional “emergency” funding for the Iraq war on June 19 (and the Senate followed last week, voting 92-6), Bush was effectively assured that he will be able to finish his presidency and head back to Texas without taking any steps to conclude a conflict that has killed and permanently disabled tens of thousands of Americans, killed and dislocated millions of Iraqis, and destabilized one of the most complex and dangerous regions in the world.
“The president basically gets a blank check to dump this war on the next president,” says Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, who voted against letting Bush off the hook — and against setting up a situation where the next commander-in-chief, be he Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain, will be “a war president.”
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, another “no” voter, explained the frustration of those who opposed a measure that ultimately passed with Republican and Democratic support by members of the House who are no more willing than Bush to take responsibility for ending a war that should never have begun. “We have lost 4,103 of America’s best and brightest young people, another 30,000 are grievously wounded and will require care for much of their lives, and we are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. We have built over 800 schools, nearly 5,000 water and sewer projects and over 1,000 roads and bridges — in Iraq — while gas and food prices go through the roof here, home foreclosures wreak havoc on American families, and our infrastructure is in a shambles. Enough is enough! One day of spending in Iraq would finance the entire reconstruction of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis,” said Ellison, a first-term Democrat who has been meticulous about opposing moves to continue the war. “I will not vote for more American taxpayers’ money going to Iraq until that proposal contains deadlines and timetables for the safe withdrawal of our troops.”
That’s what a congressman who takes his duties seriously sounds like. Unfortunately, that’s not what the majority of House members sound like. The measure was opposed by 151 Democrats — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Appropriations Committee chair Dave Obey — and four Republicans (Californian John Campbell, Tennessee’s John Duncan, Arizona’s Floyd Flake, and Texan Ron Paul). Voting for the Iraq spending hike passed were 188 Republicans and 80 Democrats. The votes of those 80 pro-war Democrats were definitional: If House Democrats had simply held together as a caucus, this “blank check” for more killing, maiming, dislocation, and mass destruction would not have been written. Unfortunately, a number of top Democrats in the House — including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., and Chief Deputy Whip Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat who has served as a point-man in the chamber for the Democratic Leadership Council — voted with the Bush administration. Democrats were elected in 2006 to end the war in Iraq. When more than one-third of the House Democratic Caucus supports maintaining the war into the next presidency, it is not just individual Democrats but the party as a whole that is failing. Any large party caucus in a legislative chamber has mavericks. After all, four Republicans just broke with the Bush lockstep to oppose the additional war founding — and two of them (Duncan and Paul) are longtime and consistent critics of military misadventures abroad. But when one out of every three members of a caucus — including much of its leadership team — votes to help the president of an opposition party maintain a war that most American oppose, we’re not looking at a case of leaders allowing mavericks to let off steam. 
We’re looking at a case of a Democratic Party that is dramatically better at mouthing anti-war platitudes than exercising any sort of leadership.

John Nichols is the associate editor of the Capital Times of Madison, Wis., and Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine. He co-wrote “Who’ll unplug Big Media?”
in the June 19 edition of Illinois Times.
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