Does Daschle Want Some Cheese With His Whine?

“Why was the U.S. Senate so fixated on protecting jobs instead of protecting lives? The U.S. Senate’s refusal to grant this president and future presidents the same power that four previous presidents have had will haunt the Democratic party worse than Marley’s ghost haunted Ebenezer Scrooge. Why did they put workers’ rights above American lives? Why did that 2002 U.S. Senate — on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 — with malice and forethought, deliberately weaken the powers of the president in time of war? And then why did this Senate — in all its puffed up vainglory — rear back and deliver the ultimate slap in the face of the president by not even having the decency to give him an up or down vote on his bill? This is unworthy of this great body. It is demeaning and ugly and over the top.” — Senator Zell Miller, Democrat Georgia, as cited by the Weekly Standard, October 7, 2002.

In Trenton, New Jersey, September 23, 2002, at a campaign stop, President George Bush urged the Senate to pass the Homeland Security Bill. Bush’s words:

“I asked the Congress to give me the flexibility necessary to be able to deal with the true threats of the 21st century by being able to move the right people to the right place at the right time, so we can better assure America were doing everything possible. The House has responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this president, and future presidents, to better keep the American people secure. And people are working hard in Washington to get it right in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats. See this isn’t a partisan issue. This is an American issue.”

Bush foolishly and unfairly used the phrase, “not interested in the security of the American people” which can legitimately be interpreted as suggesting that the Senate leadership does not care about security. However, the entire context of the speech also emphasizes bi-partisanship and that “both Republicans and Democrats” had been working together. The speech was certainly not has harsh as some have portrayed. Nonetheless, there was certainly enough ammunition for political hacks to venture onto the cable news programs to fret about Bush “politicizing” defense and security issues.

One would have expected that someone of the stature of Senate Leader Tom Daschle to have delegated this sort of rough-and-tumble argument to others. He could have at least expressed his dissatisfaction in his usual quiet manner. Perhaps it was so much more satisfying to delay Senate business and storm to the Senate floor to whine that Bush had politicized the debate. Rather than maintaining a detached dignity, Daschle exploded in am embarrassing fit of pique. The press painted a picture of the normally dormant Daschle erupting in a lava of complaint.

If this were not enough, Democratic, Senator Robert Byrd, who now that Senator Strom Thurmond is retiring is vying for the title of “Senator Who has Served Too Long,” rose to call Bush’s words “despicable.”

All of this, of course, occurred in a context when, former Vice-President Al Gore, who was perhaps setting himself up for a presidential bid in 2004, wondered out loud why Bush was asking for authorization to use military force “in high political season.” Are we to suppose that important issues should be dealt with only in odd-numbered years? Democratic Congressmen Jim McDermott, who recently visited Iraq, informed us that Bush would lie to get us into a war with Iraq. Others have suggested that Bush’s focus on Iraq it a cynical attempt to draw attention away from a weak economy. Or there are the old standby arguments that Bush wants to go to war with Iraq to help the oil industry or to complete in unfinished job of his father in the Persian Gulf War. The polarization of the debate occurred long ago.

Of course, politicians politicize. That is what they are supposed to do. That is what they should do. If Daschle did not want the Iraq issue to be politicized, why did he and others insist that the matter should be submitted to Congress for debate? You can only avoid politics if there is no room for disagreement.

The real problem is that the issues of attacking Iraq and going after Al Qaeda ought to be debated and argued about. It ought to be a political issue. Hashing out these decisions in public is what democracies are all about. There are principled reasons to question Bush’s approach to these issues. Perhaps we ought to resign ourselves to live with Saddam Hussein equipped with nuclear weapons and hope that our own weapons arsenal will act as a sufficient deterrent. Perhaps not. Let’s argue about it.

There are some Republicans who have misgivings, but Democrats appear to be burdened with the most doubts. Except for a few politicians like Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Democrats have been so worried about their prospects in the upcoming elections that their voices have been muted. Even formerly loud and articulate voices like Paul Wellstone’s have fallen almost silent. In 1990, he spoke out passionately against the Persian Gulf War. Now that he is involved in a tight election battle, his sense of moral indignation seems to have fled him.

Daschle is boxed in. The resulting sense of frustration is probably partially responsible for his eruption on the Senate floor. You can tell that like in 1990, in his heart of hearts, he wants to oppose Bush on Iraq, but he does not want to pay the political price, especially with control of the House and Senate in question. Daschle would rather change the argument to who is politicizing what. It is hard to understand why one would want to go into politics if not to debate the important issues of the day. What could be more important than the debate about war? For most Democrats, the Iraq issue is certainly not a “profile in courage.”

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