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William Rivers Pitt: Suddenly, the Democrats

Suddenly, the Democrats

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday, 26 September, 2002

Hurricane Isidore is barreling towards the American coastline after having formed itself into a fist out in the Caribbean. Hurricane Democrat just tore across Washington D.C., after having formed itself inside the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

The winds began to swirl around the words of Al Gore, former Vice President, winner of the 2000 election and loser of the lawsuit. On Monday of this week, Gore delivered the first broadside directed towards the Bush administration since the beginning of his self-imposed exile from public life. Entitled "Iraq and the War on Terrorism," the speech at the Commonwealth Club was intended to give voice to nascent concerns among the Democrats, and the American people, regarding the Bush administration's apparent intentions towards Iraq.

"I'm speaking today," began Gore, "in an effort to recommend a specific course of action for our country which I believe would be preferable to the course recommended by President Bush. Specifically, I am deeply concerned that the policy we are presently following with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century."

The timing could not have been better. The Democratic faithful, along with a great many independents and progressives, had grown restive and fearful. The Democrats had approved John Ashcroft. The Democrats had voted overwhelmingly in favor of the brazenly contra-constitutional PATRIOT Act. In the last two weeks, it seemed all too clear that the Democrats were going to roll over again and give Bush everything he wanted regarding Iraq, and damn the consequences. The Democrats had whiffed, time and again, when presented with an opportunity to stand up for basic American principles in the face of the barnstorming Bush conservatives. Certainly, the political aftermath of September 11th played a huge role in this hesitancy, but more than that was the seeming lack of a leader to forge the way.

In just one year," said Gore on Monday, "the President has somehow squandered the international outpouring of sympathy, goodwill and solidarity that followed the attacks of September 11th and converted it into anger and apprehension aimed much more at the United States than at the terrorist network -- much as we manage to squander in one year's time the largest budget surpluses in history and convert them into massive fiscal deficits."

"President George W. Bush," continued Gore, "is pushing for a vote in this Congress immediately before the election (regarding Iraq). Rather than making efforts to dispel concern at home an abroad about the role of politics in the timing of his policy, the President is publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a 'no' vote -- even as the Republican National Committee runs pre-packaged advertising based on the same theme -- in keeping with the political strategy clearly described in a White House aide's misplaced computer disk, which advised Republican operatives that their principal game plan for success in the election a few weeks away was to 'focus on the war.' Vice President Cheney, meanwhile indignantly described suggestions of political motivation 'reprehensible.' The following week he took his discussion of war strategy to the Rush Limbaugh show."

Of course, the mainstream media covered this important speech not at all, except in snippets. Big storms, however, gather around small particles. The winds created by Gore's words, words that have been desperately necessary within this body politic, blew from the east coast to the west coast, gathering strength and momentum. The principled stand by Senator Robert Byrd against the extreme nature of Bush's Homeland Security agency agenda began to more fulsomely resonate, despite another near-blackout by the media. On Wednesday, the winds exploded in the chamber of the Senate.

As ever, the catalyst was George W. Bush. It has been a truism since the 2000 campaign that, whenever Bush is on top of the world and has everything going his way, he will always do or say something stupid and deal the opposition back into the game. Wednesday was no different. A few days earlier, Bush had commented in a speech at a Trenton, NJ rally that Senate Democrats care more about "special interests" than they do about the security of the United States and the American people.

Word of this reached Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who promptly blew his stack.

" But then I read in the paper this morning," said Daschle. "The president is quoted in The Washington Post this morning as saying that Democratic--the Democratic-controlled Senate is not interested in the security of the American people. Not interested in the security of the American people? You tell Senator Inouye he is not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous-outrageous!"

"The president ought to apologize to Senator Inouye and every veteran who fought in every war who is a Democrat in the United States Senate," continued Daschle. "He ought to apologize to the American people. That is wrong. We ought not politicize this war. We ought not to politicize the rhetoric about war in life and death."

As he spoke, Daschle pointed to Senator Inouye, who lost limbs in combat while serving in the American military. He could have been talking just as easily about Democratic Senator Max Cleland, who was permanently disabled by a hand grenade while serving in Vietnam. The same could also have been said of Democratic Senator John Kerry, three times awarded the Purple Heart in Vienam.

A remarkable thing has happened here. Because of the astounding gaffe by Bush, the push towards war in Iraq has gone from a convenient topic-changer on the eve of the November midterm elections to an embarrassing albatross around his neck. Meanwhile, the Democrats have suddenly and vehemently unified, howling their pent-up outrage with one voice. The din became so thunderous that Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott found himself in front of the same microphone Dashcle had used to ask the telling question, "Who is the enemy here? The President of the United States or Saddam Hussein?"

A lot of people have been waiting a long time for the Democrats to show up. The fact that it was Al Gore who seems to have given Senate Democrats permission to be a true opposition party is just one more strange note in this bizarre political season. One thing is certain, though. If this tenor keeps up, Bush and the GOP are looking at a windy couple of months before winter, and November, arrives. More Terror Alerts are sure to come soon. If this Democratic assault keeps up, that's all Bush and his people will have to fall back on.


William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.

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