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US Elections 2002: Gulf Of Tonkin II Splits Dems.

Gulf Of Tonkin II Splits Democrats


By Barbara O'Brien

The United States Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress, not to the President. This provision has been challenged by many administrations through the years, including the current one.

The Constitution notwithstanding, the Bush Administration claims the President doesn’t need the permission of Congress to invade Iraq. This position met with resistance from the more principled members of the President’s own party, however. Now President Bush has let it be known that he desires the permission of Congress, although he has not admitted he needs it.

What the President desires is passage of a resolution modelled after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution of 1964 that enabled President Lyndon Johnson to send troops into Vietnam.

I’m not making this up.

As I write there are 27 days before the general election that will determine which party will dominate the House and Senate for the next two years. The Republican Party is making support for the President’s resolution into a litmus test of patriotism.

Further, incessant news coverage of the Iraq question has removed the worsening economy and the vulnerability of social programs, especially Social Security, from public debate. (By some coincidence, Republicans are considered weak on those issues.)

The Democrats are between Iraq and a hard place. They don’t want to support Bush, but if they question the President’s resolution, they are branded as being “soft on terrorism.” (Those of us old enough to remember the Cold War recall the days when support for civil liberties was symptomatic of being “soft on Communism.” The more things change …)

And, sometimes, Democrats get branded for being Democrats. For example, Republican Congressman John Thune is challenging Democratic incumbent Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota for the Senate seat. A new Thune television ad shows images of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein while a voice criticizes Johnson’s record on missile defense.

However, not only does Johnson support the Tonkin Gulf II resolution; he has also been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and has a son in the military who would probably be sent to Iraq in event of war.

A few days ago Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle reacted with anger to a Bush boilerplate speech claiming the (Democrat-controlled) Senate is not interested in national security. Finally, the Dems seemed to be taking a position, if not mounting a counter-attack. Senators Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and Carl Levin courageously spoke out against Gulf of Tonkin II, as did former Vice President (and actual president-elect) Al Gore.

However, late last week Senator Joe Lieberman and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt rolled on their party. They stood with the President in the Rose Garden, affirming they were with Bush 100 percent. The resistance, such as it was, was kneecapped. Now Gephardt and Lieberman are portrayed as the good and reasonable Democrats who know their place and aren’t causing trouble. They’ve become the Steppin Fetchits of politics.

Word is that Gephardt and Lieberman were trying to get Gulf of Tonkin II passed quickly so that public attention can be refocused on other issues (i.e., the economy). The Bushies, on the other hand, are pulling every string they can to delay weapons inspectors from going into Iraq, thereby avoiding a possible resolution of the Iraq issue before November.

On October 7 the President spoke to the nation to present the reasons to go to war with Iraq. Once again Bush tied Saddam Hussein to September 11 and evoked the spectre of an atomic bomb, even though there’s no evidence Saddam has connections to either. But never mind; politicians mostly got in line, and Gulf of Tonkin II is certain to pass.

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New Jersey Update

Last week I wrote (gleefully) about developments in the New Jersey Senate race. The scandal-ridden incumbent Senator, Robert Torricelli, withdrew from a race he was losing to his Republican challenger, Doug Forrester. The Democrats were scrambling to put another candidate on the ballots.

The New Jersey Supreme Court gave the NJ Dems permission to replace Torricelli with former Senator Frank Lautenberg. On Monday the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of this decision. Later that day, a federal circuit court judge dismissed a case brought by the Republicans on behalf of an absentee voter who had already voted and was oppressed by having to fax in another ballot.

Thus it is that Frank Lautenberg, 78 years old but still formidable, is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senator from New Jersey. Conventional wisdom is that having Lautenberg on the ticket will keep the New Jersey Senate seat safe for the Democrats.

Over the weekend, while the Republican lawsuits were still before the courts, Doug Forrester let it be known to the press that he planned to confront Lautenberg. As both candidates were touring the white-picket-fence New Jersey borough of Old Bridge, the tall, pudgy Forrester approached the short, trim Lautenberg and challenged him to a grueling series of debates in all 21 New Jersey counties.

"Well, are you challenging me? Because I thought you didn't want me to be a candidate altogether," Lautenberg said. "Why don't you tell these people here now that I am the Democratic candidate and you and I are going to debate forcefully together?"

Lautenberg jabbed his finger at Forrester as reporters and television camerapersons gathered around. "Am I the candidate? Mr. Forrester! Am I the candidate? Am I the candidate or not?" Forrester, still smiling, retreated.

The Republican Party would like to make an issue of Frank Lautenberg’s age, but Republican Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina will celebrate his 100th birthday in December.

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- Barbara O'Brien, creator of The Mahablog!, is a New York resident and a freelance writer. She will be providing a regular column for Scoop on the US Elections. Readers are invited to visit The Mahablog! and see the Timeline of Terror!

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