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David Swanson: A Measure of Morality in Congress

A Measure of Morality in Congress

By David Swanson

If you could secretly tell a magic genie "Yes" and receive a million dollars but cause the deaths of a million people you've never met in China, would you say No? This is no longer just a philosophical brain teaser. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday morning on funding for a war that has already caused the deaths of possibly as many as a million Iraqis. Some of the money might very well go to funding an attack on another nation (Iran). Many members of Congress are expected to vote Yes in order to keep their committee chairmanships, or in order to receive funding for projects in their districts, or in order to receive assistance or not face opposition in their next reelection campaigns. Among the most principled few who are holding out and voting No, some of them are encouraging others to vote Yes.

If you could secretly tell a magic genie "Yes" and suffer horribly and die but save the lives of a million people you've never met, would you say No? This one they don't even ask in philosophy school, much less Congress. But let's think about it for a minute. What's the worst fate a Congress Member could face as a result of voting against funding the war? For most it must be the loss of their seat. How horrible is that? Some of these congress members are freshmen, first elected last November campaigning on promises to end the war. Now they're prepared to vote $100 billion for the war in hopes of getting elected again in 2008. What in the hell did they want to get elected for in the first place? What district is going to receive less money if we end the war and redirect our spending to useful projects than if we continue the war but fund special pieces of pork here and there?

And why are the deals being cut in secret? If an honest Congress Member is threatened with a loss of funds for pet projects or a loss of a committee position or election support, he or she should publicly announce the dilemma and ask for constituent input. "Dear constituents, which would you have me do? Choice number 1 is I vote to fund the war and put our grandchildren into debt funding the murder of hundreds of thousands of people and turning much of the world passionately against us but I get the money for that sewage plant we've been wanting and the aide our agro-corporations have been whining about, or choice number 2 is I vote against the war money and I don't get the money for the sewage or the farms. I'm sorry we can't have it both ways. Which would you prefer?"

That way it's on the table and out in the open air. This allows citizens to weigh in. It also allows other congress members to join the conversation. Nobody wants to face hardship to make the right vote against a bill only to have the bill pass anyway. If members talked more openly with each other, they might better recognize their collective ability to stop a bill like this one. And there's also the possibility, of course, that publicizing all of the pressure being applied would serve to discover what has thus far been missing from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's persona: shame.

The only argument that Pelosi and her coalition of the bribed and threatened make for their bill is that it can pass. Well, not easily it can't. If it fails, perhaps on attempt number 2 Pelosi will choose to struggle for a bill that's worth the effort and focus her attentions on persuading the right-wing Democrats rather than the left-. They'll be able to face a far more palatable dilemma. If you could tell a magic genie Yes and receive a million dollars AND save a million lives, wouldn't you do it?

If Pelosi's first bill passes and is vetoed, or if it does not pass, there will no doubt be a slight delay before attempt number 2. That delay should be used by Congress Members to speak with Iraqis and come to know them and their lives and the impact every $100 billion worth of war has on them. This is not a fantasy, but a horror as real as they come. However, the Democratic leadership is more interested in symbolism and unity and passing a bill, any bill. As far as the goal of unity, that's already shot. As far as the bill, it will either be vetoed, or all the toothless limitations in it will be "signing statemented" away, an action that Pelosi will not challenge, leaving us with exactly the bill the President wanted but no opposition party in Congress for us to turn to.

Whichever way the vote goes, we will have at least a handful of heroes to thank. If those heroes grow in strength and numbers, there may just be hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who owe them a great debt of gratitude.


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