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Senator Byrd, A Hero for Our Time
October 12, 2002
By Margie Burns

Thank God for Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), the one man in the Senate saying what needs to be said.

George W. Bush is trying to get America to attack Iraq.

This idea – that the world’s most powerful nation should bomb, invade, and then remake a country that unfortunately sits on top of the world’s second-largest oil reserves, though that country has never attacked us -- would be recognized as demented if any third-world clown in high place pushed it. Yet it was passed, after being “debated,” in the U.S. Congress.

Following is part of Senator Byrd’s statement to the Senate:

The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also a product of presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking in its scope. It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the Constitution to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the President blanket authority to launch a unilateral preemptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States. This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the President's authority under the Constitution, not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of the United Nations on its head.

Representative Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to William H. Herndon, stated: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose - - and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you 'be silent; I see it, if you don't.'

The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

The fundamentals of democracy were good enough for Lincoln – and incidentally for George Washington, who resigned his generalship after the Revolutionary War, and declined kingship when offered it. Only Congress has the power to declare war, and to finance it, under our system of government; the reason is that a single man with unlimited power might abuse his authority and go to war for motives more in his interest than in the nation’s. This is why we have a system of checks and balances – to sidestep the human tendency to abuse a position of unchecked power.

Most members of Congress, of course, are not consciously trying to replace this system. They humbly believe opinion polls show that going to war with Iraq has public “approval.”

They’re mistaken.

My family actually is from Texas, and we recently got back from two weeks in Houston. Enthusiasm for attacking Iraq? Nonexistent. The more Bush talks about “regime change,” the fewer people enlist. Nobody wants to go to war with Iraq. Regular people don’t even want to hear about it.

As goes Texas, so goes the nation. Congress is receiving thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls, all saying – basically -- “Are you KIDDING?”

So why aren’t opinion polls running the same way? Simple: polling is no longer perceived as private.

I can attest personally that the polls leave the responder feeling rather exposed. Online polls don’t just ask your “opinion.” They ask your household income, your age, and your religion. They ask your race, your gender, and your marital status (and not just the innocuous ‘married’ or ‘single,’ either). They ask whether you are registered in a political party and, if so, which one. They ask your politics, from “very conservative” to “very progressive.” Notwithstanding the privacy of the voting booth, they ask whom you have voted for.

It can take months to relearn not to evade, in such a setting -- isolated but not private, public but not reinforced by friends, relatives, and colleagues. That’s why broad national polls can run months behind public sentiment. What they reflect is a climate of intimidation.

Let’s hope the Democrats soon recognize that Bush’s weirdly autocratic behavior is a campaign issue in their favor. The public relies on Congress, and relies on the press, in spite of some distrust. Meanwhile, Senator Byrd is a hero for opposing the current Lack of Resolution.

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