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The Vote, The War and The Cynic
October 19, 2002
By Mike McArdle

Being a cynic gives one low expectations when looking at the machinations of our politicians. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it any less infuriating when they behave in a cowardly, self-serving way. It just takes away the element of surprise.

You certainly didn’t have to be clairvoyant to see it coming. In a classic display of pants-pooping fear our Democratic politicians have all but agreed to load the bombs onto the Baghdad bound planes. You got the feeling that some of them might incur a serious injury elbowing one another out of the way to vote for Bush’s blank check resolution. Back in August they were asking for a debate. By September all they could say was “Bombs away, Captain.”

Terrified of being called unpatriotic our guys tried briefly to put the vote off until after the election and then when Bush and Cheney huffed and puffed a little on TV our honorables immediately folded their tents and promised a quick yes vote to anything the administration was willing to send up. Obviously impressed with the sudden display of “bipartisanship” Republicans from Bush to uber-harpy Ann Coulter proceeded to call the Democrats unpatriotic anyway. I guess they weren’t caving quite fast enough.

I recognize that you have to compromise in politics. The rigid, iron-willed ideologue almost always loses and the causes he espouses suffer as a result. But there are rare times when you have to fight for a principle and it seems to me that when your country is about to become a outlaw nation and wage an unjustified, unprovoked war on another country it’s time to stand for what you’re supposed to believe in. Compromise on snail darters and marginal tax rates but this is a life and death issue. Since Vietnam the Democratic Party has professed to be against wars that weren’t defensive in nature. In 1991 the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted against the Gulf War. In 1992 they held the Congress and captured the Presidency. The political consequences of standing on principle were minimal then. The party that produced Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy and George McGovern in the war ravaged year of 1968 simply cut and ran this time. Why?

Would it have been too much to ask for the Democrats, if they couldn’t find it in themselves to oppose the war, to try to tie the force resolution to a UN authorization. After all, if you absolutely have to live and die with polls the polls are saying that the people overwhelmingly opposed going to war without allies. And couldn’t somebody at least raise the issue of the cost of the war. Couldn’t the ominous report that the administration is proposing Draconian cutbacks in Medicare payments have spurred the Democrats to at least suggest that the war be paid for by canceling the more obscene portions of the tax cut that they so spinelessly rolled over for last year. The party has (or at least had) a forty year commitment to the health and welfare of the elderly and now the creeps in this administration are going to pay for their reprehensible war by putting the squeeze on them. And obviously our side is just going to let them do it.

Of course there are some Democrats who are opposing Bush’s war. Al Gore and Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd among others have been willing to suffer the slings and arrows but without the leadership of the party behind them they were just weak voices of sanity amid gathering hysteria. And we must remember that Gore has no seat to lose and Kennedy and Byrd are in no danger of ever losing theirs. Of course, in the end, 126 Democratic Representatives and 21 Senators had the courage to vote against the resolution. But to have squeezed at least some concessions from Bush would have required a concerted effort on the part of the party leadership – and it simply wasn’t there.

It’s tempting to look at this as a month-long commercial for the Green Party. But that would be a useless exercise in self-immolation. It would impress no one and have no effect on the current political dynamic. And it would just make things worse.

The Green party is a political nonentity. Have any of your friends who aren’t political junkies ever even heard of the Green party? It’s easy to be an absolutist when you have no chance of winning and no intention of trying to win. The Greens can pursue ideological purity precisely because they don’t and can’t win. And don’t delude yourself that, if by some chance they ever started to win some offices, that they wouldn’t shrink into the same self-preservation mode that we saw from the Democrats on Iraq.

As a third party voter you can’t be a real player in the political process but you can be a spoiler. Had the Greens not been on the ballot in Florida (or New Hampshire for that matter) Gore would be in the White House and the little functional illiterate would be back in Texas on his treadmill rubber-stamping an occasional death warrant that appeared in front of him.

So as maddening as it was to see our supposed leaders have to run home for new underwear when Bush and Cheney demanded their war-making blank check we have no choice to but vote and work for Democratic candidates in the election on November 5. We can be a voice from within the party but outside of it we have no voice at all and the people we love to hate will get an all-encompassing blank check.

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