En masse, they accused George W. Bush of wagging the dog by pushing a vote on the war during election season. They were right -- Bush is conniving like that. But many of the Democrats who voted for the resolution to give the president carte blanche to attack Iraq were guilty of something far worse: They patted the dog on the head and sold out for their own dubious political reasons.
When they should have been stopping this first step in bully Bush's bid for world domination, the Democrats instead complained like suckers who'd been hustled out of their lunch money. I'm surprised they haven't started whining that the D.C.-area serial sniper is diverting attention from the economy too.
Last week's exercise in congressional cowardice was at least a bit instructive. We learned that a majority of House Democrats (by a 3-to-2 ratio) had the moral fiber to oppose the president even as their leader, Richard Gephardt, morphed into jellyfish. And we found out that Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the powerful head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has real courage. He was one of the paltry 23 Senate Democrats who voted against the resolution. While Graham bit the president's hand, Bill Nelson, our other Democratic senator, proved to be all bark. Nelson talked a mean game, criticizing Bush's plans for Iraq on cable television for the past several weeks, but he heeled for the administration in the end.
Of the three Democratic congressmen from Broward and Palm Beach counties, only Alcee Hastings opposed the Bush resolution. Hastings' move was a bit surprising, because just two weeks before, he had offered an alternative resolution to give Bush the power to wage war. The difference was in the "whereases": Hastings wanted to force the president to exhaust all diplomatic solutions before resorting to force and to promise that Afghanistan would remain the nation's number-one priority. The lack of those conditions was a deal-buster that prompted Hastings to roll up a magazine, smack the dog on the nose, and stay loyal to his constituents.
The other two Democrats from Broward and Palm Beach counties, Peter Deutsch and Robert Wexler, didn't surprise anyone when they supported the Toxic Texan. Both are pro-Israeli hard-liners and high-flying hawks when it comes to the Middle East (see "Hawking for Israel," September 26). They weren't alone among Jewish House Democrats: a whopping 17 of 24 jumped on the Bush-Cheney war machine. The Senate, refreshingly, was a different matter. Five of the nine Jewish Democrats -- led by Carl Levin of Michigan -- backed the valiant if failed effort against the administration.
But it isn't just what Deutsch and Wexler did that commands disrespect; it is how they did it. Deutsch, for his part, lied just two weeks before the vote on where he stood. The Plantation Democrat told me he wouldn't authorize Bush to attack Iraq unless the president proved that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons, planned to use them on America, and was developing a system to deliver them here.
Though Bush proved nothing of the sort, Deutsch still rolled over. When I asked his staff why his word was no good, I couldn't get a straight answer. Which is to be expected. Asking why a politician lies is like asking why dogs hump legs. They just do.
But the real mongrel of the South Florida delegation is Wexler. Before he voted, the Boca Raton representative acknowledged he was flouting his constituents' wishes -- that, in fact, the people who elected him were "terrified" of Bush's plans. He admitted this during an extraordinarily tortured speech on the House floor last Tuesday (the same day, incidentally, that U.S. Marine Antonio Sledd was gunned down in Kuwait by militant Islamists). Wexler waffled in the Capitol like Bill Clinton at a buffet breakfast, though he began strongly (if wrongly) enough: "Now is the moment in which Congress must act to defend freedom, confront a brutal dictator, and rid the world of his increasingly devastating threat."
Then he immediately noted that doing so might be disastrous.
"Our decision will not be easy or without consequence. It will pose severe implications for the stability of the world, the security of the Middle East, and ultimately, the future of the United States. It will alter the course of history, change the lives of millions, and resonate in the collective memory of America for generations to come."
Next, he mentioned that the people who elected him are against it.
"I have contemplated this issue with great deliberation, taking into account the concerns of my constituents in South Florida -- many of whom fought in World War II and Korea -- who have time and again expressed their profound reservations concerning the president's rush to engage in military action in Iraq."