Monday, November 28, 2005

Leadership vs. Followship

This is sickening on a couple levels.

WASHINGTON — Tom Daschle, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota,
remembers the exchange vividly.

The time was September 2002. The place was the White House, at a meeting in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney pressed congressional leaders for a quick vote on a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.

But Daschle, who as Senate majority leader controlled the chamber's schedule, recalled recently that he asked Bush to delay the vote until after the impending midterm election.

"I asked directly if we could delay this so we could depoliticize it. I said: 'Mr. President, I know this is urgent, but why the rush? Why do we have to do this now?' He looked at Cheney and he looked at me, and there was a half-smile on his face. And he said: 'We just have to do this now.' "

Daschle's account, which White House officials said they could not confirm or deny, highlights a crucial factor that has drawn little attention amid rising controversy over the congressional vote that authorized the war in Iraq. The recent partisan dispute has focused almost entirely on the intelligence information legislators had as they cast their votes. But the debate may have been shaped as much by when Congress voted as by what it knew.

Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, did not call for a vote authorizing the Persian Gulf War until after the 1990 midterm election. But the vote paving the way for the second war with Iraq came in mid-October of 2002 — at the height of an election campaign in which Republicans were systematically portraying Democrats as weak on national security.

This is why it’s always tempting for me to blame a good portion of the Iraq debacle on Democrats. They simply did not put national interest above politics. These are, for the most part, smart people. They, the Dems in Congress, knew Bush was full of shit but were afraid to stand up to the little dictator amid the post-9/11 national xenophobic paranoia fest.

I’d like to say things have changed but they really haven’t. Most Washington Dems that have tuned against the war have done so publicly only because the war is now no longer very popular. That’s not to say they ever personally supported the war but they were to afraid to say anything until the mood of the nation changed. That’s not leadership.

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