TCS Daily

No Time for Fake Passions in Fighting Real Tragedy

By Hugh Hewitt - September 12, 2001 12:00 AM

When Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., declared unqualified support for President Bush and his actions on Tuesday, I knew that the attack on the country had changed Washington in profound ways.

Some in the leadership of the elite media, including Maureen Dowd, Chris Matthews, and Peter Jennings, are holdouts in the instantaneous and almost unanimous decision of Americans to back the president to the hilt, but if even a hardened partisan like Waxman lines up behind President Bush, then Congress will do what he asks it to do.

The question, of course, is what he should ask for.

The advantage of conducting a live, syndicated radio show in markets like Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix, Seattle and San Diego is that it provides the opportunity to break out of the usual suspects that dominate the chattering class. The anonymity of the radio caller also allows for candid reaction. In eight hours of radio, not one caller has urged restraint. I have had to screen out demands for actions that the vast majority would deem irresponsible or unsuitable to a country such as ours, but the passion -- indeed the fury -- of the general public cannot be underestimated. With a Congress prepared to support him and a public that will be disappointed only by too little and not too much retaliation, here are the key demands the president should lay before the Congress.

First, the president should demand a Joint Resolution from Congress empowering him to use any and all forces at the disposal of the president to destroy any terrorist organization that has in the past sought to kill Americans. The resolution should be worded so as to authorize a full spectrum of actions and flexible enough to allow for a response not only to this threat but to future ones as well. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson remarked in the Steel Seizure case long ago, Harry Truman's power was at its "lowest ebb" when he acted against Congressional instruction. When Congress has awarded the president full support, his authority is necessary to the task. Congress should give him that authority.

The president needs to demand quick action as well on the Department of Defense budget, and not just for national missile defense, although surely all but the willfully blind will admit the need for all deliberate speed in development and deployment of this shield. (Does anyone doubt that these terrorists would use missiles if they had missiles?) Beyond NMD, however, the president must seek and the Congress must appropriate the necessary monies to defend the country now even as the administration pursues the transforming technologies the new century demands.

As Mark Helprin argued in Wednesday's, if that means 20 carrier groups, then we need to fund 20 carrier groups. If it means 100,000 in the Special Forces, not the 35,000 presently there, then Congress must fund the additional 65,000. The deaths of tens of thousands of Americans will mean nothing if the implications of their deaths are ignored. There is no more obvious example of a false economy than that saving which imperils American lives.

Finally, the president must demand an end to the partisan gamesmanship of the nominations battles, whether for ambassadorial ranks, judgeships, or defense or law enforcement positions. For more than a decade we have allowed the fake passions surrounding these debates to obscure the real conflicts in the world, and the fuming and sputtering that have accompanied the various episodes absorbed and diverted our collective attentions. It is one thing to vote against a nominee. It is another to pretend that we need months of debilitating sideshows that do nothing except fill the voids of cable lands. We need judges on the bench and ambassadors abroad, assistant attorney generals behind their desks and military officers in the field. The executive branch and judicial branches cannot function unless they are staffed, and to hobble that functioning in one area is to diminish the government overall.

The attacks of Tuesday have separated the real issues of the country into those that are in the category of priority and those that fall into the category of the political. The latter debates divert us from the former, and we cannot for the time being afford the luxury of the entertainment that politics provides.

Hugh Hewitt is a syndicated radio talk show host and environmental lawyer. He can be reached at

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