TCS Daily

Politicize It; Don't Criticize It

By Dale Franks - October 3, 2002 12:00 AM

Democrats are angry with President Bush. He is, they say, trying to politicize the decision on whether or not to go to war against Iraq, and they don't like it.

"That is wrong," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said on the Senate floor. "We ought not to politicize this war. We ought not to politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death."

Former Vice President Al Gore is weighing in on the issue as well. In his recent speech before the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, he said, "President George W. pushing for a vote in this Congress immediately before the election. Rather than making efforts to dispel concern at home an abroad about the role of politics in the timing of his policy, the President is publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a 'no' vote."

In a democratic republic, such arguments are, frankly, hard to understand.

The decision to go to war is the most important one a nation can make. If, as we believe in the United States, the will of the people is sovereign, then it's difficult to see why the decision to go to war should not be a political decision. To argue otherwise is to argue that the American people cannot be trusted to make a rational decision, so legislators must be insulated from the will of the electorate. If that argument is true, then why have elections at all? An appointed legislature would be perfectly removed from the ire of the citizens, and the political consequences that attend it.

This is not to say that elected officials have a duty merely to reflect the whims of their constituents. In the introduction to Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy wrote that the job of an elected official is not simply to uncritically vote according to the will of his constituents, but rather, that one is elected to national office in order to lead, and to exercise his own judgment. There are times when a legislator must vote against the wishes of his constituents, because he believes a larger issue to be at stake. The legislator, writes Kennedy, must then explain his actions to his constituents, and submit his record to their verdict.

This, of course, is precisely what congressional Democrats least desire to do. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the reason Democrats wish to wait until after the election before addressing the issue of Iraq is because they are afraid to let the electorate know what their real positions are. A substantial number of the Democratic Party's representatives oppose an attack on Iraq, but they fear that a vote against it will cost them votes in the election, and possibly their seats.

As Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler pointed out in a recent memo, the electorate generally has doubts about the seriousness of the Democratic Party on issues of national security. If the Democrats vote against action in Iraq, they may face serious electoral consequences from a public that is already unsure of their ability to realistically assess and respond to security threats.

The reason Democrats are upset, then, is not because President Bush is "taunting" them. He is, after all, merely telling the truth about the political consequences of a "no" vote on Iraq. The real reason they are upset is that they know they will be forced to vote with the President, because they are afraid to submit their actual views to the electorate.

Democrats, of course, would prefer to have it their way, instead. Waiting until after the election would allow them to hide their true position on the authorization to use force against Iraq, while at the same time, escaping most of the negative consequences of such a decision by allowing another two years to pass before the next election. That gives them plenty of time to mend any bridges they might burn by voting "no." The fact that such a strategy is essentially based on deceiving the electorate seems not to bother them at all.

But if, as the Democrats say, the decision to go to war is so important, then it is completely legitimate-indeed, desirable-to allow the American people the opportunity to pass judgment on the positions held by their representatives. To follow the wishes of the Democrats would be to cheat the American people of the chance to participate in the decision to send their sons and daughters off to fight, and possibly die, in a foreign land, far away. If the Democrats oppose going to war in Iraq, then they should vote accordingly, and let their constituents judge. And if they were truly confident in their position, they would happily do just that.



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