Partisan hijinks in the Senate
The Democrats in Congress are mad as heck, and they won't take it anymore! At least that's what they want us to believe. Yesterday's surprise procedural move by the Democrat leaders, forcing the Senate into a closed session, was ostensibly about the war and intelligence, but one detects a definite whiff of political opportunism. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said, "The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq." See Washington Times. It seems more likely, however, that the ploy was prompted by the lack of indictments against Karl Rove or other administration officials, which some Democrats had been hoping for. If an impartial investigation of Iraq intelligence is what Reid really wants, then why has he prejudged the conclusions? I saw the full exchange between Reid and reporters yesterday on C-SPAN, and I was aghast by the way he bitterly scoffed at the suggestion that he might have consulted with the Republican leaders before making this move. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin smiled impishly at his side.
Was the closed session really necessary? Of course not; the mere threat of forcing a closed session would have elicited quick cooperation from the majority caucus, which would have preferred to avoid the embarrassment. From a purely political standpoint, however, the Democrats' parliamentary maneuver -- the first time in 25 years that a closed Senate session has been forced unilaterally by one party -- was very useful, and that's all that really matters. Does anyone seriously doubt that this stunt was an attempt by the Democrats to regain the psychological momentum they had been savoring? On an emotional level, it may have been retaliation for Bush's surprise nomination of the conservative judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Bill Frist not only was caught off guard by the move, he displayed unseemly anger in saying the Senate had been "hijacked." He took the Democrats' bait and stooped to their level. That's not how winners act. I say, let the Democrats blow off some steam and make silly, inconsistent arguments to their hearts' content. It certainly won't win them many votes from the segment of the electorate that pays attention.
As for the more serious, underlying issue, the Washington Post described the recent investigations overseen by Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), noting that cooperation from Pentagon officials declined in recent months because Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that crimes may have been committed. (Speaking of the Democrats' standard talking points in this whole matter of Iraq, WMDs, uranium, etc., Max Boot catalogs the many factual distortions -- to put it mildly -- of Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV in the L.A. Times, via Rush Limbaugh.) Some people in the Pentagon probably are dragging their feet, but there is no doubt that the demand for a renewed inquiry is an attempt to rationalize the change of mind by many Democrats on authorizing war against Iraq. Most Democrats in Congress voted in favor of war in the fall of 2002, and now they claim, "We didn't know! We were misled!" Such whining calls into question the congresspersons' responsibility to scrutinize the facts as well as their capacity to exercise autonomous judgment. When Michigan Governor George Romney told reporters that he had had been "brainwashed" by the generals in South Vietnam, his credibility was destroyed, ruining his chances in the 1968 presidential campaign.
I have no problem with a serious, thorough, nonpolitical inquiry into intelligence failures, but we must remember that reasonable people can differ in their interpretation of evidence. In this particular situation, however, the stakes are extraordinarily high, and the survival of our free republic now depends more than ever on gestures of mutual faith by cooler heads in both parties, something akin to the compromise reached by the "Gang of 14." The Republican leadership faces the awkward burden of accommodating the demands (some of which are reasonable) of skeptical Democrats for the sake of national unity, which is vital in wartime. The Democrats, for their part, need to show that they really do want the United States and its allies to prevail in Iraq, where the hopes for a freer, more peaceful Middle East now hang in the balance. Saying "I told you so" simply has no place in serious deliberations over foreign policy. The fundamental turnabout on national security policy by many Democrats can be expressed as follows: Whereas in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, nearly all Americans agreed that it was better to be safe than sorry (i.e., erring on the side of prudence), since the liberation of Iraq, too many Democrats seem to believe that it is better to be sorry than safe.
Saxman vs. Elder debate
Incumbent [20th] District Delegate Chris Saxman (Republican; see Web site) debated challenger Bruce Elder (Democrat, see Web site) on Friday, and it was broadcast last night on WHSV-TV3. As the incumbent in a conservative district, Saxman could have played it safe and avoided the debate entirely, and the fact that he accepted the challenge is very commendable. Chris is not only a very competent, well-educated, energetic, and dedicated legislator, he is a very good speaker who excels at articulating conservative principles. Mr. Elder owns a local antique car business, and wants to be seen as a moderate. His posters are colored purple, suggesting a blend of "red" and "blue" influences. It was the first time I had heard him speak, and he came across as nice and sincere. The issues he has raised are rather vague, however, and he really didn't offer a strong reason for replacing the incumbent. They seemed to agree on one of the hottest local issues, preferring to go slow in widening Interstate 81, concentrating on traffic bottlenecks such as big hills. For more, see the Staunton News Leader, which endorsed Saxman.
It's a small world
Tom Faranda, brother of fellow Yankees fan Phil Faranda, was on the same rugby team as Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in New York state in the late 1980s, and thinks very highly of him. See Tom's blog post.