Monday, July 24, 2006
Why the Censure of Richard Durbin is Imperative : Part I.
[As the founder of the Republican Assembly of Illinois, a grassroots organization not tied to Combine Republicans, I feel this project launched by Jim Leahy, its executive director, is very important. In this the first of several articles, let me tell you why. This Blog now installs www.censuredurbin as a permanent link. ]
As one who has studied the role of Congress as Congressional staffer, member of the executive branch, a foreign service officer and as a John F. Kennedy Fellow at Harvard, I have long been engrossed in the question of what limits of debate should be applied during time of warespecially when our nation has been attacked.
First, the United States was attacked wantonly and cruelly in major degree for the first time since the Civil War. The Congress responded immediately by giving the president the sanction of girding our defenses so that at no future time would such so many lives be taken as were on September 11. Senator Durbin supported this action. But from the outset, in his special role as Senate Democratic Whip, he has involved himself in strenuously opposing all major actions by the President as Commander-in-Chief while engaging in a masterly subterfuge. The bill of particulars will be detailed here at a future time. Suffice it to say for now the question is: Given our respect for dissent by elected members of Congress, is it possible for one to commit sedition and serve as an obstructive force to conduct of the war?
U. S.. historical tradition has been exceedingly lenient with those who criticize presidents on their war plans. Congressman Abraham Lincoln for one was a great critic of President James Polks wish to enter the Mexican War. He served one term, declined to seek reelection and was far from a leader of the then Whig party. His criticism was marked but he supported appropriations to continue the army in the field and in no way could be said to have given aid and comfort to the enemy. His opposition was well within the circumscribed boundaries of responsible debate.
In my own lifetime, Republicans have criticized both the intentions of presidents to go to war and/or the decisions of a president to go to war. Ohio Senator Robert Taft, regarded as a Republican leader from the first day he joined the Senate, whom I supported for president in 1952, was a critic of our joining Britain in World War II if there would be no overriding action to commit us to the conflict. Taft, along with almost all Republican Senators of the periodincluding Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michiganfollowed the same policy which can be described as supporting a build-up of our defenses, aiding Britain in all steps short of war: the same position advocated by both President Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie in the presidential campaign of 1940.
Taft voted for all appropriations for the military services as well as the Lend-Lease Act, supporting an increase in the number of aircraft to 6,000, supported the National Defense bill, the bill to establish a reserve of strategic and critical materials, the bill to create a two ocean navy, legislation increasing the Army to 375,000 when FDR didnt recommend an increase beyond 225,000. While he expressed hope that diplomacy would not draw us into war, Tafts position was clear as a supporter of a strong national defense and an ally of Britain in all ways short of direct involvement. Likewise with the leading Republican foreign policy lawmaker in the pre-war period, Senator Vandenberg.
Assuredly there were Senators and Congressmen in both parties (Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, D-Montana, Sen. Gerald P. Nye, R-N.D. and Sen. C. Wayland Brooks, R-IL among them) who harshly criticized FDR on a personal basis charging that he was leading the nation to war. None were in the leadership of their parties and none hurled attacks on soldiers in wartime; none ever remotely spoke of comparing our troops to troops of harsh, repressive dictators. Sen. Durbin is the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate and, as is widely known, used an anonymous source in the FBI to compare our soldiers guarding prisoners at Guantanamo, Cuba with the vilest torturers in world history.
Obviously there have been Senators who have so exceeded the bounds of civility that they have been censured by their fellows. The most recent case was that of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.). While latter-day revisionists now say that McCarthy was right in his estimate that some persons high in the federal government were active, conscious and articulate instruments of Communist conspiracy (as the Venona Papers now attest) there is no doubt that in many specifics he was reckless and in certain cases in total disregard of civil liberties. Sen. McCarthy, a subcommittee chairman not an elected leader of his party, was censured and died of acute alcoholism: in all, his period of influence did not exceed five years.
There can be little doubt that Sen. Richard Durbin as the second ranking member of the Senate minority has been given one of the highest posts within the power of his party to confer. By listening to him and watching the visual on the Blog www.censuredurbin.org you can hardly equate his highly inflammatory charge a charge which has caused him to apologize to the Senate not once but twice a charge that earned him criticism from Mayor Richard M. Daley among others a charge that so cruelly misrepresented the work of our soldier-guards as to give active aid and comfort to our enemies.
As this nation and all the world, sadly, knows, he likened American interrogators of the vilest terrorists, quarantined from society to protect this nation from assault, to Nazis, Sovietsd in their gulags or some mad regimePol Pot or othersthat had no concern for human beings. His vicious language which stunned even liberals in his party dominated the news cycle for days. Then Durbin hastened to the floor to do the usual explanation without accepting blame, declaring that he regretted any misunderstanding over his remarks. That failed to quell the furor. He returned to the Senate floor and issues an emotional non-apology, complete with tears which said if he had offended any, he apologized.
For this alonea totally unpatriotic tirade that the dispassionate Almanac of American Politics says was extremecensure should be applied. But there is more. Earlier, in July 2003, he took to the Senate floor to declare that the Bush administration was trying to push him off the Intelligence committeebut it is open speculation and far more than rumor that Durbin leaked classified information to the detriment of the United States and its troops. To try to defend his unpatriotic misrepresentations as just par for the course in a nation which values dissent ignoring that we are in a war for our survival where all of us should watch our language would be the height of incredulity.
It is safe to say that no one in the modern history of the Senateand perhaps none in the entire history of that bodyhas been so identified with actions that are deleterious to conduct of war in which our survival is at stake. His abject, slash and burn partisanship is the scourge of the Senate. He voted against the Gulf War authorization in January, 1991 and voted against t he Iraq War authorization in 2002but he did vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq when Bill Clinton was president, in February, 1998. The late Steve Neal, the liberal Sun-Times political columnist dismissed him as a hustler. Always twisting and turning remarks with a masterly legerdemain, Durbin is probably the nations most obvious national security risk: completely at variance with the liberal tradition of Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy, both of whom were patriots and neither of whom were security risks.
In my lifetime, it was a former American hero, Col. Charles Lindbergh, who came the closest to Sen. Durbin in his assaults on those who were empowered to defend this country. Lindbergh was a private citizen, was unelected but in a series of town hall meetings inflamed the country although we were not at war. As a rebuke to Lindbergh, FDR held a news conference in the Oval Office. The president reached over and picked up a Nazi Iron Cross which had been sent to him by one (not Lindbergh) who was returning the decoration out of disgust for the Nazi criminals running Germany. Noting that Lindbergh had received high decorations from Hermann Goering, Roosevelt said that for Lindberghs service to Nazi Germany, the flier deserved the Iron Cross. Even the press corps gasped.
The differences between Lindbergh and Sen. Durbin are several. As earlier stated, Lindbergh was a private citizen and did not represent the government of the United StatesDurbin is a high member of the Democratic minority in the Senate. Lindbergh was up to that point one of the nations foremost heroes for being the first to fly the Atlantic: Durbin has not compiled any record aside from his lifelong careerist status of politics. Lindbergh never apologized (in a sense, Durbin has not either, having used the old dodge that if he offended anyone, he was sorry). Lindbergh offered to enlist in the Army Air Corps even at middle age. His offer was understandably turned down. Then Lindbergh went to the South Pacific as a private citizen and, as history records, in an aerial encounter with several Japanese Zero aircraft shot down several of them. Even this has not rehabilitated Lindbergh but did serve to make the point that, however benighted, he was a patriotic citizen. Unfortunately the book on Durbins support of this war effort ends with his insult to American troops, an insult that presents doubt that he is interested in anything higher than his own and his partys left-wing factional partisan ends.
Thus the record shows clearly that Senator Durbins irascible and viciously partisan behavior threatens the lives of American troops is unparalleled for a Senate leader in American history. Should the Senate receive 250,000 signatures calling for censure, one would hope it would take the matter under advisement. The idea, expressed by some, that to consider censuring Durbin would be a waste of the Senates time, is fallacious. Just as Joseph Welch told an arrogant Senator McCarthy at long last, sir, have you no decency?a statement that caused many Americans to insist on a limit to vituperationthe censure of Richard Durbin would show that the tolerance of the American people with unreasoning demagoguery that puts our troops and this nation in grave danger--a far worse offense than Joe McCarthy committed in his most excessive hour--is not unlimited.