IT WOULD SURELY come as a surprise to much of the rest of the country, which sees San Francisco as the national epicenter of protest against the invasion of Iraq, to learn that both of the city's representatives in Congress voted in favor of a March 20 resolution expressing "unequivocal support and appreciation of the Nation to the President as Commander-in-Chief for his firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq as part of the on-going Global War on Terrorism."
Those of us who live here know that Rep. Tom Lantos has supported this war all along. But when the previously antiwar Rep. Nancy Pelosi announces that "I don't have any intention of second-guessing the strategy of the commander in chief and those who are waging this war," she could find herself pretty lonely in District Eight, which encompasses the most antiwar parts of this most antiwar of American cities.
What justifies this stance, seemingly so at odds with so much of her district? No less than the greater good of the nation, according to one line of thinking: as house minority leader, her constituency and responsibility now extend beyond the people who actually elect her, to encompass all of the other Democratic members of Congress. In this view, Pelosi has acted deftly in leading the majority of them into apparent support for the now ongoing war effort, thereby protecting them from appearing unpatriotic.
And certainly the statements of support for U.S. troops and their families that constituted the second and third points of the resolution made perfect sense – both politically and morally. But when the majority of the congressional bloc that voted 126-81 against the authorization of the use of force in Iraq last October feel compelled to turn around and praise the leadership of the president whose initiative they have rejected, are we witnessing canny leadership at the highest ranks – or its absence?
Pelosi's counterpart in the U.K., our major partner in this arrogant and ill-considered crusade, faced a much thornier problem than she. As Labor Party leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook felt he had no choice but to resign when he could not support the charge to war led by a prime minister of his own party. But while congressional Democrats were not unanimous in opposing the war, as the Republicans nearly were in its support (215-6), Pelosi did lead a party with a clear antiwar majority. And yet, after the votes were counted March 20, it was the tail of the pro-war Democratic minority wagging the dog of that antiwar majority.
Was there really no other choice? Certainly the 11 Democrats who voted no, including Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Pete Stark (D-Hayward), and Mike Honda (D-San Jose), didn't think so. Nor did the 22 who voted "present," including presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland).
Presumably, Pelosi and most of her party voted for this embarrassing resolution thinking they had to be with a winner. But had all of the Democrats who previously felt compelled to vote against the president on this life-and-death matter remained consistent, refused to support the Republican resolution, and instead produced a statement of their own, they could surely have made their viewpoint heard: A war that is bad in concept is worse in actuality, and the appropriate way to support troops placed in harm's way in a foolish war is to get them out – as quickly as possible.
In the end, it seems likely that the well-known American disaffection with electoral politics will only worsen in the face of two parties virtually united in support of policies so widely rejected throughout most of the rest of the world. But speculation about the impact of her national leadership aside, it would seem that, at the least, the majority of the people who actually send Nancy Pelosi to Washington, D.C., are entitled to have her represent their views on war and peace there.
Tom Gallagher, a registered Democrat, is a former Massachusetts state legislator who lives in San Francisco.