It is a dark day in our nation's history. That sounds melodramatic - but it is true. Today America watched a Democratic Party kick them square in the teeth - all in order to continue the most unpopular war in a generation at the request of the most unpopular president in a generation at a time polls show a larger percentage of the public thinks America is going in the wrong direction than ever recorded in polling history.
The numbers are not pretty. First, 216 House Democrats cast the key vote to send a blank check Iraq War funding bill over to the Senate. As I reported at the beginning of the day and as the Associated Press now confirms, the vote on the rule was the vote that made it happen. As the AP said: "In a highly unusual maneuver, House Democratic leaders crafted a procedure that allowed their rank and file to oppose money for the war, then step aside so Republicans could advance it." Nauseating.
In the Senate, we saw lots of promises and tough talk from senators telling us they were going to do everything they could to stop the blank check. Some of them bragged that they were going to vote against the bill - as if that was the ultimate sign of heroics. Then, not a single senator found the backbone to stand up to filibuster the bill a la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. To quote the Big Lebowski, "These men are cowards," because apparently, Senate club etiquette comes even before the lives of our troops.
The blank check sailed through the upper chamber on a vote of 80-14 with 38 Democrats (the majority of the party) voting yes. In all, at a time when 82 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want Congress to either approve funds for the war with strict conditions or cut off all funding immediately, 90 percent of House and Senate Democrats combined voted to give George W. Bush a blank check.
The worst part of it all was the overt efforts to deceive the public - as if we're all just a bunch of morons. House Democrats have the nerve to continue to insist the blank check they helped ram through the House was all the Republicans doing, and that a sham vote on a GOP amendment today - which most Democrats opposed for show - was the real vote for the war. But, again, as the AP reported, it was their parliamentary motion - passed so quickly and under the devious pretenses of mundane procedural necessity - that showed their calculated complicity. Now, tonight, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is actually sending out fundraising emails claiming "the House just passed legislation that will go to the White House that includes critical issues Democrats have been fighting for including canceling the President's blank check in Iraq." Beyond nauseating.
I'm not a purist nor am I a "pox on both their houses" kind of guy. I have worked to elect Democratic politicians and I supported Democratic leaders when they pushed an Iraq funding bill that included binding language to end the war. But what happened today was perhaps the most stunning travesty I've seen in a decade working in Democratic politics. A Democratic Party that six months ago was elected on a promise to end the war first tried to hide their complicity in continuing the war in the House, and then gave a few token speeches as the blank check sailed through the Senate club. And it all happened, as the New York Times reported today, because these Democrats believed criticism from President Bush - the man who polls show is the most unpopular president in three decades - "seemed more politically threatening to them than the anger Democrats knew they would draw from the left."
Democratic politicians, Capitol Hill staff, political consultants and all their lobbyist friends sitting comfortably tonight in their Northwest Washington homes believe the public thinks Democrats are "weak" because they don't more strongly support leaving American troops to be killed or maimed in the middle of a bloody civil war in a country half way around the globe that had no WMD and had nothing to do with 9/11. What they seem unable - or unwilling - to realize is that the public has believed Democrats are weak not because some in the party have opposed the war, but because many in the party refuse to wield the power the public entrusts them with on all sorts of issues. At least on Iraq - the biggest issue of the day - the public's perception has proven right. As I wrote to one congressional lawmaker in an e-mail correspondence we had today: "The spoils go to those who use the power they are entrusted with, while infamy goes to those who squander it."
In the movie "Say Anything," John Cusack famously laments after being dumped that "I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen." The American people gave Democrats their heart in November 2006. In return, Democrats gave George Bush a blank check in May 2007. We gave them our heart, they gave him a blank check. That will make May 24, 2007 a dark day generations to come will look back on - a day when Democrats in Washington not only continued a war they promised to end, but happily went on record declaring that they believe in their hearts that government's role is to ignore the will of the American people.
© 2007 David Sirota