If you think the most pressing question facing the country is what uniform Roger Clemens will wear in the Hall of Fame, you would love today's action on Capitol Hill. That was among the questions the Major League Baseball pitcher faced today before a House Oversight Committee carried live on television.
If, on the other hand, you think a more pressing question is why the Congress had rendered itself powerless to stop the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history -- a military occupation that it's chief defender, Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain said he would support if it lasted a hundred years -- you would not be so happy.We are in the midst of the most significant presidential election year in most of our lifetimes. Key to the outcome of the presidential race is not only the candidates, but those who are in positions to shape the issues on which the election will turn. In the case of the Republicans, this begins with President Bush. In the case of the Democrats, it starts with Congress.
The contrast is startling. There was President Bush a few days ago delivering a speech in which he supported Senator McCain's attack on Democrats defeatists willing to "surrender" to Al Qaeda. White House aides told the New York Times that the president would be playing this role all year: "Using the power of the presidency to shape the agenda, defend his own record and attack his Democratic critics on national security as relentlessly as he has since the 2002 midterm election."
"Listen, the stakes are high," the president said in his speech, "This is an important election. Prosperity and peace are in the balance."
And while a more ironic sentence has never been uttered, the president is right.
We are at war and we're entering a recession. We face a housing crisis and unstable financial markets. The president is negotiating -- without approval from Congress -- a long-term "security" agreement with the Iraqi government and the U.S. Senate has granted immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally spied on U.S. citizens.
So what is the Democratic controlled House of Representatives up to today? How are they working to shape the issues on which this high-stakes election will turn? Sadly, they spent their time today finding out what uniform Roger Clemens will display in Cooperstown, New York, and whether performance-enhancing drugs helped increase the velocity of his fastball.
There are few bigger baseball fans in the world than I am. To say I am a Boston Red Sox fanatic is an understatement. I love the game. Steroids have tarnished baseball and placed a dark cloud over the idols of millions of kids.
But, hello? While the president uses his platform to stoke the fear card and focus the attention of the nation on "weak" "surrendering" Democrats, the Democrats use their Congressional platform to galvanize the nation on the question of whether a trainer injected drugs into the buttocks of a major league pitcher.
While the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee played to the klieg lights this afternoon, the government spent $275 million in Iraq. With the help of the Democratic controlled Congress the war in Iraq now costs more than $8 billion a month (for those of you keeping score at home that equals more $275 million per day and more than $4,100 per household). And, most tragically, as the House spectacle played out in the Rayburn House Office building on Capitol Hill, our troops in Iraq came even closer toward an enormously tragic milestone-- 4,000 U.S. troops killed in an unnecessary war.
Opposition to the war is at an all-time high. Its chief proponent, the President, is more unpopular than ever. The presumptive Republican nominee has called for staying in Iraq for 100 years and is on the ATTACK: "I guarantee you this: If we had announced a date for withdrawal from Iraq and withdrawn troops the way Senator Obama and Senator Clinton want to do, Al Qaeda would be celebrating that they defeated the United States of America and that we surrendered."
Meanwhile, there could be at least as many soldiers in Iraq on election day 2008 than when a Democratic Congress was elected in 2006, the Washington chattering class is now saying that Democrats will not push withdraw bills this year, that they are poised to quietly write another blank check for the war in Iraq. I can think of no greater mistake for Democrats morally or politically.
President Bush is right: the stakes ARE high. Prosperity and peace ARE in the balance. Is it too much to ask that the party that controls the agenda in Congress focus that agenda on ending the worst foreign policy disaster in our nation's history? They can leave the curveballs to the major league pitchers who start showing up for spring training this week.
Tom Andrews, a former Member of Congress from the first Congressional District of Maine, is the National Director of Win Without War, a coalition of forty-two national membership organizations including the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, the Sierra Club, and MoveOn. Win Without War led the national campaign opposing the US invasion of Iraq and is now leading opposition to the Bush administration's policy there.