Let's put it to a vote
9/11/2002 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
Let's see. First, some Democrats and liberals to remain nameless (Cynthia McKinney call your office - that is, if rookie fry-girls at McDonald's are allowed to make personal calls) accused Bush of fomenting war in order to make money in the stock market or some such silliness. Then, others claimed that Bush was beating the drums of war to prop up his sagging poll numbers, even though they never came down from historically stratospheric levels.
Now they're accusing Bush of saber-rattling in order to "change the subject" from such bread-and-butter Democratic issues as Canadian-style health care and whining about tax cuts. For example, former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart recently said on CNN, "I think, unfortunately, (the war talk) has more to do with politics, because I think they were very, very anxious to change the subject away from the economy and the corporate governance things and scandals."
And then, last Sunday, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted Vice President Cheney on the issue point-blank: "Some Democrats are saying, 'Why now?' Why did the administration shift the focus just 60 days before the midterm elections? . Why didn't you start this campaign against Saddam a year ago, rather than waiting to the eve of an election?"
Dick Cheney's response included many excellent points. For example, he noted that the Bush administration has, in fact, been talking about "regime change" in Iraq all year (it's true: You can look it up). Cheney also noted, albeit in more diplomatic words, that the timetable for an all-out war with Iraq was pegged to things more consequential than Paul Wellstone's re-election coffee-klatsch schedule.
But the one thing Cheney didn't say is the one thing he and other Republicans should have been saying all along: "Of course, we're making this election about the war."
For months now, Democrats have been accusing Republicans of trying to "politicize" the war. Tom Daschle has said he is "saddened and disappointed" -- his response to pretty much everything Republicans do -- by the GOP's efforts to make the war on terrorism or the possible war on Iraq a partisan issue. The press, in turn, asks Republicans if this is true, and Republicans deny the charge with well-practiced shock.
This is an embarrassing little Kabuki dance. First, it's based on a myth of recent vintage that says that major foreign policy issues have traditionally been excluded from partisan electoral politics. It's just not true. Lincoln used war as perhaps the only issue. Remember his slogan: "Don't change horses in midstream." Eisenhower said, "I will go to Korea," for a reason. Liberals and Democrats, perhaps more than conservatives and Republicans, used Vietnam as an issue in 1968 and again in 1972.
Second, Republicans are lying when they say they aren't using the war as a political issue. Of course they are. Karl Rove, the president's guru, has Power Point presentations delineating the advantages the war confers on the GOP. And, it should be pointed out, Democrats are grossly hypocritical when they criticize Republicans for making war an issue. After all, Democratic candidates around the country are touting their national security credentials and bragging about how they stood shoulder to shoulder with Bush after Sept. 11.
But, now that the president seemingly wants to invade Iraq, Democrats would rather talk about free pills for old people. Indeed, I'm at a loss to understand why Republicans are supposedly evil for wanting to gain congressional seats by making an issue of national security while Democrats are virtuous for wanting to downplay the same issue in order to save a few congressional seats. Seems like a draw to me.
But the most important point is that Republicans should make an issue of the war, especially a potential invasion of Iraq, in the coming congressional elections. They should do it even if it is bad for the Republicans -- which it might be -- because it is the right thing to do.
At this point, it appears inevitable that Congress will be asked to vote for a declaration of war (even if they won't call it that). And yet Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wants this election to be about the Democratic Party's strengths -- Medicaid, Medicare, the environment, good homes for puppies, etc. That's why he wants a war vote put off until after the election.
But the Congress won't be dealing with puppies next year; it will be dealing with war. So why deny the American people the opportunity to have their say on the issue? This is what are elections are for, for Pete's sake.
If you think the case for war is persuasive - like I do - make the argument and persuade the American people. If you think the case against war is the better position, make that argument. But it is immoral, not to mention weasely, to keep your mouth shut, like the Democrats, or talk in code words, like congressional Republicans, on such a life and death issue just because you're afraid voters will hold you accountable.