When Congress voted to grant President Bush the power to launch
a pre-emptive war, at a time of his own choosing, on a nation that has not
attacked the United States, it reached its nadir.
The abdication, the capitulation, the surrender was absolute.
Senators admonishing Bush to use the war power wisely call to
mind parents who hand over the keys to the family car to a teen-ager who has
just boasted to his siblings about his prowess as a drag-racer.
We have crossed the line between republic and empire. This
Senate reminds one of the Roman Senate after Cicero's tongue had been cut
That a Democratic Senate would again surrender its war powers to
a president, when the memory of the Tonkin Gulf resolution is still fresh,
is remarkable. For that resolution passed only after North Vietnam appeared
to have attacked the U.S. destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy. Nothing has
happened in a decade to lead us to conclude Iraq is about to attack the
All the evidence points the other way. Saddam sleeps in a
different bed each night. Plastic surgery has created three or four
"doubles," or Xerox copies, of Saddam, to take an assassin's bullet for him.
His secretive regime is opening up its weapons sites to U.N. inspectors. His
military is in defensive mode. His aid to the Palestinians consists not of
firing Scuds in solidarity, but of mailing checks to homeless families of
This is not Adolph Hitler about to crash into Poland.
It is a tribute to the president's leadership that he has
compelled Congress to cede to him the most important power it has. Yet, to
many observers, Congress is only doing what comes naturally, recoiling from
the accountability that goes with the exercise of power.
For the truth is: Congress does not want the responsibility of
having to decide whether we go to war with Iraq. It wants the president to
make the decision, as long as it retains the right to criticize and carp and
second-guess. After all, Congress opposed war on Serbia, but Clinton went
ahead and bombed for 78 days. But rather than impeach him for waging an
unconstitutional war, the House impeached him for his romp with Monica and
for making a bad confession to the grand jury.
Nor is it only on the issue of war that Congress has abdicated.
The next most important constitutional power a Congress has is the "power of
the purse." Congress is to decide where tax revenues shall be expended. Yet,
it voted to give Bill Clinton the "line-item veto" -- the power to veto
separately virtually every expenditure Congress makes.
Why would Congress surrender such power?
Simple. Members of Congress wish to retain the right to buy
friends and influence people by voting tax dollars for their special
interests, but they want the president to have the obligation and be the one
to pay the political price of having to say, "No."
After Congress voted to give the president the line-item veto,
the Supreme Court was forced to step in and explain that Congress cannot
give up its constitutional powers without a constitutional amendment. The
Court had to rescue Congress from its own Munich.
Earlier this year, members were photographed smiling behind the
president as he signed "fast track." What does fast track mean? It means
Congress surrenders all rights to amend trade treaties.
These treaties can run to tens of thousands of pages. But by
giving up the right to alter them in any way, congressmen can go home and
truthfully tell constituents they simply could not save the factories on
which the district depends. Fast track enables the Congress to tell
constituents: "It's not our fault. There is nothing we can do about it. The
president did it."
From abortion to busing to flag-burning, the Supreme Court long
ago usurped the role of Congress in setting social policy. The World Bank
and IMF put American taxpayers at risk for loans running into the scores of
billions of dollars -- without Congress' approval. On issues that affect the
economic life of the country, the regulatory agencies have been flexing
their muscles and seizing turf at the expense of Congress.
Once the First Branch of Government, Congress seems indifferent,
even oblivious, to its own dispossession. To hear Democrats wail against a
president for "politicizing" the war, by forcing them to vote on war before
an election, is beyond parody.
How cruel of the president to force our solons, who earn
$150,000 a year to govern us, to have to make their views known to voters
about the wisdom of pre-emptive wars. How beastly Mr. Bush is to them.