The United State Senate has long maintained a reputation for being an elite collection of old, rich stiffs. But last week Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the usually polite and contemplative majority leader, was anything but stodgy. Facing the chamber’s august marble columns, he railed against President Bush’s offensive utterance that the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, was “not interested in the security of the American people.”
Rightly infuriated, Daschle accused Bush and other Republicans of exploiting the war on terrorism for political gain and countered Bush’s ridiculous claim by citing Democratic senators like Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a World War II veteran. He also demanded an apology from the president.
Daschle’s speech is a welcome sign that the Democrats may actually begin acting like an opposition party, and Daschle like an opposition leader. It is their responsibility to offer much-needed criticism of Bush’s budding doctrine of preemptive strikes and his vision for the new Department of Homeland Security. This is essential to promote the necessary, but as of yet quite inadequate, national debate about all of these issues—especially war with Iraq.
The White House complained that the president was taken out of context. But Bush’s comment would be offensive in any context. He effectively accused Senate Democrats—who have been as of yet lukewarm in their criticism of Bush’s foreign policy initiatives—of being irresponsible, uninterested and unpatriotic. Such an unfair characterization effectively cuts off debate by branding all those who legitimately question White House policy as un-American.
Hopefully, Daschle’s words will brush off any stigma Bush has carelessly attached to those willing to question the administration’s intention to wipe out Saddam Hussein’s regime, or his desire to create a Homeland Security Department that would be autocratically controlled by the president. Indeed, the majority leader’s words seem to have rallied some Democrats formerly disaffected by the quick, unquestioning passage of a resolution on war with Iraq that just a couple weeks ago seemed likely.
Massachusetts’ own Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy ’54-’56, riding on Daschle’s momentum, just delivered a powerful speech at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He expressed concern that the Bush Administration has not shown how Iraq threatens the United States or fully evaluated the costs of war. This is exactly the sort of ideological debate the country needs before it commits to a war, and then a massive nation-building effort, in the Middle East.