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If they are at all like the rest of the country, the people of Indiana's Eight District don't think much about Bosnia. When they do think about it, they are likely most concerned with keeping our troops out of it.
Their member of Congress does care, though. He cares about the precedent of rewarding aggression, and he cares about the reappearance of genocide in Europe. Now he may be paying the price for caring. The member of Congress is Frank McCloskey, a Democrat and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is in his second term, and his reelection bid looks to be a nail-biter. His one previous reelection fight also came down to the wire.
The fragility of his seat notwith-standing, McCloskey has made Bosnia his issue. He has ferociously criticized both the Bush and Clinton administrations for their pusillanimous policies, once even suggesting that Secretary of State Christopher step down (such criticism of a Democrat from a Democrat naturally giving seizures to political flunkies in D.C.)
So visible has McCloskey become on this issue that when the Bosnian desk officer at the State Department resigned, he immediately joined McCloskey's office. In a city whose concern is often to sweep Bosnia under the rug (or into the grave), McCloskey has become the nexus of opposition, a moral point of light.
How this all plays on the home-front is not clear. At best, McCloskey's efforts on Bosnia have sapped his time for issues that appeal more to his constituents. At worst, his adventures have roused the ire of a constituency that doesn't want the U.S. becoming entangled in a Balkan quagmire.
McCloskey's opponent, John Hostettler, has raised the issue in the campaign, a sure sign that the McCloskey's strong position isn't playing well. Becoming the champion of the hapless Bosnians was not a savvy political move.
Rather it was a courageous move. A move that showed leadership. In an era where our representatives obsequiously tend to the every whim of their constituents and special interests at home, his willingness to stand alone is refreshing.
And if, as has recently been argued, the problem with American politics is not the supposed unreceptivity of our politicians, but rather this willingness to hear and act on every complaint from home, McCloskey's brand of leadership may be just what the country needs.
Like Edmund Burke, McCloskey has given his constituents something much more precious than just his vote. He has given them his conscience. He, an elected representative of the people of Indiana, has chosen to act on his principles rather than on the polls from home.
Ironically, McCloskey has shown far more leadership than many other representatives who needn't worry about their return trip to Washington. While he has rebelled against the prevailing appeasement of the Serbs, more prominent Congresspersons with more leeway in their districts have followed every contour of the Clinton waffle.
The people of McCloskey's district will, as they should, vote largely on who will best represent them. If they feel their current member of Congress has spent too much time looking overseas and has poorly defended their interests, it is their right, and perhaps their duty, to vote him out.
If, on the other hand, McCloskey has been able to adequately represent them, it can only be hoped that they will recognize the gem that they have in their hands--a practitioner of the politics of conscience rather than politics as usual.
David L. Bosco's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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