Capitol Chronicle

The War Party: In the Rush to Revenge, Truth and Courage are the First Casualties

Asked if he thought Congress might be falling prey to war hysteria in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett paused. "I wouldn't use that word," he finally said. "But it does seem that we need to be careful, so that we don't act before we think."

Doggett had seen that principle in action last week, when he stood alone in the path of the airlines bailout legislation. He insisted that Congress not instantaneously write a blank check to the corporations to spend however they please and that legislators also consider the needs of both taxpayers and airline employees before adopting an unexamined (indeed, unfinished) bill. The immediate response from airline executives was that Doggett was abandoning the current national obligation of patriotic "unity."

Doggett was singled out for abuse by GOP politicians -- notably Woodlands Republican Kevin Brady, who told the Houston Chronicle, "I hold him [Doggett] partially responsible for the 12,000 Continental workers who are getting their pink slips today." Never mind that with the Senate adjourned, no bill was going to come out of Congress for at least another week.

Brady's derisive commentary was mild compared to that of syndicated columnist Bob Novak, who suggested that not only Doggett but his Central Texas constituents were scarcely fit to be U.S. citizens. "Doggett," Novak wrote, "whose Austin, Texas, constituency is one of the nation's most liberal ... typifies the saber-tongued House members of both parties who slash away in one-minute House floor speeches, and ... he showed that the terrorist assault had not changed him. 'Before all the bodies are removed,' [Doggett] said, 'there are those that are lining up here at the Capitol door ... asking that they receive some public subsidy, right out of the Social Security Fund.'"

The nominally conservative Novak had no objection to the heavily debt-leveraged airline corporations taking advantage of a national tragedy to demand no-strings-attached subsidies from taxpayers. Rather, to him it was an outrage that one Congressman had seen fit to delay the Treasury raid until the bailout legislation could be subject to public scrutiny.

Waving the Bloody Shirt

The bailout frenzy is just a particular case of more hysterical jingoism suddenly dominating public discourse. In the days since Sept. 11, Novak's knee-jerk nationalism has been largely representative of the pundit class, "conservative" and "liberal" alike. Shortly after the bombing, National Public Radio's institutional moderate Juan Williams was nervously promoting the notion that in response to terrorism, the U.S. needs seriously to consider the use of nuclear weapons. Williams didn't even have a target in mind -- a casual conversation with some designated "anti-terrorism expert" had simply persuaded him we couldn't "rule anything out." Not even insanity, I guess.

And last week, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts -- normally a fairly sensible fellow -- earnestly promoted mass amnesia by insisting that unlike the terrorists and less divinely blessed nations, the U.S. military never intentionally kills civilians. Pitts thereby deposited into the memory hole Dresden, Hiroshima, most of the war against Indochina, and, of course, the ongoing and now officially invisible crusade against Iraq. The U.N. estimates several hundred thousand Iraqi children, not to mention an untold number of adult civilians, have died as a direct consequence of the criminal and continuing U.S./British attacks on Iraq's civilian infrastructure.

In his willful ignorance, Pitts was only following the lead of his president, who had earlier declared this latest bloody conflict "the first war of the 21st century." That is -- despite what those ordinary folks on the ground in Iraq or Palestine or even Africa or Colombia or elsewhere (name your favorite arms-merchant marketing bazaar here) might think -- a war is only a "war" when Americans die.

It never seems to occur to any of these would-be wise men that, among all the ordinary outrages of the American empire, the self-presumption of innocence is guaranteed to strike outsiders -- especially the victims -- as grounds for retaliation. If for no other reason, they want make it abundantly clear to the comfortable beneficiaries of U.S. power that: Yes, We too, Exist.

More of the Same

Congressman Doggett said he was on a plane to Austin when he read, in Saturday's New York Times, that Senate Democrats, in yet another craven surrender, had ended their token opposition to the Bush administration's "national missile defense" plan by withdrawing a budget amendment that would have reduced the program's funding. Doggett added that while he trusts his colleagues' judgment, he is "very troubled" by the decision -- especially because a primary lesson of the recent attacks is that technologically simple but devastating terrorism is a much greater threat than the slim possibility of, say, a North Korean missile attack.

Senate Dems, the Times reported, "felt that they had made a sacrifice on an issue that mattered deeply to their supporters, and thought that the Republicans should now make a similar concession on an issue that mattered to them." Doggett was not persuaded. "We can still slow this down," he said, "but even more it will now be an uphill battle. For the Republicans, our concessions are a one-way street." He noted that the Wall Street Journal editorial page recently advised Bush to take advantage of the current crisis to ram through the rest of his domestic agenda.

Doggett hasn't been encouraged by the token opposition's response. "We asked a public interest group to support us in the airline bailout fight," he said. "Their answer was, 'Would that be patriotic?'" end story

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Lloyd Doggett, Kevin Brady, National Public Radio, Leonard Pitts, Juan Williams, Congress, U.S. Senate, Robert Novak, Iraq, U.S. Congress, George W. Bush, Wall Street Journal

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