Features » October 29, 2001
Where Have All the Liberals Gone?
Barbara Lee stands alone
When the history books are written, let the record show there was one politician with a backbone when it mattered. Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, California was the only member of the House or Senate on September 14 to vote against handing President George W. Bush vast authority to commence war or wars against unknown terrorists and the countries that aid them.
When the vote on Resolution 64—Authorization for Use of Military Force—was called in the House that Friday night, Lee stood tall even if she stood alone among the 421 members present. “I know this use-of-force resolution will pass,” Lee said. “There must be some of us who say, let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today—let us more fully understand its consequences.”
Recalling the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that opened a Pandora’s Box in Southeast Asia we still haven’t closed, Lee invoked the prescient words of Sen. Wayne Morse. One of just two senators opposing that resolution, Morse said: “I believe that history will record that we have made a grave mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution.”
The congresswoman, who now has a police guard because of the death threats she received after the vote, is a voice of reason and dissent when almost all other voices being broadcast—from Congress, the White House and the media—are irrational, ill-informed and incendiary. The real question is not why Lee voted against HR 64 but why she was the only one of 421 representatives and 98 senators to vote against it.
The resolution authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks … or harbored such organizations or persons.” Although it contains no requirement that Bush return to Congress to report on his activities, HR 64 states that nothing supercedes the War Powers Act, which requires a president to report and consult with Congress.
This deficiency bothered at least some House members, but not enough. Democrat Pete Stark, another Bay Area congressman, told the House: “I have real reservations about the resolution we are considering today. It should contain explicit language ensuring that the president reports to Congress and consults with us in planning and executing a military response. But it does not.” Stark nonetheless voted with the herd.
Rep. Maxine Waters, another California liberal, has seldom been afraid to speak truth to power. Whither Waters on HR 64? “The congresswoman felt she had to give full resources to the president,” says spokeswoman Candace Tolliver, who adds that Waters “expects the president to come back to Congress.”
Michigan Rep. John Conyers, always a forceful counterweight to congressional conservatives, was MIA when the vote was taken on HR 64. Although he’d been in Washington earlier, Conyers was in his district and unable to get back to Washington for the vote the night of September 14, according to spokeswoman Danielle Brown. “He’s not saying how he would have voted,” Brown says. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the independent congressman from Vermont, stated for the congressional record that “widespread and indiscriminate force could lead to more violence and more anti-Americanism.” Then Sanders voted with the rest. In New York, erstwhile liberal Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler seemed himself transmogrified by events. Proving that Bush and his cadre of craggy advisors don’t have a monopoly on rah-rah rhetoric, Nadler declared from the House floor: “We must pass this resolution. We must wage the war that has been thrust upon us. We must do it resolutely, and we must be victorious and rid the world of this scourge of terrorism.”
Asked if Nadler was concerned by HR 64’s lack of any reporting requirement for Bush, spokesman Eric Schmeltzer replied: “He thinks Congress is not in the business of micromanaging a war. We have to give the commander-in-chief some leeway to defend the country.”
Asked if Nadler now had confidence in Bush, whose legitimate claim to the presidency is still debated, Schmeltzer said, “At times like this you have to have trust in your commander-in-chief. We can’t have another election.” At least that much is true. But if there were another election, there is only one person with the intelligence to understand that violence is at the root of our present predicament. Barbara Lee for president. Imagine.
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Annette Fuentes is a New York-based journalist who writes frequently on health and social policy issues. A contributing editor of In These Times, she is co-author with Barbara Ehrenreich of Women in the Global Factory.
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