Monday, September 15, 2008
Can Joe Biden Change a Diaper?: Sarah Palin, Jim Webb, Andrew Jackson – Blame Mudcat
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill at 9/15/08
I can’t think of any time in our American history when the country repudiated a war it just fought. It is not in our soul’s nature to do so. Not in anyone’s.
75 percent of the country approved of the invasion of Iraq at the beginning and in spite of what Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton said later, they knew full well and had it from the best and most reliable and detached experts that the evidence of WMDs – Saddam’s secret stash of Weapons of Mass Destruction which provided cause for the invasion – was faked. Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN was almost accompanied by the wink and the nod.
They knew the Bush administration planned to invade Iraq to kill Saddam within weeks after 9/11. And if they didn’t, they knew by the 2004 Presidential race because Clinton agent Wesley Clark told them. He wasn’t exactly that hard to get a hold of. Yet many of them still supported the invasion.
These Democrats were not brave when they were needed to be brave. They were not brave when the venerable Robert C. Byrd, the senior senator from West Virginia, stood virtually alone on the Senate floor denouncing them as a Congress of Peeps for rushing through the President’s request without any thoughtful discussion. They were not brave when Jim Webb, the new senator from Virginia, then a Republican, called the invasion a surreptitious incursion of the Middle East, long planned in secret closets of the Pentagon and awaiting only this trigger moment.
They were not brave then and now, when 75% oppose the war, they are not brave again. It is the instruction of the Lion King to his cub: “I am only brave when I need to be brave.” Perhaps they missed that movie. To act otherwise is hubris and public theater.
Obama was brave. Webb was and is, and so were Byrd and Russ Feingold, the senator from Wisconsin, who gave a perfectly formed picture of a better path to any senator who would listen. Few did. Instead, they listened to the market surveys and when the herd shifted from 75% in favor of to 75% against, they followed the herd. Leadership in the Democratic party consisted of President Clinton, Senator Clinton and as he touts himself to be the enlightened and fully informed expert on foreign policy today, long-time on the Foreign Relations Committee and its current chairman, Joe Biden. The first two should have addressed the moment and Biden’s responsibility was to inform the Senate.
The Senate vote was the key moment of their political career and will again be key to their political futures or lack thereof. 77 Senators voted for the invasion and only 23 against, all but two of them Democrats. Had 50 or 40 or even 30 Democratic senators followed the Webb, Byrd, Clark and Feingold advice, it might have been a different story. It might have been a different war.
It might have been a war against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A senate imbued with character like the Lion King, being brave when bravery was required, could have changed the course of this war but only at that moment just before the war started. It was their responsibility to do so. Now, in spite of what they say about going into Afghanistan, the military and the intelligence agencies understand that it is increasingly out of reach.
Obama has a key problem today and it is a problem that cannot be transcended. It is the baggage he carries; not the good work he did as a community organizer or his alleged lack of experience (Elizabeth I, Victoria and Lincoln had less) but the burden of the weakling rank and file he carries with him, particularly the Senators who were accommodating and appeasing when they needed to be resolute and vociferous.
Ulysses S. Grant writes in his autobiography that the Mexican War was simply a war of the strong against the weak, but “ . . . once initiated, there were but few public men who would have the courage to oppose it.”
Experience proves, he writes, that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, “ . . . no matter whether right or wrong,” occupies no enviable place in life or history.
“Better for him, individually, to advocate ‘war, pestilence, and famine,’ than to act as obstructionist to a war already begun.”
Time will tell if Grant is right, and that time will be November 8 when America votes for either John McCain or Barack Obama.
It has been repeated again and again that this is the most important election of our lifetime. My own feeling is that after November 8 the war will in our minds be over and we as a nation will move on to something else. In my mind what we will move on to is very promising and auspicious; the beginning of a new age, a new century and a new America. It will bring a future we can’t yet envision, but I believe it will bring a brand new future, one which we are not expecting and one which will not yield its path and substance to any of our traditions and expectations.
Such new periods most always start with a phenom and it has been noted repeatedly in these last two weeks that McCain’s Vice Presidential choice of Sarah Palin is a political phenomenon, a word best described as a “psychological event.” A phenom starts the world fresh again and leaves behind all that came before in the dust: Elizabeth I was a phenom, Lord Nelson and Victoria were as well and so were Miles Davis and The Beatles.
Does Palin fit a pattern of American politics? Most definitely so. Her candidacy and the new awakening it has brought about in the heartland suggests more than anything in our past hundred years comparison to the first great populist awakening in America, the Jacksonian period. Andrew Jackson was perhaps the most important of the Presidents as he brought democratic empowerment to the common people of the frontier in the South and Texas. And when they got it, they wouldn’t let go. The Eastern Establishments, right and left – Adams and Jefferson – expressed the same consternation at the rise of these country ruffians just as they do today on the op-ed pages and board of The New York Times and in the hallowed halls of Harvard. But in the end, the Eastern Establishment, to compete effectively against the riding Jacksonian culture, had to abandon its own stale and calcified orthodoxies and find their own country bumpkin: Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, when Emerson got himself thrown out of Harvard it gave him cachet.
It was a little surprising watching the Democrats freak out this week because McCain’s Alaskan woman-from-the-forest idea came from the Democrats themselves. Senator Jim Webb sent a shot of fear across the bow year before last when he responded to the President’s State of the Union speech by referring to “Wall St. Barons.” This was the first threat the Eastern Establishment felt and this was the origin of the Palin phenomenon.
Webb, a combat soldier in Vietnam, was well known as a war novelist and Reagan administrator. He switched to the Democratic party in 2006 and ran for senator in Virginia to oppose Bush’s policies in Iraq. He chews tobacco and carries a Glock under the seat of his truck. He wore his son’s combat boots in his campaign. He has writing a book about the history of the Scotch-Irish people in the far western hollows of Virginia from whom he - and the Jacksons Andrew and Stonewall - hail. His presentation on behalf of the Democrats was purely Jacksonian. He almost brought a sea change to the Democrats but it was crushed by the return of the Clintons. He was one of the first considered as a vice presidential running mate for any Democratic candidate this cycle.
Webb applied a formula which had already worked most successfully for Mark Warner when Warner, a lawyer who made his millions as founder of Nextel, ran for governor of Virginia. Warner, Harvard-educated and Hartford, Connecticut, reared, hired the brilliant political consultants Steve Jarding and Mudcat Saunders to get him heard and accepted in Virginia’s hinterland. They brought in the greatest of all bluegrass groups, the Stanley Brothers from Clinch Mountain, to sing at their events, and they got Warner to sponsor a NASCAR stock car with his name on it. They presented him as the avatar of Virginia’s Democratic populist roots and oldest rural traditions and it worked. Warner was one of the most popular and successful Virginia governors of all time; a Yankee and a Democrat in a meat-red state at that.
With the rise of McCain’s formidable Jacksonian Alaskan the Democrats might do well to turn again to Warner, Webb, Jarding and Mudcat. If they want to win in the near future they might consider “Editor of the Harvard Law Review” a youthful indiscretion and mask it on their resume. Voters might want to know this instead: Can you tend a wood stove without burning your house down? Can you find your way in the woods? Can you change a diaper?
Does Joe Biden know how to change a diaper? Does Charles Gibson? Does Peggy Noonan? Do you?