The time-honored American tradition, whereby "politics ends at the water's edge," has historically sent a clear message to friend and foe alike that the American people, through their elected representatives, stood full square behind the armed forces and their commander-in-chief during time of war. And while many Democrats have done just that, eleven congressmen, including nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), disgracefully voted against a House resolution that offered symbolic support for the troops taking part in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
By turning their backs on American forces in harm's way, these representatives have disgraced the offices they hold and fully exposed the barely concealed fact that their own parochial, leftist agendas trump the good of the country. At a time when national unity should be the overarching consideration, they have chosen division, and attempted to undermine the authority of the president in time of war. In addition, certain representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus shamelessly attempted to drag the issue of race into the debate over the war in an attempt to divert attention from the central issues.
House Resolution 104, conceived with the modest goal of "expressing the support and appreciation of the nation for the President and the members of the armed forces who are participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom," was intended as a nonpartisan declaration of solidarity with U.S. military forces currently engaged in combat operations against Iraq. Very importantly, it was not an endorsement of the war or a statement requiring signatories to march in lockstep with the president. It was merely intended to provide symbolic support for the troops in the field, and nothing more.
Indeed, several House Democrats, including Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, got the point, and her remarks encapsulated the spirit of the resolution - "When we go into battle, despite our differences on policy, when we go into battle, it will be one team, one fight." Other Democrats made similar comments. Regardless of their ideology or positions on other issues, those Democrats who backed the resolution should at least be acknowledged for doing so.
The non-binding House resolution passed easily - 392 in favor, 11against -- and the Senate passed a similar resolution with a resounding 99-0 vote. Just who are the 11 congressmen who voted against the resolution? They are: John Conyers (D-MI); Mike Honda (D-CA); Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH); Barbara Lee (D-CA); Jim McDermott (D-WA); Bobby Scott (D-VA); Pete Stark (D-CA); Edolphus Towns (D-NY); Diane Watson (D-CA); Maxine Waters (D-CA); and Charles Rangel (D-NY). What do they have in common? To the shock of no one, they're all members of the Democratic Party; not one Republican voted against the resolution. In addition, most are members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
One name in particular stands out among the dissenters. Jim McDermott was one of three "useful idiots" in the House, including fellow Democratic Representatives Mike Thompson and David Bonior, to visit Iraq last October. In an act perilously approaching treason, McDermott served up a series of propaganda softballs for Saddam to knock out of the park, claiming that President Bush "would mislead the American people," and was "trying to provoke a war." In addition, he averred that, "you have to take the Iraqis on their face value." The Potemkin village tour that the three received apparently did not reveal the banned Scud and al-Fatah missiles that Iraq lobbed into Kuwait, one of which landed within a football field's distance of U.S. troops. Nor did it reveal the witch's brew of chemical and biological toxins that will surely be unearthed by victorious coalition forces, if they are not used against them first.
Another twenty-one Democrats voted "present" for the resolution - a non-vote essentially; an act of political cowardice. These fence sitters were apparently unable to decide whether they stood behind the American troops now risking their lives on distant battlefields. Profiles in courage they are not. Among those voting "present" was Dennis Kucinich, the leftist Democrat who hopes to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. His vote calls into serious question his ability to function as a future Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces. Other representatives opting to vote "Present" include Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), son of the discredited racial huckster; Major Owens (D-NY), member of the Democratic Socialists of America; and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), a Castro apologist who is among the most partisan of leftist Democrats.
All told, twenty-three of thirty-seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus - a decided majority - refused to show nominal support for the troops, voting either "nay" or "present." Clearly, artificially drawn districts produced by racial gerrymandering have sent several black candidates to Washington who slant so far leftward that they cannot even offer their basic support for American troops in harm's way.
The vitriol of Diane Watson is typical of the CBC position - "I will not be coerced into endorsing the President's failure to resolve the Iraq dispute peacefully. We are at war because the President failed to find a diplomatic solution to this problem." That "this problem" could have been solved diplomatically with France and Russia (the two biggest suppliers of weapons to Iraq) on the Security Council stretches the limits of credulity. Not even the diplomatic acumen of a Talleyrand or Bismarck could have surmounted the political obstacles placed before the administration.
Ironically, the Congressional Black Caucus has not always been so resolute in its opposition to the use of military force against Iraq. Thirty-two of thirty-seven members of the CBC voted against the October resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, citing the lack of a direct Iraqi threat and the need for continued diplomatic efforts. Yet in 1998, when then-President Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox to attack Iraq's capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, only three of the then thirty-eight member strong CBC voted against the resolution. Clearly, partisanship played the determining role in the CBC's voting patterns.
Charles Rangel, who would be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee if Democrats controlled the House, issued obscene remarks about the conduct of the U.S. military. Rangel essentially accused the U.S. military of killing innocent women and children in Iraq. When confronted about this claim, Rangel sardonically responded by saying that, "You're right. They're shooting themselves. They just don't know they're being liberated." Perhaps this is Congressman Rangel's way of supporting the troops. It is disgraceful that Rangel, who earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star in the Korean War, should demonize American fighting men because of his animus for the President.
In December, Rangel offered a proposal to reinstate the military draft, which would generously "let everyone have an opportunity to defend the free world against the threats coming to us." Rangel, and other minority congressmen such as John Conyers contended that a disproportionate number of blacks comprise the enlisted ranks of the military, while more privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent altogether. Hence, minorities would bear the brunt of the hardships incurred in war. They evoked images of the Vietnam War, when black soldiers are perceived to have died at rates far greater than their share of the total U.S. population.
The notion that blacks died disproportionately in Vietnam and continue to shoulder the burden of America's defense seems perfectly plausible, a perception in part fueled by the popular media. If there was ever a perfectly nice theory mugged by a gang of facts, however, this might be the one. Evidence clearly demonstrates that minorities are not over-represented in the armed forces, especially in the combat arms, and a disproportionate number of blacks did not die in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, blacks of enlistment age constituted about 13.5 percent of the total U.S. population, while 12.1 percent of the men killed in action were black. Therefore, blacks were not killed at greater rates than their share of the population. The rates were less - 13.5 percent of the population, while accounting for 12.1 percent of battle deaths in Vietnam. This is not to minimize the deaths of these men in any way or to regard them as mere statistics, but the notion that blacks died in Vietnam in disproportionate numbers is patently false.
The belief that blacks bear a disproportionate share of the burden in today' s armed forces has also been proven to be at considerable odds with the evidence. It is true they are in fact over-represented in the aggregate - blacks make up 22.4 percent of all enlisted personnel, compared to 12.4 percent of the civilian population. However, according to Defense Department statistics, blacks are actually underrepresented in combat positions. They only constitute 15 percent of the combat arms, such as infantry, armor and artillery. Only 10.6 percent of the Army's enlisted combat infantrymen are black. Judging from the statistics, if there is any group that has been discriminated against, it is the poor and working class whites who occupy the mainstay of combat billets in the U.S. military - and experience the highest mortality rates.
Black enlistees have been attracted to positions in the armed forces that do not involve direct combat, opting instead for jobs that provide marketable job skills after their terms are up, such as unit administration and communications. In addition, blacks in the military do considerably better than their counterparts in the civilian population, earning on average $32,000 annually, compared to $27,900 in the private sector. All in all, one can hardly make the case that blacks in the armed forces are being discriminated against or are bearing a "disproportionate share of the burden."
It is more than ironic that Rep. Rangel called for a reinstatement of the draft, which would, in true egalitarian fashion, distribute the burdens of military service among every stratum of American society, while concomitantly denying support for the military they would serve in. He worked at cross purposes - proposing a broad national effort to provide the armed forces with the manpower to fulfill their mission, a pro-military gesture to be sure, while voting against a resolution that supports them - which is clearly anti-military. The fact is, this was pure theater on Rangel 's part. He was never serious about reinstating compulsory service, but rather wanted to score points politically to advance an agenda.
What Rangel, Conyers, and others in the Congressional Black Caucus who view the world through the narrow prism of race really hoped for was to foster resentment among minorities, which would serve their own political purposes by strengthening the anti-war movement within the U.S. These congressmen played the proverbial race card by cynically trying to turn the war debate into a referendum on race. They attempted to divert attention away from the central debate on Iraq and redirect it along racial lines, where it simply had no place.
The eleven votes against HR 104 and the twenty-one "present" votes reveal the virulent strain of the Democratic Party that has proven to be viciously partisan and in many cases, anti-American. Their deep disdain for President Bush precludes them from offering purely symbolic support for U.S. troops risking their lives on our behalf in Iraq. Hopefully, by exposing them to the light of day, the American people will understand what these congressmen truly represent, and remember the vote on HR 104 in 2004.