by Victor Davis Hanson
A shorter version of this was syndicated by Tribune Media Services.
The symbolism of the recent heated exchange between Senator Boxer and Secretary-of-State Rice was telling. For hours on end, speaking without notes, a proud, poised African-American professional woman from Birmingham, Alabama parried withering cross-examination from a succession of liberal senators angry over the war.
Boxer, the Bay Area’s premier progressive and crankiest of the questioners, has had a history of defining political disagreements in terms of personal partisanship, of us-versus-them rather than of mere opposing ideas. The senator once went after erstwhile rival Bruce Herschensohn, Senator Packwood, and Clarence Thomas for their purported sexual insensitivities—but urged forgiveness for President Clinton’s more egregiously inappropriate conduct, whose preemptive bombing of Milosevic she supported despite the absence of either Senate or UN approval.
The climax of her latest attack on Condoleezza Rice came when Boxer alleged that Rice had misled about weapons of mass destruction, the supposed casus belli of the Iraq war, even though Rice had explained that there was a variety of reasons—“the total picture”—that led to the decision to depose Saddam.
Boxer protested, “Well you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war,” noting proudly that she was among the minority of senators who had dissented. Then Boxer proclaimed of the professed reason to go to war: “It was WMD period.”
Boxer’s statement was simply not true. Read the joint congressional declaration that was approved on October 11, 2002 by Senator Boxer’s colleagues, whose leaders had access to the same intelligence as did the administration. Yes, the threat of WMD was an integral part of the Senate’s worry—a danger dubbed “real” by Democratic Senator Kerry and “growing” by Senator Daschle, but perhaps summed up best by Senator Clinton herself when she warned that “If left unchecked Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare.”
But the declaration to approve the use of force against Saddam was hardly about “WMD period”. Instead, the resolution listed a litany of 23 other grievances : violations of the 1991 armistice accords; brutal repression of the Iraqi people; failure to inform about missing Kuwaitis; the 1993 attempted assassination of former President Bush; firing on American forces in the no-fly zone; harboring of terrorists in Iraq; the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq (“Whereas members of al Qaeda, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, and interests, including the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq); and violation of UN inspection protocols.
Reflect for a moment. The first African-American woman to be nominated as Secretary-of -State was called a veritable liar on global television by Senator Boxer, with the sort of withering invective that was never unleashed against Madeline Albright, Warren Christopher, or any recent previous nominee for Secretary-of-State of the past century—or Boxer’s own colleagues who drafted and passed the resolution for war. Yet while Rice was calm for hours and relied on her ample memory, Boxer was abrasive in her few minutes of prepared attack and misled despite her voluminous notes.
This is all haywire. According to the 1950s Democratic mythology that we all grew up with, the stereotypical aggressor in such an unfair exchange should have been a senior Southern reactionary male, replete with drawl and barely contained racist anger, who ambushes the upstart and distorts the record in an act of name-calling—before hitting the airwaves to besmirch her further and, finally, to cut and paste the exchange into crass political ads to raise money for his own entrenched sinecure.
What in the world has happened to us?
Democratic idealism that once alone gave the nation its needed social safety net, civil rights legislation, and environmental protection is becoming ossified and in danger of ensuring a permanent party of strident second-guessing and deductive furor at the loss of almost all political power. A majority of the state legislatures and governorships is lost. The Senate is lost. The House is lost. The Presidency is lost—the Supreme Court almost. Whether Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, or Alberto Gonzales, ‘minorities’ no longer have any need of liberal gate-keepers—or of a particular patron like Barbara Boxer.
The former idealists and reformers have become backward-looking. Like most reactionaries whose comfortable world is vanishing, they are frustrated, looking for scapegoats—and acting very, very bizarrely. Thus for a sober documentarian Edward R. Murrow, we now get the conspiracist Michael Moore who praised the terrorists who kill voters in Iraq as “Minutemen.” Instead of JFK’s muscular idealism, we see a Ted Kennedy hours before the historic elections in Iraq screaming to withdraw American troops. And in place of a crusading Hubert Humphrey, we now endure Barbara Boxer endlessly on television not to apologize, but to recycle the boorishness of her earlier distortions against Condoleezza Rice.
This is all so sad.
©2005 Victor Davis Hanson