Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Senate Democrats Find Their, Um, Nerve

Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness. ... Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
- Special Counsel for the Army Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Operations on March 11, 1954 Transcript

It happens in a ton of teen comedies: The hero confronts his tormentor at the end of the film, the bully backs down, and the previously-nerdy guy gets the girl. I thought of this quintessential movie paradigm when I read that the Democrats in the U.S. Senate (minus Joe “Iron Guts” Lieberman), with the help of two Republican senators, rejected a Republican effort to strip an Iraq withdrawal timetable from the bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yahoo! Article

For years now, the Democrats have been the wimpy protagonist, watching as the Republicans mistreated the girl they liked (which, in this case, is the United States of America). Deep in their hearts they knew they could treat her better, but they didn't have the guts to stand up to the big, bad bully. Instead, they sat in the corner and cowered, hoping no one would notice.

Then, the girl (again, the U.S.) was pushed too far, until she finally told our hero that she'd had it with the bully (by voting the bully's party out of office in Congress). Emboldened, the Democrats, with a renewed vigor at the prospect of getting the girl (they don't have her yet, the election just meant that she hated the bully, not that she actually liked the protagonist), went forth and confronted the big bully, even getting two of his henchmen, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Oreg.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), to back him up.

At this point in the movie, the bully backs down in shame, ending the confrontation. Think Peter Facinelli skulking out of the party to the derisive laughs of his classmates in "Can't Hardly Wait" IMDB Link. Or Craig Sheffer backpedaling from Elias Koteas faster than a Walter Reed orderly from a rat at the big climactic party in "Some Kind of Wonderful" IMBD Link. All that is left is for the hero to go off and woo the girl of his dreams.

Unfortunately, real life does not generally resolve itself as reel life does. When confronted with a 2006 election where the American people tossed the Republicans out of Congress on the single issue of Iraq, Iraq in a civil war, national support for the war plummeting, comments from the Acting Surgeon General that poor planning has left the military short on resources for the long-term care of the troops coming home from combat AP/Yahoo! Link, and the military bogged down in Iraq, leaving the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan and Iran running amok (just ask the 15 British Navy crew members currently enjoying an all-expenses-paid tour of a Tehran jail cell), Bush, unlike his cinematic counterparts, is not backing down.

Instead, he continues to spit out nonsense, like how the Democrats don't want to fund the troops. He actually said, according to an AP/Yahoo! story, "If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible." Uh, Mr. President, they have already decided who is responsible. Need a clue? Notice how you haven't heard from some of your buddies in Congress lately? Maybe it is because they are back home. Yes, Mr. President. The American people have decided who to hold responsible, and it is the guy with the smirk you see in the mirror when you shave in the morning.

The movie bullies knew they were beat. Bush hasn't gotten the message yet. He keeps saying that he will veto anything with a timetable for a withdrawal. No negotiations. Other than his stubborn adherence to his failed policies, he has nothing to lean on to back his position. For six years he was able to do whatever he wanted. He viewed a difference of opinion as an act of disloyalty at best, treason at worst. He never learned to listen to the opposition, because he didn't have to. His presidential report card, in big, bold letters, would read, "Georgie absolutely cannot play well with others who disagree with him."

So, in the face of such overwhelming opposition, it's not that shocking that he would take such a hard-line stance. Sure, it's easy to dismiss his out-of-touch declarations of purpose as being just another example of Bush believing he knows best, no matter what anyone else says. But, I think there is more to it.

I think at the heart of Bush's defiance is one thought: That the Democrats would cave. Or, less delicately, that the Democrats lack balls. And you can't blame the guy. For every piece of evidence of Bush's single-mindedness, you can find a counter-example of the Democrats failing to provide any opposition. The Democrats were like the North Korean soldier in a M*A*S*H episode I saw recently who spent the whole episode trying to surrender to an unarmed, uninterested Hawkeye and B.J. Bush figured, "If I just stand firm, the Democrats will cave." And, if you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have agreed with him.

But, right about now, I owe the Democrats in Congress an apology. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, I didn't think you had it in you. But, you did. A charge like "you're not supporting the troops" would have driven the pre-November 2006 Democrats to run looking for a military bill to vote for and a photo op with an M-16. But now, when Bush tried to divert the issue by accusing the Democrats of not funding the troops, the Democratic leadership, whether invigorated by their marching orders from the voters, or tired of playing the wimp, found their sea legs and, finally, stood up to the bully.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was quoted in the AP/Yahoo! story as saying, "Why doesn't he get real with what's going on with the world? We're not holding up funding in Iraq and he knows that. Why doesn't he deal with the real issues facing the American people?" No panic, no fear that the American people will think that the Democrats are trying to hurt the troops. Just a declaration that Bush is diverting the issue.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also quoted in the AP/Yahoo! article, saying, "On this very important matter, I would extend a hand of friendship to the president, just to say to him, 'Calm down with the threats. We accept your constitutional role. We want you to accept ours.'" Okay, now the Democrats are feeling sorry for Bush and giving him advice? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I am the first to admit that I often write unflattering things about the American people as a democratic (lower case "d") citizenry. But, I want to be fair and give the American people their due when they, as a citizenry, decide to take action. When the tipping point is reached, they act. (My complaint would be how long they wait, but I digress.) And, in turn, politicians and public officials are given the cover to follow suit. The quote that started this piece is often viewed as the beginning of the end for McCarthy. The moment at which the American people had had enough, and that feeling was finally expressed on national television by Joseph Welch. Somebody finally stood up to the bully.

Well, coming off the election in November 2006, it seems that the tipping point on Iraq -- and maybe Bush's demagoguery as a whole -- has come. The Democrats, emboldened, have stepped forward. Maybe they will stay with it, putting aside their record over the last six years of showing the courage and fortitude of Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

This is the part of the movie where the hero steps up, challenges the bully, wins, and gets the girl. Joseph Welch new it. The characters played by Ethan Embry and Eric Stoltz knew it. Maybe the Democrats are starting to get it, too. I hope they stick with it, even if the bully doesn't follow the script and skulk away. After all, isn't getting Jennifer Love Hewitt or Mary Stuart Masterson worth it?