Nearly six years ago, a few weeks after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, I wrote in this space "In praise of Wayne Morse and Barbara Lee."
In it I wrote:
"In August 1964, Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon was one of two members of Congress to oppose the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which effectively gave President Lyndon Johnson carte blanche control and freedom to wage war in Vietnam. Morse predicted that "history will record that we have made a grave mistake" in Vietnam.
"History did so record."
"On Sept. 14, 2001, Rep. Barbara Lee of California was the only member of Congress to vote against H.J. Res. 64, which ceded Congress' future authority to President Bush regarding the use of military force against terrorists.
"She explained her dissent as a call for restraint, a lonely stand to take in the wake of the passions aroused by the horrors inflicted on the United States on Sept. 11. On the House floor she 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. Far too many innocent people have already died.'
"Remember those words: 'Far too many innocent people have already died.'"
Nearly six years later, far too many more innocent people have already died, and more dying every day, and far too many Americans fail to exhibit the courage to dissent from the clear incompetence, dishonesty, arrogance, duplicity and imperial madness of George W. Bush, his administration, its corporate sponsors, Congressional enablers and citizen and media cheerleaders.
Dissent requires courage which, like most things demanding guts, exacts a price. In the next election after his vote, which he explained as something he "... did not intend to put the blood of this war on his hands," Morse lost the Senate seat he held for 24 years to that great patriot and upstanding citizen Bob Packwood. Morse lived the rest of his 25 years out of the public eye but with clean hands and a clear conscience, setting a standard that few in Congress meet or, it seems, aspire to.
Within an hour of her lone, dissenting vote which she explained "... as we act, let us not become the evil we deplore," Barbara Lee received several thousand death threats via e-mail from people who had thereby already become the evil they deplore.
It is a small sign of hope for the strength of the Republic that Lee's subsequent fate as a representative of the people was different from Morse's. She was easily re-elected in 2002 and has continued to be a refreshing, clear, consistent and dissenting voice to the failed (and failing) policies of George W. Bush and his loyal, lock-step administration. A few weeks ago, she said, "The White House announcement that they view South Korea as the model for a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq is further evidence of how dangerously out of touch with reality this administration is.
"On a strictly historical level, the comparison is comical. A high school student could tell you that there are virtually no similarities between Korea and Iraq. The administration's inept attempts to come up with tortured historical analogies to try to justify a failed policy should be another reminder just how little creditability they have on the issue."
Dissent is as American, patriotic and vital to democracy as the U.S. Constitution, and it is unpatriotic, perilous and stupid to ignore, shun or attempt to shut down either or both. By this standard the Bush administration can be accused of being unpatriotic, perilous and stupid. America was built on dissent, has been kept on course by dissent and will flounder on the rocks of tyranny without it. And dissent is in appallingly short supply in America—in its citizenry, its media and in its government and civic leadership. The current crop of presidential hopefuls, who are tying themselves into knots of historical revisionism and double-speak while attempting to explain their convoluted stances (and votes) on failed/failing policies, could use a bit of Barbara Lee's clarity of mind, courage and spirit of dissent, and one hopes they find them. Presidential hopefuls, congressmen and average citizens who seem to be exhibiting a better-late-than-never spirit of dissent, however faltering and tenuous, are indebted to Rep. Barbara Lee for lighting the way, however unacknowledged the debt. She had it right in the first place. Why didn't they?
Dissent, discourse and even intelligent thought in American government have been dominated by the ignorant George W. Bush ethic: "You're either with us or against us."
Barbara Lee, intelligently, said, "... let's step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today—let us more fully understand its consequences. Far too many innocent people have already died." At this writing, nearly 3,600 American soldiers and tens of thousands of mostly innocent Iraqi civilians have died in what history will record as a grave mistake in Iraq. In the entire U.S. Congress only Barbara Lee dissented against those unnecessary deaths.
The freedom to dissent is the freedom to step back and think through the implications of action and to understand its consequences. Dissent is a personal matter. Freedom belongs to everyone, or should, and is kept alive not through the grave mistake of unnecessary deaths on foreign land, but, rather, through the personal courage of dissent on this land, our land.
Bravo, Barbara Lee.