An open letter to the Democratic Party

by Jordan Green

If you’re a Democrat running for national political office, you might find it tempting to soften your opposition to the war in Iraq now that the primaries are mostly behind us. In that case, I suggest you consider the risk of backlash from the anti-war movement.

You see: Some of us opposed the war from the start. For example, as a Durham resident in December 2001, I e-mailed Rep. David Price expressing concern that a congressional resolution on Iraq might lead our nation down a path to war and urging him to oppose it. I don’t consider myself particularly prescient, just someone with a modicum of common sense: 9-11 presented the Bush administration with an opportunity to extend American military domination abroad and shore up domestic support that was already teetering when the planes struck the World Trade Center. Predictably, the world is less stable today, while American and Iraqi blood has been needlessly spilled, and our national treasure has been squandered.

Even as hundreds of thousands of people marched against the war in early 2003, prominent Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry and Richard Gephardt made a show of casting votes to authorize the invasion of Iraq. In the presidential election year of 2004, Democratic nominee Kerry promised an even more aggressive foreign policy than Bush’s. He and others in his party’s leadership criticized Bush’s execution of the war and suggested the United States would have more friends around the world with a Democrat in the White House, but refused to take a stand on the war itself, snubbing and the anti-war activists who gave the campaign its energy. Voters responded rationally and rewarded President Bush, the candidate with a clear and unequivocal position on the war, with a second term.

By 2006, the Iraq imbroglio was so widely hated that Democratic candidates took up the anti-war banner in the mid-term election and succeeded in flipping several Republican seats and seizing control of both houses of Congress. The Washington punditocracy, a singularly insular and parochial class, opined that Democrats couldn’t afford to be seen – as they were in the aftermath of Vietnam – as the party that lost the war. Sure enough, once they took power, the Democrats refused to cut funding for the war or bring impeachment charges against the president.

Yes, it has been gratifying to witness a hard-fought primary contest between Sens. Clinton and Barack Obama that hinged, in part, on which would be the best candidate to end the war in Iraq. Better still, many voters said Obama’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq as a member of the Illinois Senate gave him an edge over Clinton, who has never renounced her vote to authorize the invasion and who only came out in support of ending the war after coming under intense pressure on the campaign trail from groups like Code Pink.

One can take pride in being right all along about the war, but there’s no particular pleasure to be gained from that prophetic status. I don’t know if you, who lead the Democratic Party and run for elected office, can understand how it feels to be repeatedly thwarted on the one issue that matters the most over the course of a better part of a decade. Impotency is the first word that comes to mind. Weariness is the second. For some of us, this is the litmus test. We don’t care if it’s a Democrat or a Republican; we’re looking for the best person to get the job done. Believe it or not, those of us who hold vigils on the anniversaries of the invasion or stand on the corners of busy intersections with signs every Monday evening are not in the business of protest to help Democrats get elected.

I am a registered Democrat, but now that I’ve learned North Carolinians enjoy the option of requesting either party’s primary ballot I’m thinking about switching my registration to unaffiliated just so you understand that you have to earn my vote. And frankly, a lot of times it seems as if your interest in the war begins and ends with whether they can wield it as a club against Bush and the Republicans.

Let me tell you how strongly I reject that notion. This is about American servicemen and women whose lives have been lost in combat, about veterans who come home bearing the scars of post-traumatic stress disorder and who face limited employment options, about squandered national treasure that could pay for pre-K education, housing assistance and healthcare.

A politics of expediency over principle is a politics without a moral core – ultimately a charade that attracts no one and affects nothing. Too often with the Democrats, we’ve seen opportunism and calculation to be standard operating modes.

Announcing a new attack ad against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in February, Americans United for Change President Brad Woodhouse had this to say: “For President Bush and his backers in Congress, Iraq and the recession are as inextricably linked to their disastrous legacy as white is to rice.”

Now, let’s rewind almost six years to September 2002, when Woodhouse worked for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. At that time, Erskine Bowles, who is now the president of the University of North Carolina system, was the Democratic nominee in a contest against Republican Elizabeth Dole. The war in Iraq, then six months in the offing, was an issue in that election, too.

“No one has been stronger in this race [than Bowles] in supporting President Bush in the war on terror and his efforts to affect a regime change in Iraq,” Woodhouse told the Charlotte Observer.

Now, tell me again why Democratic candidates deserve my vote.

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