Hanging Together

Like most of the people likely to read this, I sincerely hope that as many Democrats as possible win seats in Congress on Tuesday, putting one or both sides of the legislative branch under Democratic control come January.

However, I would like to remind everyone that a simple majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate doesn’t necessarily mean a major change in course, unless our Representatives and Senators — in particular the leadership of both houses — actually perform their jobs better than they have since President Bush took office.

Specifically, the Iraq war would never have gotten under way if Democrats in both chambers had done their homework, and been less gullible about the administration’s claims that Iraq had WMDs. If they had been more concerned with actually being strong than looking strong, it would have been far more difficult for the administration to begin a war on false pretenses.

The Senate vote on the resolution to use force in Iraq took place on 11 October 2002. The vote was 77 to 23 in favor. The “nay” votes included 21 Democrats, Sen. Chaffee (R-RI), and Sen. Jeffords (I-VT). 29 Democrats voted for the resolution (names with strikeouts indicate a defeat at the polls, italics show retirements:

Baucus, Max (D-MT)
Bayh, Evan (D-IN)
Biden, Joe (D-DE)
Breaux, John (D-LA)
Cantwell, Maria (D-WA)
Carnahan, Jean (D-MO)
Carper, Tom (D-DE)
Cleland, Max (D-GA)
Clinton, Hillary (D-NY)
Daschle, Tom (D-SD)

Dodd, Chris (D-CT)
Dorgan, Byron (D-ND)
Edwards, John (D-NC)
Feinstein, Diane (D-CA)
Harkin, Tom (D-IA)
Hollings, Fritz (D-SC)
Johnson, Tim (D-SD)
Kerry, John (D-MA)
Kohl, Herb (D-WI)
Landrieu, Mary (D-LA)
Lieberman, Joe (D-CT)
Lincoln, Blanche (D-AR)
Miller, Zell (D-GA)
Nelson, Bill (D-FL)
Nelson, Ben (D-NE)
Reid, Harry (D-NV)
Rockefeller, Jay (D-WV)
Schumer, Chuck (D-NY)
Torricelli, Robert (D-NJ)

Now, if you’ll get out your calculator, you’ll notice that the 21 Dem nays + 29 Dem yeas = 50 total Democratic votes. Yes, folks, for a little bit of a reality check, it’s always good to remember that at the time the nation was deciding to go to war, the Democrats held half the seats in the Senate.

This is where it’s important to point out that two of the Senators on the list above were Zell “Spitball” Miller and Joe “Benedict Arnold” Lieberman, but even without those two votes, if the rest of the Democratic Senators had been a bit more skeptical of claims that Iraq — a country under a variety of embargos for a dozen years which didn’t control its own airspace — had drone aircraft capable of delivering WMDs halfway across the globe as well as the other claims that the administration put forth, it’s possible that another Republican might have joined Chaffee in the “nay” column. At the very least, it might have forced Dick Cheney to break a tie vote.

“What about the political considerations?” you might ask. Prior to the current election cycle, of the 29 Democratic Senators who willingly gave George W. Bush — suspected prior to the 2000 election by many to be one of the stupidest Presidental candidates in recent history — carte blanche to invade Iraq, three have been voted out of office and five have retired.

Of those who voted “nay”, two have retired, and one — Paul Wellstone (D-MN) — died less than two weeks after the vote. None of them have lost an election.

The House races provide a bit more data. There are more Representatives, for one, and they come up for election every two years, for another.

The vote in the House was almost as heartbreaking as that in the Senate, with a twist. Democrats here voted against the resolution 81-126, with 1 abstention. 6 Republicans voted against the resolution, as did Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 215 Republicans voted to approve the resolution.

If all of the House Democrats voting yea had switched their votes, the total number of “nay” votes wouldn’t have carried the day, but 81 + 126 + 6 + 1 = 214, so the vote could have been 215-214. If Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) of the House Armed Services Committee (Ranking Member of the Readiness Subcommittee) had been ready to vote on a resolution to authorize the use of the armed services in a foreign war, or one of the two abstaining Republicans had voted “nay” or another Republican had decided to abstain….

Six of the 81 Democratic “yea” votes in the House were already out of the running for the November 2002 election. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) was running for governor. James Barcia (D-MI) went down to the state legislature. Frank Mascara (D-PA) had lost the 2002 primary prior to the vote. Three others had already announced plans to leave office for other reasons. Less than a month after the vote, five members lost their seats in the general election. In 2004, two more decided not to run, five ran (and lost) races for the Senate, Dick Gephardt lost the presidential primary, and four more lost their seats in the general election.

Of the 81 who voted for the Iraq war resolution, 14 left office voluntarily or had been voted out before casting the vote. Out of the remaining 67, nine lost their seats in subsequent elections, for a retention rate of 87%.

On the other side of the issue were 126 Democratic Representatives. Five had lost primary races in early 2002 (including Gary Condit [D-CA] and Cynthia McKinney [D-GA]). David Bonior (D-MI) had run for governor but lost the primary and was not up for re-election to Congress. Four had announced that they were leaving the House. In the years since the vote, John Baldacci (D-ME) left to become governor, Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) lost a primary, and Gerald Kleczka (D-WI) left office. McKinney retook and relost her seat. None of the Representatives who voted against the resolution have lost their seat in a general election yet.

I’ve been doing this research because I’m concerned that Democratic party leadership is going to consider any gain made in the election Tuesday as a justification of their strategy of caving in to political pressure whenever Republicans snap them with a locker-room towel. In the case of the authorization to use force in Iraq, the Senators and Representatives who correctly gauged the administration’s claims about the threat Saddam Hussein posed and their ability to prosecute military operations successfully, and who were willing to take a stand against have been significantly more successful than those who bought into the idea that the Bush team was competent enough to wage war.

Tuesday is not the end of this fight. As Benjamin Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” It’s time for the Democrats to hang together, but they’ve got to hang with the right crowd this time.