Showdown at the
Congressional Corral

‘Idiot liberals’ versus welfare-state liberals on the war

The recent confrontation between Tina Richards, the mother of a GI home from Iraq, and Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), the powerful head of the House Appropriations Committee, over the Democratic leadership’s decision to continue funding the war underscores the tremendous gap between what people thought they were voting for in 2006 and what they actually got. It also dramatizes the growing distance between the party’s elected officials and its antiwar base. Approached by activists in the hallways of Congress during the mid-March antiwar protests in Washington, Obey flew into a rage when confronted with the central contradiction of his “antiwar” legislation – that it gives the president more funding to prosecute the war, while mandating a series of timelines that, in theory, would “redeploy” (never withdraw) our troops by a date certain. Unless the president meets certain criteria, or at least says he’s met them, in which case the timelines are off.

At any rate, Obey was furious at being put face to face with his own duplicity, so starkly put. He railed at these “idiot liberals,” as he called his interlocutors, declaring

“The liberal groups are jumping around without knowing what the hell is in the bill! You don’t have to cut off funds for an activity that no longer is legal! That bill ends the war! If that isn’t good enough for you, you’re smoking something illegal!”

Beneath the shrill defensiveness and Washington-insider, know-it-all attitude, Obey did make an argument, of sorts, based on the assertion that “The language we have in the resolution ends the authority for the war. It makes it illegal to proceed with the war.” This refers to the much-vaunted timelines, all of them highly conditional and easily dispensed with by the president, which, Obey claimed, would make prosecution of the war illegal beyond a certain point.

That was then, however, and this is now. When Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared “This war is lost,” perhaps he was referring to his own battle with the Bush administration over funding the war. After all, Reid’s statement and the news that the Democrats were caving on the timelines issue came simultaneously: the New York Times coupled these developments in a piece centered around Reid hoisting the white flag of surrender.

The entire “antiwar” campaign initiated by the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party has been a fraud from beginning to end. A good example is the effort launched by, some labor unions, and liberal activists, under the rubric of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. This group, according to The Politico Web site, has “spent the congressional recess rousing the locals in dozens of Republican swing districts in 24 states.” It’s all somehow tied in to a proposed antiwar television commercial to be directed by Oliver Stone, which, says The Politico, was “announced as liberal opponents of the Iraq war stepped up attacks on Republican congressional lawmakers who voted against a timeline for redeploying troops with letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations and, this week, the launch of new TV ads.”

Now that the Democrats have dropped the timeline, will any of the $5.6 million raised so far by Americans Against Escalation be used to fund third-party or even antiwar Republican challenges to incumbent Democrats?

Fat chance. These outfits are little more than adjuncts of the Democratic Party, and, as such, their tactics and strategy are purely partisan: whatever efforts they make to educate the public about the injustice of this war is ancillary to their subservience to politicians who concretely support the occupation of Iraq. Despite Obey’s insistence that he “hates” the war, the stark reality is that he and his fellow Democrats are now voting to fund it, and the mental and verbal gymnastics required to leap over this gigantic credibility gap are truly a sight to see. Particularly revolting, getting back to the Obey-Richards video for a moment, was Obey’s liberal guilt-tripping of his questioners:

“There’s a hell of a difference between defunding the troops and ending the war. I’m not going to deny body armor. I’m not going to deny funding for veterans’ hospitals and vets hospitals so you can help people who have medical problems. That’s what you do if you’re going against that bill.

TINA RICHARDS: But there should be enough money already in the regular defense bill –

OBEY: Well, there isn’t.

RICHARDS: – without continuing the funding for the war.

OBEY: There isn’t. There isn’t. That’s not the way it works. The money in the defense bill, it pays for a standing army, but it doesn’t pay for these recurring costs. We’re going to add over a billion dollars more to what the president is asking for in that bill, so it should deal with exactly some of the problems you’re talking about. How the hell do you get the money to the hospitals if we don’t provide the money?”

Tying the continuation of war funding to giving veterans of this conflict the medical care they’ve more than earned is beneath contempt, as is the implication that war opponents don’t care about the fate of the wounded. What’s macabre about this “argument” is that the continuation of the war will ensure a steady stream of horribly wounded veterans who will require much care, in a cycle of slaughter and necessary expenditure that – if tied in to funding the war itself – will create a perpetual motion machine of horror and growing expense. This is truly the deadest end of welfare-state “liberalism” I’ve ever encountered – a Bizarro World “antiwar” measure that virtually guarantees endless bloodshed.

The liberal activists of and the milquetoast “progressive” community would rather pass a bill so laden with pork that it discredits its backers and does nothing to stop the war – or even slow it down – than take a principled stand and stake out a clear-cut position, one that will be remembered as the conventional wisdom changes.

Today, that “wisdom” consists of asserting that it’s impractical dogmatism to insist on withdrawing war funding, because everyone in Washington has bought into the War Party’s argument that opposition to the war is essentially treason. The Republicans state this openly, and the Democrats, while not quite believing it, nonetheless pander to this sentiment unduly. By being the party of the conventional wisdom, the Democratic leadership falls behind public opinion, which, in this case, is rapidly outstripping congressional willingness to directly challenge the president on the war.

The highly impractical strategy of the Democratic Party pragmatists of the set is illustrated by a key fact: it was Obey who authored a provision in the House bill – since dropped – that would have required the president to come to Congress for authorization before attacking Iran. Here is how Obey justified stripping out that provision in accordance with the “compromise” engineered by Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“You’ve got the legislative world and then you have the real world. In the real world if Bush tried to attack Iran without coming to Congress for approval, I think you would really have people start to make big noise about everything from impeachment to a total [war funding] cutoff.”

Given Obey’s argument for voting for the supplemental, however, why would U.S. military operations against Iran militate against funding U.S. troops already in the field? Wouldn’t the same argument still hold true: that voting against war funding would deprive the troops of body armor? Surely that is one item our soldiers would need in abundance if the Iranians unleashed their Iraqi allies against the Americans.

As for impeachment, Obey would doubtless argue against that, too, on the same grounds he shouted down Richards and her group: “We haven’t got the votes!” It is difficult if not impossible to imagine that the notoriously faint-hearted Democrats, who cowered at the height of the post-9/11 war hysteria, will stand up against a fresh outbreak of the same mass psychosis, which will no doubt be occasioned by some incident, either manufactured or else half-imagined, similar to the recent “hostage crisis” involving the British. This time, it ended with a few red faces in Whitehall and the British sailors selling their stories to the tabloid press for a hefty sum. Next time, if the Americans are involved, if will more than likely end in war.

This ought to put the entire debate over the Iraq war funding bill in perspective: the longer we stay in Iraq, the more likely it is that the conflict will spread and involve us in an armed conflict with Iran. There are many indications that military operations directed at Tehran have already started, at least on a certain level, and now it remains for a provocation to materialize – or be conjured into existence – that will make the covert struggle overt.

Washington is intent on initiating “regime-change” in Iran before the Bush administration leaves office, and that includes major figures in both parties. The very rationale Obey gave for giving up the Iran provision – that it would cement support for the supplemental in his own caucus – underscores the widespread enthusiasm for military action against Iran in the ranks of congressional Democrats. It’s their way of trying to look like tough “national security Democrats” in the face of Republican charges of extreme wimpiness. Another major factor is the Israel lobby, which is pushing for a confrontation with Iran.

The Democrats have gone along with the regime-change agenda, with the exception of a few, such as Jim Webb, the newly-elected Democratic senator from Virginia, who is offering his own legislation requiring the president to seek authorization for an Iran strike. Only two Democratic presidential candidates – Edwards and Biden – have endorsed the Webb initiative, with Obama and Hillary still fence-sitting. Speaker Pelosi has pledged a roll-call vote, but I wouldn’t hold my breath: this is the last issue the Democrats want to segue into the presidential campaign with. Their major donors, and a good part of the Democratic congressional caucus, are committed to facing down Iran in the name of protecting Israel from an allegedly “existential” threat.

That this threat is more rhetorical than material will only come out in retrospect, and, while it doesn’t look like the decision to go to war has actually been made – one observer notes that “President Bush displays no sense of urgency about having to decide on military action, recent visitors to the White House report” – of one thing we can be sure: all kinds of “intelligence” and sensational “revelations” from various sources will attest to Iran’s “weapons of mass destruction,” and we’ll be inundated with war propaganda just like we were in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. I don’t expect the Democrats to stand up against this any more than they did the last time around – and neither should you.

On a comic note, we have this piece by Edward Epstein in the San Francisco Chronicle reporting on the debate provoked by the fracas with Obey, which includes the following:

“Among the more pragmatic antiwar leaders is Tom Andrews, head of the Win Without War Coalition. His time in the House as a Democratic member from Maine gives him some insight into practical politics. ‘Expectations for the Congress are quite high,’ Andrews said. ‘People feel they should be expecting a lot from the Congress they helped elect last November.’

“But he said he understands why Pelosi and her deputies had to water down their initial plan to attach stringent conditions for troop deployment to the spending bill that will provide about $96 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those conditions drew objections from some conservative Democrats and were criticized by Republicans as micro-managing a war and surrendering Iraq to terrorists. ‘The first principle of arithmetic is knowing how to count. There are not enough votes to end the war,’ Andrews said.”

They really ought to rename Win Without War “Lose Without Fighting” to illustrate the group’s unique tactical perspective, which amounts to doing whatever the Democratic Party chieftains desire. What’s interesting is that Win Without Balls is a front group for the wacked-out Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), a pro-“Gang of Four” sect left over from the 1960s that regularly indulges in super-rrrrrrrrrrevolutionary rhetoric and constant evocation of the “Thoughts” of Chairman Mao, the departed Communist mass murderer and lunatic. That they have chosen the priggish Andrews, a former Democratic officeholder of the most cautious type, as their front man is odd, to say the least, given the rhetorical extravagance of his Maoist backers.

The RCP, in a burlesque imitation of their Chinese counterparts, is constantly launching new campaigns and initiatives, based on melodramatic slogans and phrases meant to appeal to the nascent revolutionary sentiments of “the masses.” One I remember quite well was “Create Public Opinion, Seize Power!” The whole idea, as I understand it, is to fight to constantly raise the consciousness of the public – to continually push the envelope and stake out a radical position so that it becomes a matter of debate and enters “mainstream” thinking. However, it looks like even the Revolutionary Commies have gone “revisionist” and sold out their ostensible convictions in pursuit of “pragmatic” vote-counting.

No, the Democrats in the antiwar caucus don’t have the votes to stop the war at the moment, but only by raising the no-funding position and standing by it will they ever succeed in eventually securing those votes by creating a massive wave of popular support for withdrawal. Defunding the war, totally and by a definite date, is the conventional wisdom of the future – and the Democrats, along with the Revolutionary Commies, are (as usual) light-years behind their own constituency. Lacking the imagination to lead rather than follow what they believe is the “safe” consensus opinion, Win Without War isn’t going to win much of anything, including respect in antiwar circles.

We don’t have time to indulge in the luxury of “pragmatism.” Failure to get out of Iraq in a timely fashion will only encourage the spread of the war to Iran, Syria, and perhaps further afield. The real threat now is the regionalization of the conflict – and Democratic impotence is encouraging the War Party, embodied by this administration, to start the shooting sooner rather than later.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].