Rep. Chris Van Hollen is the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It is his job to preserve and expand the Democrats majority in Congress in 2008. Rep. Van Hollen is also my congressman. So, this week when he held a town hall meeting I was paying close attention to his message on the Iraq War.
From his talk it is quite clear what they Democrats want. They want the peace movement to work for the Democratic Party rather than the Democratic Party representing the peace movement.
At the meeting there were signs held in the audience urging “use the power of the purse to end the war” and “support vets not war” and people in the audience held “defund the war” signs. A mother of a vet, Tina Richards, whose son is getting ready to return for his third tour of duty in Iraq, read a poem by her son that explained why he works for peace and described his despair, his thoughts of suicide and the horrors he saw in Iraq. (See this powerful poem below with link to her website.) When she urged a cut-off of funds the audience of several hundred cheered wildly.
But, Rep. Van Hollen, who is the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not commit to not voting to fund the war. Instead he pointed to the recent non-binding resolution passed by the House opposing the “surge” as a first step. He highlighted how the Republicans blocked even a vote on that in the Senate. He reminded people that he opposed the war and voted against the use of force resolution. (But, he didn’t mention how he has voted for all of the $420 billion in funding for the war.) He concluded to end the war we need to build a political movement because we could not stop the war with the current Democratic majorities in Congress.
The Democrats seem to think the Iraq War is the “goose that lays the golden votes.” They hope it is the golden goose that will expand their majorities and bring them the presidency. Keeping the war going, while showing their opposition through non-binding votes, criticizing Bush and conducting high profile hearings that point to the corruption of the administration as well as the mistakes of the commander-in-chief will get them more votes than ending the war. The Democrats can point to the Republicans as the problem and highlight Bush’s reckless leadership as commander-in-chief and say “elect us.”
The Democrats say they must support the supplemental because they need to “support the troops.” But we all know the purpose of the supplemental is not to support the troops but to continue the war, and to send more troops into an unwinnable quagmire that is not supported by the American or Iraqi people. We need a real discussion of what can be done to support the troops and stabilize Iraq but can only get to that discussion if the Democrats use the power they were given by the American voters in 2006.
The truth is the Democrats have the power to end the war now. They have a majority in the House that could, if it wanted, refuse to fund the stay the course, with a slight escalation, budget the president has requested. If the House refused to fund the war that would be the end of it as President Bush cannot veto a non-appropriation.
And, if the House showed the courage and leadership then the Senate Democrats could follow with a filibuster of the appropriation in the Senate–it only takes 41 of their 51 members to agree–and both Houses would have rejected continuing to go deeper into the Iraq war quagmire.
Only one House is required to stop the war but the Democrats have enough power in either wing of the Congress to vote against continuing the war. If the Democrats fail to stop the war it is no longer Bush’s war it is “the Democrats Iraq War.” They will have bought a lost war from President Bush and should be held responsible by the voters for the result.
Once the Democrats say “no” to the supplemental they can start a real discussion of what it would take to support the troops and bring stability to Iraq–without a military occupation which is according to DoD reports the root cause of the violence.
If the Democrats showed the leadership voters want the debate would be about how to get out of Iraq in way that is rapid and responsible, in a way that reduces the risk of violence and bloodshed in Iraq and brings U.S. troops home safely. Then, the Democrats would be representing the views of American voters and fulfilling the mandate of the 2006 election. And through the appropriations process, led by Subcommittee Chairman Jack Murtha, the Democrats could develop a responsible exit strategy that would rapidly get U.S. troops out of Iraq and put in place strategies that would be likely to reduce the violence in Iraq and bring stability to the region, i.e. the rebuilding of Iraq by Iraqis, a regional stabilization force to work with a new Iraqi government and a surge in diplomatic efforts in the region.
The question for the anti-war movement–which includes a majority of the American public, a super majority in the Democratic Party and has shown its political muscle in 2006–is do they work for the Democratic Party? Or, do they work for peace? It is likely going to be impossible to do both unless the Democratic Party leadership rapidly changes course.
Kevin Martin, the director of Peace Action put forward the clear demands of the peace movement in a memorandum earlier this week: “our message and demands are simple and clear — end the occupation, stop voting to spend our tax dollars on the war, and support our troops by bringing them home to the warm embrace of their families as soon as possible.”
The anti-war movement should demand that the Democratic Party work for us! They would not be the majority party if it were not for the peace voter. The Democratic Party needs to know that the peace voter realizes that the Democrats have the power to end the war. If they fail to do so anti-war voters will not give their votes to politicians who fail to end the war. (See and sign the VotersForPeace Pledge.
The only way for voters opposed to the war to get the Democratic Party to work for us is to let them know that the price of our vote is for them to end this war.
KEVIN ZEESE is Director of Democracy Rising and co-founder of VotersForPeace.US.