Two days after President Bush used a nationally-televised address to exploit the memory of September 11 for political purposes – employing language and logic so crude that it would have made Richard Nixon cringe – the Republican Congressional leadership tried to plant a campaign yard sign in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. And the vast majority of House Democrats, lacking both the courage of their convictions and all other forms of that precious commodity, gave their assent to the desecration.
With the fall election season in full swing, House Republicans tried to take full advantage of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington to suggest that the Congress has been anything more than a useless appendage of the Bush administration for the past five years. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, sponsored a resolution that, while it was promoted as a commemoration of one of the most solemn dates in American history, was in fact an apologia for Congressional assaults on civil liberties such as the Patriot Act.
A number of Democrats objected to the clumsy attempt by King and his compatriots to use the memory of 9-11 to justify their wrongheaded theory that the only way to fight terrorism is to shred the Constitution.
But when it came time to vote, the vast majority of Democrats joined Republicans in what will go down as one of the cheapest stunts yet in a Capitol that has seen more than its share of embarrassing behavior.
Only 22 member of the House refused to go along with the unseemly charade. Twenty-one Democrats and one dissident Republican, Ron Paul of Texas, refused to play politics.
Among the handful of House members who did the right thing was Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who complained that, “The Republican majority disgracefully politicized what should have been a solemn and sincere resolution.”
Instead of honoring the memory of those who died and recalling the trauma that the attacks inflicted on the United States, Baldwin said, “[House Republicans] converted the resolution into an endorsement of the PATRIOT Act, punitive immigration bills, and other highly controversial measures, which many of my constituents oppose. The Republicans show enormous disrespect to the 9/11 victims and families by playing election year politics with something as solemn as the fifth anniversary of 9/11.”
Joining Baldwin and Republican Paul in voting “no” were: Arizona’s Raul Grijalva; Californians Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey; Georgians Cynthia McKinney and John Lewis; Illinoisans Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky; Maine’s Mike Michaud; Massachusetts’ Barney Frank, Ed Markey and Jim McGovern; New Yorker Maurice Hinchey; North Carolina’s Mel Watt; Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich; Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer; Virginia’s Bobby Scott; and Washington’s Jim McDermott. (An additional member, Democrat Mike Capuano of Massachusetts, voted “present.”)
Unlike most members of Congress, these dissenters actually believe that their votes matter. And, this week, they used their “no” votes to reject the exploitation of the memory of 9-11 for political purposes.