On Thursday, the same day President Bush trekked to Capitol Hill to rally Republicans (but not to answer any their questions) about the war in Iraq, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters. She said that while some people think Bush has “great resolve … resolve must be accompanied by judgment and a plan. The emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality and pull the curtain back?”
Perhaps anticipating what was likely to happen next, Pelosi noted that Republicans “cannot say that anyone who criticizes their failures is not supportive of the troops.” The war in Iraq can be won, she said, with a “better plan” and a new commander in chief.
Those words were too much for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who accused Pelosi of employing “irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric.” He added, “Her party has a responsibility to the troops and to this nation to show unity in a time of war.” Representative Tom Reynolds, who's in charge of increasing GOP numbers in the House this fall, said Pelosi should “go back to her pastel-colored condo in San Francisco and keep her views to herself,” according to The New York Times.
It's ironic that DeLay is making these comments, considering that he helped orchestrate the GOP effort to criticize the timing of the bombing in Iraq in 1998 (while at the same time driving Bill Clinton's impeachment). And given that the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism show no signs of ending anytime soon, it's ridiculous to expect Democrats to put aside their criticism for the foreseeable future. But it also shows that Republicans are nervous -- and rightly so -- about how the Iraq War will affect Bush's re-election chances.
If the GOP was confident that the United States was winning and that the American people supported them, there would be no harm in allowing dissent from the other side -- that's always been one of the hallmarks of democracy. There was dissent on Capitol Hill about whether to go to war with Iraq during the first Bush administration, and while the White House may not have wanted to hear it, Republicans then didn't tell Democrats to shut up and apologize for their views.
Much of George W. Bush's administration has been a knee-jerk reaction to his father's, and this is yet another example. His father didn't stop Democratic criticism on Iraq and other issues, and the next year was booted from office. Bush is determined not to repeat his father's mistakes. If there's no opposition, voters won't really have an alternative to choose from on election day.
In case you think Republicans only make blatantly ridiculous statements about Democrats, don't forget that House Speaker Dennis Hastert said last week that Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam, needs to learn a little about sacrifices during wartime -- this because McCain is one of several moderates holding up the budget by pressing for fiscal responsibility.
Hill Republicans have already shut Democrats out of much of the legislative process. It's obnoxious that DeLay and other GOP leaders try to limit the ability of Republicans to present alternative views, as McCain did. One of the few things Democrats are still able to do -- and should do -- as the minority party is criticize Republicans. For the GOP to try to take that away, too, is not only disturbing but downright undemocratic.
On Thursday, DeLay accused Pelosi of being “so caught up in partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk.” Funny, I thought that Republicans were the ones who put American lives at risk when they rushed to war without gathering all of the facts or persuading much of the world to join the war effort. If Republicans had listened to the questions Democrats, including Pelosi, asked in early 2003, maybe we wouldn't have gone to war at all, which would have saved many American lives.
But what do I know? I'm just a Democrat who should keep her opinions to herself.
Mary Lynn F. Jones is online editor of The Hill. Her column on Capitol Hill politics runs each week in the online edition of The American Prospect.