When California Democrat Pete Stark loudly and boldly told the truth about President Bush and the Congressional Republicans, kids and Iraq, he became an instant pariah. Bush vetoed the children’s health bill and the Republicans in the House sustained the President’s decision.
Enough, Stark said. In his 18th term representing San Francisco’s East Bay, the long-time advocate for children’s health unleashed his fury on the House floor on October 18. "You don’t have money to fund the war or children," Stark accused Republicans. "But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement."
Even the usually indifferent listeners on the gossip-filled floor paid attention. "They [the Republicans] sure don’t care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where ya gonna get that money? You going to tell us lies like you’re telling us today? Is that how you’re going to fund the war? Stark continued: "President Bush’s statements about children’s health shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than his lies about the war in Iraq. The truth is that Bush just likes to blow things up. In Iraq, in the United States and in Congress."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi predictably slapped Stark’s wrist. "While members of Congress are passionate about their views, what Congressman Stark said during the debate was inappropriate," the Speaker admonished, " and distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand – providing health care for America’s children."
Pelosi said Stark had handed Republicans a distraction mechanism from a winning stance on the popular children’s health bill: irresponsible. All Democrats admit their 2006 victory in both Houses meant that the new Congress would end the war and save the shreds of the republican fabric.
Bush has ravaged the Constitution by usurping power to torture ("enemy combatants", tap (phones of "terrorism suspects" and ignore (congressional laws). Congressional Democrats whine in response, but their inaction has implicitly legitimized his power grab. So, Stark’s rage, like the proverbial tip of the iceberg, concealed deeper sins – and perils. Congress has explicitly and implicitly accepted Bush’s war and his aggressive posturing. Each legislative session Members cede to him extra war budget funds – for Iraq and Afghanistan — and ever increasing amounts for "defense" that doesn’t defend. Watch out for the "block buster bomb" in the new budget that Pentagon hawks intend to use on Iran.
The White House has already alerted Congress that it plans to ask for additional funds for its "global war on terror." Few Members dare question such preposterous requests. Al-Qaida is on the run in Iraq, claims Bush, and according to his logic that means we need more money to keep them on the run?
In late October, Bush asked Congress for $196.4 billion for the 2007-8 counter-terrorism budget, $25 billion more than last year. The Pentagon wants an additional $481 billion.
Congress will probably accede to this failed President’s request despite his low approval ratings, and they will continue to grant him – given his incompetence and downright moronic rule — unrivaled executive powers.
Forty six years ago, President Eisenhower warned about what has become the unspoken but well-known context of both Bush’s ever extending power grab and perhaps Stark’s outburst: each of the 435 congressional districts has ties to the military, through bases or production of some part of the "defense" budget. The American elite ignored the strength of the military-industrial-scientific-construction-engineering complex. It has become the sine qua non of the national economy.
Without such a framework could Republicans have dared demand Stark apologize? Indeed, Stark initially said Republicans should apologize for failing to provide the votes to override Bush’s veto. Critics from both Parties chided Stark for accusing Bush of lying and killing our noble troops for his own amusement. Bush is a serious man. Only three days before he ordered the US military to invade Iraq he assured the world: "The intelligence leaves no doubt. Iraq continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons of mass destruction ever devised."
With serious talk like that Bush has sent 4,000 plus Americans – soldiers and mercenaries — to their death; almost 30,000 wounded. But in July 2005, Bush – the real Bush?– got laughs as he pretended to search for the missing WMD behind furniture and under the sofa – "not here" followed by laughs, or behind the desk in the Oval Office. "Nope, not here either." The media dinner attendees roared at the President’s humor.
No one laughed at Pete Stark’s rant. Ironically, public sentiment stood behind his anger. There’s nothing funny about Bush’s capricious sacrifices of lives, money and US reputation in Iraq. Bush has made Iraq and the world more dangerous. More than two million Iraqi refugees have fled to other countries; another two million are internally displaced. The Iraqi unemployment rate has fluctuated around 70%. The number of Iraqi dead and wounded now defy figure – they run between 600,000 and 1 million
Bush claims the war has cost only 30,000 Iraqi lives. But Iraq Body Count, which scrupulously monitors the public sources, puts the casualty rate at around 80,000. A July 2006 study from Johns Hopkins used extensive household surveys to measure mortality, estimated somewhere in the 600,000 range. The Just Foreign Policy team updated the number to over one million casualties. Final calculation could reach over $2.6 trillion according to the National Priorities Project’s calculations of estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.
In light of such numbers, why such wussy responses from Speaker Pelosi to Stark’s saying what she probably thinks? Only Barbara Lee (Oakland) provided a careful defense. "The Republicans are desperate to change the subject from the real issue at hand, which is an occupation that has cost us almost a half a trillion dollars, and there’s no end in sight," she said. "That’s the real issue here, and the Republicans, and the president, are desperate to avoid it."
Don’t Democrats recall what Republican draft dodgers did in 2004? They labeled Senator Max Cleland, a paraplegic who lost his limbs in Vietnam combat, a coward and questioned his patriotism. And they "swiftboated" John Kerry as well.
Different rules? When Democrats speak truth to an Administration that history will record as having given greed and corruption bad reputations, their own leaders reprimand them and call them ill-tempered. Speaker Pelosi does not say what she and fellow liberal Democrats probably thinks: "No one should treat George Bush with respect. He has not earned it by his lies and deceptions on the most serious issues, by his irresponsible dispatch of troops and his destruction of Iraq, by his placement of incompetent cronies at the helm of various administrative branches."
On October 23, Pete Stark apologized to his "colleagues, many of whom I have offended, to the president, to his family, to the troops."
His apology, he said, will hopefully make him "as insignificant as I should be and that we can return to the issues that we can resolve." Like not ending the war or slashing the military budget or curbing Bush’s abuse of the Constitution? In fairness, Congress rarely acts with courage unless millions of people take to the streets – and stay there; not in front of their computer screens and TVs.
Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies Fellow and author of Counterpunch Press book A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. His new film, WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE is available on dvd from [email protected]