As Senator Ted Kennedy has been eulogized in recent days, almost all of the discussion of his "legacy" has focused on domestic issues. Only a few have noted what Senator Kennedy himself said was the most important vote he ever cast in the U.S. Senate: his vote against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Economist Dean Baker, asked by the Beltway newspaper The Hill to comment on "the most significant aspect of Senator Kennedy's legacy," wrote:
I'll just agree with Senator Kennedy on this one. He said that his vote against the Iraq War was the most important vote that he cast the whole time he was in the Senate.
At a time when most of the political establishment, and certainly most of the media establishment, was cowed by an administration yelling about the threat of terrorism, Senator Kennedy stood back and looked at the evidence in a serious manner.
This was a display of courage and sound judgment at a time when these character traits were virtually absent from the halls of power in official Washington.
Democratic politicians are often praised by establishment pundits for showing "leadership" if they stand on the side of powerful against the interests of those they were elected to represent. But most people would see Senator Kennedy's vote against the war as a better example of "leadership": standing up for the people you were elected to represent, in the face of significant pressure to do otherwise. It's not surprising that the same media institutions which failed to challenge the Bush Administration's "faith-based" case for the war in Iraq would pass over this opportunity to remind everyone that they failed to show the same leadership as Senator Kennedy did when the nation needed it most.
In the coming month, we're going to face a national test similar in some ways to the test we faced -- and failed -- over the decision to go to war in Iraq. A major escalation of the war in Afghanistan is being put in place -- so major, in fact, that it is tantamount to starting a new war. U.S. forces in Afghanistan are being doubled; Admiral Mullen speaks of "starting over."
The establishment pundit chatter is that "leadership" by Democrats is required on Afghanistan -- meaning, that Democratic politicians should support the war, even though the majority of Americans -- and the overwhelming majority of Democrats -- have turned against it.
Many Democratic Representatives in Congress have voiced skepticism of the plans for military escalation. This summer, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan was supported by the majority of House Democrats.
Voices showing similar leadership in the Senate have been largely absent. But last week, Senator Russ Feingold called for a "flexible timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Will other Senators speak up, before Congress commits our troops and our tax dollars to a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan?