OVER THE WEEKEND, Congressman-for-life "Sunny" Jim McDermott could be seen on TV live from Iraq. McDermott has ventured to ground zero of America's next war to try to bring some balance to the debate over whether or not the United States should attack the cradle of civilization. While the Bush administration intensifies air attacks from the no-fly zones over Iraq and mounts an election blitz on the people's will to war, the 7th District Seattle Democrat has more or less turned himself into a human shield, protecting both the Iraqi people and the American conscience.
McDermott is pushing for peaceful alternatives to disarming Saddam Hussein and trying to remind the American people of the already devastating effect U.S. policy has had on the Iraqi civilian population, including the "premature" deaths of up to 500,000 Iraqi children due to a decade of international sanctions. His pitch seems less designed to coddle a dictator than to reinsert moral issues into the debate: While we argue about removing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, let's not forget that millions of innocents have already died and continue to suffer from existing U.S. policy. Can we find a means of solving our problems without an escalation of human misery?
BUT MCDERMOTT'S VISIT blew up on Sunday. During an interview via satellite from Iraq on ABC, McDermott suggested that George W. Bush might be misleading people to drum up support for war. This Week host George Stephanopolous pressed him: Are you calling the president a liar? McDermott refused to use the "L" word but said that Bush was doing exactly what Lyndon Johnson did to get support for the Tonkin Gulf resolution that gave us the Vietnam War: an orchestrated use of misinformation. Oops. Americans are not supposed to tell the truth abroad in time of "war," even if in this case the "war" hasn't been declared yet, and even if, according to the Bush doctrine, Baghdad is already de facto American soil.
Conservative pundit George Will called McDermott's performance the most "disgraceful" by a U.S. public official overseas in his lifetime and compared it to Jane Fonda's appearance on an anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, the Republican from Mississippi, barked that McDermott should "come home and keep his mouth shut."
But there's the rub. What you can say at home without being accused of disloyalty is limited, too. Last week, Bush personally accused the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate of not being overly concerned with the nation's security, mostly because they aren't willing to rubber stamp a massive reorganization of the government. Sticking points have included unionization and civil-service laws that Bush wants to dump for the new Homeland Security Department. These are legitimate policy differences, hardly giving aid and comfort to the enemy, unless, of course, the enemy is the American worker.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat, demanded an apology from the president for all the Democrats whose patriotism was being called into question. That was also too much for Trent Lott, who immediately called Daschle's patriotism further into question because he was questioning the president: "Who is the enemy here?" Lott demanded to know, "the president of the United States or Saddam Hussein?" In other words, you Democrats are reckless for disagreeing with Republican policy, and traitors for questioning the president's judgment that you are not patriotic. What's left for Daschle, apparently, is to endlessly read the Pledge of Allegiance into the Congressional Record. Anything else is doing the dirty work of the Axis of Evil. Or, he could just shut up.
ALSO LAST WEEK, Tom Hayden, in a piece for The Nation, summed up his impressions of our city nearly three years after the World Trade Organization demonstrations of 1999 made Seattle a universal word for standing up to corporate globalization. He found it wonderfully improved. "With dot-coms bombing and Boeing going, Seattle has lost its artificial luster, returning to the status of a lovely, cultured city instead of a mecca of a global kingdom." Of course, he doesn't have to suffer the high unemployment that losing our luster entails, but I also concede his point that the "world-class city" pretensions of the Paul Schell years are hardly missed. Hayden also suggests that Seattle could forge a new identity as the birthplace of a global resistance movement and wonders why the city has erected no formal monument to the Battle in Seattle.
It's a great idea. But we can also take pride that the Seattle tradition of questioning international policy and authority still lives. Who needs a bronze statue when we've got Jim McDermott, a politician who could coast as a cozy liberal hack until retirement, but who is on the front lines this week, telling the truth from Baghdad, driving the right-wing establishment nuts, and asking America to think again about what's right, and what's possible, before we ignite a war of unimaginable consequences.