Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Mitch McConnell: Obstructionist in Chief

mcconnell2.jpgI want to return in the near future to more directly theological topics, but the current political scene keeps crying out for moral, faith-based commentary.

I have repeatedly written Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently, since, unfortunately, he represents the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky (where I live) in the U.S. Senate. I have called him on the phone quite a bit, too. I have never been able to talk to him, only to an aide.  If I were able to talk to McConnell, what would I say?  Something like the following:

Senator McConnell, I realize you see your job as supporting the president’s war policies no matter what, but do you hate our troops?  We pacifists, heck, not just we pacifists, but anyone who criticizes the invasion and occupation of Iraq, are constantly accused of “not supporting the troops.”  But we aren’t the ones who sent the troops in ill-equipped so that their families had to have fundraisers so they could purchase better bodyarmor (while our tax dollars paid private security companies–mercenaries–enough to be much better equipped!). We aren’t the ones who voted in 2003 and 2004 to eliminate combat pay, hazardous duty pay, and benefits for Reservists and National Guardsmen (and Guardswomen) being used as frontline troops.  We aren’t the ones whose privatization-at-all-costs policies led to appalling conditions in Walter Reed and other V.A. hospitals across this country.  We have said all along that the best way to support our troops was to bring them home safe from this illegal and unwise invasion and occupation–which has turned, as many of us predicted, into the policing of a civil war.

    Now, after you have repeatedly blocked all attempts in the Senate to end this war, Senators Leahy (D-VT), Webb (D-VA), and Spector (R-PA) forged a bi-partisan bill that would have at least made sure our troops got enough “down time” by insisting that that their home leaves be equal in time to the 15 month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But you blocked that, too.  Any military or ex-military person will tell you, common sense tells you, that tired, on-edge troops make mistakes.  During the long, hideous Vietnam War, our troops were only required to do one tour in most cases. Any further tours were voluntary and after sufficient leave.  Yet, some of our soldiers and marines in this war are on their fifth tours of Iraq or Afghanistan–with nothing voluntary except their military enlistment.  More of our troops will die because you blocked this bill. Others of our troops may make poor judgments that result in innocent civilians killed (thereby fueling the insurgency).  The mental strain on our troops is resulting in family violence when they return home, suicides, and homicides.  The more tours with less time to readjust to non-combat life at home in between, the more these trends to continue.  So, I ask, Do you hate our troops? Do you hate their families? Or is your misguided loyalty to Pres. Bush simply so strong that nothing else matters?

Senator, at the risk that overeager police might have me tasered, I have some other hard questions.  I’m sorry, is this a “free speech zone?” See, I have to keep reminding myself that America is no longer a “free speech zone.” Silly me, I didn’t realize the First Amendment had been suspended.

Speaking of suspensions of rights, Senator, Do you hate human rights and the freedoms for which this country once stood?  You must.  When you Republicans still controlled Congress, you pushed through the Military Commissions Act which gave a legal basis for the Bush administration’s denial of Habeas Corpus to anyone designated by the president as an “enemy combatant,” like those terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  You’re an attorney, Senator. So you remember habeas corpus, the legal principle (enshrined in Anglo-American law since 1215! and from there adopted as a firm principle of international law) that demands that anyone arrested and held has the right to know the charges against them and to challenge in court whether the detaining parties have any grounds for holding them? Yet, yesterday, you blocked the attempt to restore that ancient right to those detained at Guantanamo Bay for years without charge (much less conviction).  Do you hate the rule of law?  What if a new administration, a Democratic administration, declared you an enemy combatant and stuck you in Gitmo? Wouldn’t you want to be able to challenge their right to do this?  Now, the fate of habeas corpus in this nation is left in the hands of the most rightwing Supreme Court we’ve ever had. I feel SOO safe, now, don’t you?  I hope your disregard of the Constitution in this way becomes an issue in your reelection, sir.

Senator, Do you hate democracy? I ask because you blocked efforts to give voting rights to the residents of the District of Columbia, to give them a 1 vote representation in the House of Representatives.  Aren’t we supposed to be “spreading democracy” in Iraq and Afghanistan? Then why are we denying it to D.C.? You state that you had to oppose this legislation as unconstitutional (Oh, now, you remember the Constitution!) because the District is not a state.  Will you then sponsor a Constitutional amendment to make the District of Columbia a state?

   If you don’t, Senator, outsiders might think you are afraid of the votes of the mostly African-American District.  And with Republican presidential candidates refusing all minority-sponsored debates and fora, isn’t your party having enough problems looking like a whites only club? So, the District of Columbia remains an internal colony without representation–although it is the capital of a nation founded in protest against any such laws in which the ruled have no part in the making of the rules. Ironic, no? Somehow, I doubt the residents of the District appreciate the irony.

The latest rumor is that you will attempt to block the S-CHIP renewal (which the president threatens to veto) whereby several states, including Kentucky, have successfully given health insurance to previously uninsured children.  Senator, Do you hate children also?

Get your resume updated, Senator.  It is increasingly clear that any progress in these United States will happen only if we remove you as Obstructionist-in-Chief.  Come November ’08, Senator, we Kentuckians will remember your role in these atrocities and help you decide to find new work in the private sector, spend more time with your family, and, generally–not have a job on our dime. 


September 20, 2007 - Posted by | human rights., peacemaking, U.S. politics


  1. This is really excellent, Michael. I am often struck by how hypocritical the Republican leaders in Washington are, particular Pres. Bush. In many ways, this is a classic case of an ideology run wild. The right language is there — human rights, democracy, families, education — but it’s been twisted by a narrow ideological framework which ends up violating these basic principles.

    Comment by D. W. Congdon | September 20, 2007

  2. David, this is the result of my frustration that my local paper would not run my letters about McConnell’s obstruction. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 20, 2007

  3. Feedback from the other side of the aisle

    The “15 months at home” issue of course is largely about ending the surge by hiding behind compassion. The timing of the compassion is obvious. It is a desperate move. A laudable goal, but not absolutely necessary. The overall costs of implementing the leave at this point outweigh the risks to emerging tenuous stability in Iraq.

    On D.C. They are not a state. If the people want votes incorporate the district into Maryland districts. Maybe then in 2010 Maryland gets another seat. A Maryland representative could represent them for now. That’s the goal right? Not just another vote for Democrats right?

    S-Chip….difficult to hash out what helps, what just switches people from private to public insurance, what drives up prices etc. Clearly children should get health care, but our emergency rooms already do for free. Uninsured does not equal no health care. I’d prefer more private sector solutions. More inexpensive clinics staffed by P.A.’s and nurse practitioners for routine care. Maybe catastrophic coverage provided by government.

    On Habeus Corpus…bravo. You exaggerate the size of the problem but bravo anyway.

    Comment by david | September 20, 2007

  4. Well, David, let’s take these in a different order, shall we? On D.C.–no, they are not a state, but I take the right to vote to be more important. There have been many attempts to have D.C. become a state, but all have failed. So have attempts to incorporate the district into either Maryland or Virginia. Meanwhile, the residents have no votes. And, no, the object isn’t just to get more votes for Democrats. If you had been paying attention, the deal that McConnell blocked, which had bipartisan support, would have given an extra representative to Utah (a heavily Republican state) as well, thereby keeping the balance. McConnell’s name is now mud among Utah Republicans and not just D.C. Democrats.
    Yes, one purpose of the equal leave time bill was to end not only the surge, but the war. Critics of the surge pointed out beforehand that it was unsustainable. Further, there have been efforts all through the war/occupation to get further down time for the troops–long before the majority of Democrats turned against the war and all blocked by the GOP. Bush has said that he wants a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq like we have in South Korea–but that is not sustainable with the current size of our army. This bill would have BOTH shown compassion for the troops and their families AND have exposed the fatal flaws in Bush’s plans.

    Actually, the S-CHIP isn’t hard to figure out at all. We have hard data from the states. States have watched their medical expenses DECREASE because poor children are no longer using emergency rooms as primary care. Businesses have loved the program because they’ve watched their insurance premiums go down as this decrease in emergency room only use has spread. Schools have loved the program because healthier students learn more rapidly, miss fewer classes, use school nurse services less often, etc. And the increase that a bi-partisan majority of Congress is requesting, $35 billion, is equal to about 3 months of the war in Iraq. Priorities, priorities.

    On Habeas Corpus–it is impossible to exaggerate this problem. It goes to the very fabric of who we are as a people and what kind of society we will be.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | September 21, 2007

  5. Michael, you are exactly right regarding Habeas Corpus. Its importance and the dangers of Bush’s abrogation of that fundamental right can never be exagerated. It’s not just “them, the guilty” that will be held without recourse. It will be any political rival who will be swept away. It happens every day in many countries (that we are imitating).

    Keep up the fight.

    Comment by Tauratinzwe | September 21, 2007

  6. Thanks for this post Michael. You are right on. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America rated members of congress who, by their votes, supported the troops. I can’t remember a single republican who rated high on their list. They have consistently voted against issues that directly affect the troops and their families and their ability to fight the war.

    There is one segment of the military that I believe will become a huge resistance force. The I.R.R. Individual Ready Reserve. If the recent refusal to obey “accountability muster orders” by I.R.R. soldiers is any indication as to who is willing to serve and who isn’t, then I’d say the military will have a huge problem on their hands in the near future, especially if this occupation continues on and the I.R.R. has to be reactivated. The government will have no other choice but to implement the draft and that will put an end to the war. The government knows it. That’s why they haven’t implemented it.

    Comment by Marty | September 21, 2007

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