Thursday, February 9, 2006

Thersites Answers a Serious Critic About "Walter Reed"

After the Alito filibuster fight, more than a few conservative bloggers went on rants about my suggestion that senators who were unwilling to support the filibuster stay out of the cloture fight altogether, gaining political cover with conservative voters, if necessary, by visiting Walter Reed Army Hospital instead.

One site was particularly vitriolic against me personally, in response to which I very maturely left a snarky comment on his blog and pointed out what a jerk he was here. Today, however, I stopped by his site again and learned that he is a three-war veteran serving his third tour in Iraq. I have no reason to doubt him, and if he indeed is serving our country overseas, I owe him more than a smart-ass response.

Today, I wrote him to explain myself more fully and more seriously. What I wrote shares more about who I am, personally, than I normally would like to post here -- VichyDems should be about ideas, not personalities -- but I also thought that I owed it to you, the supporters of VichyDems, to share the same info.

This is what I wrote:

Okay, I'll stop screwing around and be dead serious with you. A lot of people misunderstood my intent when I suggested that senators who abstained from the filibuster vote visit vets at Walter Reed instead. I'll accept responsibility for not making myself clear, and will try to explain myself better. I still don't expect you to agree with me, but hopefully you'll at least understand me better:

First, you have to understand the purpose of my site. Both parties have some politicians that do whatever it takes to look good to voters and keep their seats instead of standing up for their principles. In my party, that includes politicians who proclaimed that Alito was evasive during his hearings and is dangerous -- not just bad, but dangerous -- for our country, but who didn't support the filibuster -- not because they disbelieve in filibusters, but because their polls told them that taking part in a filibuster would hurt their numbers with swing voters. Basically, they voted on the filibuster in a way that guaranteed Alito would get through, then voted on his nomination in a way that supposedly registered their opposition to him. They voted for him before they voted against him.

I hate that kind of crap. If our leaders think a law or a nominee is dangerous for our country, then they should fight like hell to stop it. Period. Not triangulate and poll and sell out their principles to hold onto their seat. Not even God likes people like that: in Rev. 3:16, He says, "because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth." I figure the Democratic Party (hell, both parties) should do the same: insist that its members either vote their values, or change parties, but spit them out if they keep straddling the damn line all the time.

In that context, I wanted to show how useless and cowardly it would be for a senator who strongly opposed Alito to sell out and oppose the filibuster. Like you said, some senators "don't have the balls to take a stand on Alito." I include in that description the ones who were against Alito but for cloture, because a vote for cloture was effectively a vote for Alito. So, I wanted to point out that even senators without the balls to filibuster Alito still didn't have to vote for cloture; all they had to do was abstain. I asked them to "lead, follow or get out of the way." Abstaining from the cloture vote was "getting out of the way." It wouldn't have been as good as standing up, but at least it wouldn't interfere with people, like Kerry, who were willing to stand up.

But then, the fencesitters might be afraid that even their abstention could be held against them. So I threw them a final bone: if you're such a coward that you're not even willing to abstain from a controversial vote, then go visit Walter Reed instead. That way, when your opponent asks in a debate, "Where were you?", you can answer, "I was visiting wounded vets at Walter Reed; where were you?" Conservative attack defused.

My point wasn't that "Walter Reed" was a good strategy. My goal was to paint the cowards into a corner. I wanted them to get the message that voting against the filibuster was their THIRD alternative, not their second, and that if they chose to vote against the filibuster rather than abstain, then their grassroots voters would remember and would hold it against them. I didn't want any senator to be able to claim, "Political expediency forced me to vote against the filibuster, because we want to regain the majority in the Senate and I'm in a close race with a conservative." Fuck that. That's not an adequate excuse, because you had the option of abstaining, and you even could have run for cover at Walter Reed, and since you didn't do any of that, we're going to work for your opponent in your next primary, and get someone with cojones to represent us.

It's with that intention that I told my readers: call your senator, tell him to oppose the filibuster, tell him that if he won't oppose the filibuster then he should abstain; and tell him that if he's afraid of THAT being held against him, then he should go visit wounded vets to get political cover with conservatives. My hope was that any senator who reached the end of that decision tree would be shamed into doing the right thing. But my post didn't make that clear, nor was it really intended to: it wasn't a deep discussion, just a short script for people to use as they made phone calls.

Rachel Maddow put it much, much better than I did, and in hindsight I wish I had put it as well as she did. She wrote:

How about a walk in the park?

Remember that a vote for "cloture" is a vote to end debate, to end the filibuster. Ending the filibuster would bring Alito up for a vote in the full Senate, and he'd pass because of the Republican majority. To end the filibuster, the Republicans (and Dem turncoats) need 60 votes. To support the filibuster, to block Alito's nomination, Democrats don't have to actively vote FOR the filibuster -- abstaining is just as good as voting "no". They could just, as VichyDemocrats has suggested, go visit some wounded vets at Walter Reed. Take a walk in the park. Play some solitaire at the Senate canteen. Make sure they're locked in the bathroom all day. Whatever.

You probably still think I'm a dick, but at least I hope you understand that I was doing something more nuanced than just asking Democratic senators to be pussies. I was giving them every possible opportunity to do the right thing, so they'd have no excuses when we came gunning for them later. Which is what we're doing now: fighting against what we consider to be Vichy Dems and fighting for people with real principles, like the Fighting Dems, who want to replace them.

Before I stop, I'd like to tell you, first, something about who I am and, second, what my views of the Iraq war are. Your post attacked me personally and referred to my ideas about the war, and I'd like to respond.

I'm a happily married man in his 40s. We have two daughters, 10 and 12. I'm a lawyer who works as a mediator -- i.e., I help people resolve their conflicts on their own instead of in court. I did spend almost 15 years as a litigator, including a short stint as a prosecutor and work for defense contractors, insurance companies, and construction contractors. I donated time to Habitat for Humanity (both as a lawyer and swinging a hammer). Before and during law school, I worked as a stablehand, a construction laborer, and a dishwasher. I still fix my own car. I was born again in college, and am an elder in a Protestant church.

I've never served in the military. I'm neither ashamed nor proud of that fact. During peacetime it didn't interest me as a career until it was too late for me to join (I tried to get into the Naval Reserves before 9-11), and the first time there was a conflict that I truly believed affected America's safety (Afghanistan), I was too old. On the other hand, I'm not an ivory-tower coward, either. I've been a Forest Service firefighter, and for years I've worked with local sheriffs as a mountain rescue volunteer. I know what it's like to risk my life in service to others, albeit not at the level you probably have. I'm not trying to brag -- compared to you? Right! -- but I do want you to know that I, too, believe it's good to sacrifice for a larger cause.

I don't spit on our troops, and I don't know any Democrats that do. If I were a troop-hater, I wouldn't have posted this or this
on my other website. And if I wanted purely to "cut and run" I wouldn't have posted this.

But my concern for the troops doesn't come in the form of "support whatever war they're in." I'm the son of a military surgeon, grandson of a Navy corpsman. I think their experiences affected my priorities. I believe in the doctrine Colin Powell articulated before he became a Bushie: I want our troops to be "supported" by being sent to fight only when it's absolutely essential to the protection of our country; by ensuring that they're adequately equipped and supported when they're in the field; by giving them a clear and narrow mission; by withdrawing them from harm's way as soon as practicable; and by giving them all possible assistance in terms of VA benefits, health care, education, and other help once they get home. I don't think you guys are getting any of the above in Iraq.

You took issue with my "chickenhawk" remark. I wasn't talking about you, I was talking about Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, none of whom served (and no, I don't count Bush's defense of Texas against attack by Mexico as service; he was ducking combat.) My choice of the name "Thersites" reflects my goal of supporting the soldiers who actually risk their lives and standing up to the leaders who avoid the risk but get rich from war profits, like Cheney's doing from KBR.

I do care about what you soldiers think about the war. In my search and rescue work, I am privileged to work with military helicopter pilots and parajumpers. I don't know any greater heros than them: flying and lowering into combat to save lives. I had a beer about a year ago with a career PJ who was heading back to the Middle East for his third tour in the current conflict. He'd already been in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He told me: Afghanistan is being ignored; Iraq is a fucking mistake and disaster; the resources we need to help save soldiers' lives are being sucked dry; he hates treating and evacuating dead and wounded soldiers whose lives are being wasted instead of invested in the service of our country. That conversation strongly confirmed my views on the war in Iraq, and it wasn't with some hippie peace freak, but with a career soldier whose whole life consists of supporting the troops by stopping their bleeding.

Yes, there are some liberals who scream that all wars are bad. I'm not one of them. But a lot of people who DO support our troops still think THIS war is a huge mistake. I've assembled a sort of primer on why we feel that way here. If you still think I'm completely fucked up after reading the links there, then I'd be happy to hear why you think so. But at least, if you read them, you'll have a better idea of where the more thoughtful anti-war crowd is coming from.

Finally: I wouldn't have taken the last hour to write all this if you were just some knee-jerk conservative blogging from his mom's basement, but if you're serving our country overseas, then I figured I owe it to you to explain myself, and to try to make it clear that I support you, even if it's not in the way you'd prefer. I've been saving this for the end, because if I said it any earlier you'd think I was full of shit, but thank you for serving our country. I disagree with the President and the congressmen who sent you there, and if I had my druthers I'd bring you home now, but I'm still grateful that we have people like you who are willing to put your lives on the line whenever you're asked. For whatever that's worth.

If you've read this far, thanks for hearing me out.


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