“There are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It’s a dark day in our nation when high level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. Something is happening and people are not going to be silent. The truth must be told. And I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war…is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person who has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon, “Why I Oppose the Vietnam War”
Two weeks ago, MoveOn.Org placed an ad in the New York Times that questioned the ability of General David Petraeus to give an honest and accurate accounting of the war in Iraq to Congress and to the American people. By using a word play based on the General’s name, the ad sought to put the fact of the matter in no uncertain terms. A person can either pursue the war in Iraq by falling into line with President Bush’s failed policies, or they can take a courageous stand against the noise machine of the Republican Party. MoveOn.Org decided to take that stand.
The reaction from the right was as quick as it was predictable. Unable to counter any of the fact-based claims in the text of the ad, Republicans began claiming that MoveOn.Org was attacking the character of Bush’s General. Having run ads in 2004 that attacked the character and sacrifice brave Democratic candidates who served with honor and dignity in Vietnam, the Republican Party lashed out at MoveOn.Org for character assassination and accused them of undermining our soldiers abroad. In a move that must have made Karl Rove smile from his armchair, they then attacked every Democrat in Congress for supporting MoveOn.Org.
There are two honorable actions to take when attacked – defend yourself or counter-attack. Congressional Democrats chose neither. Instead, their leadership allowed a Republican amendment to be introduced, debated, and passed that attacked MoveOn.Org for speaking the truth to power. The reasons for doing so are easy enough to understand – they wanted political cover; they wanted to make a shield for election year attacks. Given the option of standing tall and fighting for the will of the American people and the lives of our soldiers or capitulating to a weak and corrupt minority party, Democrats caved in. They proved Republicans were right to call them “weak-willed” and to say “Democrats stand for nothing”.
Here in New Jersey, both of our Senators stood up and were counted. In the House, only Congressmen Pallone, Holt, and Payne did so. Congressmen Andrews, Pascrell, Rothman, and Sires all cowered under the threat of the Republican noise machine and voted to censure MoveOn.Org for telling the truth. It’s a sad day when Democrats vote against free speech and truth. The even sadder truth is that none of these Democrats is vulnerable to attack from Republicans. But their actions have made sure that MoveOn.Org cannot be as effective a weapon for building a broader and stronger Democratic majority during the next election cycle. They have not only exposed their own cowardice, but have hamstrung one of their greatest allies.
These Democrats must understand that they were not elected to capitulate. They were not elected to sell out our values. They certainly weren’t elected to assist the Republican death machine in its inexorable march to annihilate innocent Iraqis and to leave American soldiers to die as their life’s blood stains the streets of Bagdad. They must understand that this is a stain against their name that will not easily be erased. They must understand that, when they come to us with their hat in their hands, they will be asked to account for their actions. And they must understand that no easy apology or mea culpa will suffice.
They must understand that we are in a war, and they must choose sides. MoveOn.Org was courageous enough to do so. Today, we stand up for them and with them. And we heap shame and scorn upon those too reticent, too moderate, or just plain too chicken to do the same.
“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’- Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’- But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.