Here in Hate City, Washington’s partisans plunged themselves this month to record depths of shame-and-blame name-calling over war and peace.
Things got so bitter in the nation’s capital last week that you couldn’t tell the leaders from the wing nuts. Indeed, the 16 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue that separate the Congress from the White House reverberate with sounds ranging from road rage to Rove rage.
But back in the congressional cloakrooms and occasionally on television news, you could hear a wisp of rational response and even problem-solving discourse, voiced by thoughtful adults who are also politicians. They stand out because they seem more interested in reining abuses by their party’s leaders and working with, rather than pummeling, the other side.
They are the Heroes of Hate City.
They include Sens. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.; John Warner, R-Va.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Joe Biden, D-Del., and freshman Barak Obama, R-Ill. Also former office holders such as ex-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga.; ex-Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., and ex-Gov. Thomas Kean, R-N.J.
The Heroes of Hate City are all about working with, and even learning from, each other. Perhaps they can even learn a bit from a wily old warrior turned politician and born-again peacemaker _ Ariel Sharon of Israel. We’ll get to him later. But first, the folks who put the “hate” into Hate City.
Washington’s uncivil war began a week ago when a much-decorated Vietnam War Marine veteran and longtime pro-military hawk, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., called in sorrow for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, saying they have become targets of insurgents and a catalyst for violence. The courage of this winner of one Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts was promptly attacked by politicians who avoided ever serving in combat.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., shamefully declared: “Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans.”
Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, shamefully told the House that a Marine constituent asked her to tell Murtha: “Cowards cut and run, Marines never do.” That provoked rage so great that Schmidt returned to ask that her words be erased from the official Congressional Record (which was done because, in Congress, the record is merely official, not accurate.)
In South Korea, President Bush dispatched his press secretary, Scott McClellen, to join the name-calling distorters: “Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. “So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”
In the Senate, Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered no solutions but hastened to demand that Bush halt what he termed an orchestrated campaign of attack.
“It’s a weak, spineless display of politics at a time of war,” Reid said, unhelpfully. “…We need a commander in chief, not a campaigner in chief. We need leadership from the White House, not more whitewashing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq.”
So vitriolic was the Republican backlash against Murtha that Vice President Cheney was trotted out to say that Murtha was a good man, that debate about the war was a good thing. But Cheney also added: “What is not legitimate and what …is dishonest and reprehensible is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence.”
Which brings us back to the Heroes of Hate City and one from the Holy City_ Jerusalem’s Ariel Sharon.
These American politicians are not really moderates or centrists, for they have core convictions as strong as many of their party’s activists. But they are pro-governance consensus builders. Thus Warner, McCain and Graham, have quietly successfully challenged the Bush-Cheney opposition to a measure that would simply outlaw torture of prisoners. (Cheney wants to at least let the CIA be unshackled to do it.)
In Israel, Sharon just bolted from the very conservative Likud Party he helped found. He seeks to ally with Labor Party elder Shimon Peres and others to forge a new centrist party that can, in turn, forge a permanent peace with the Palestinians.
Perhaps now is the time for common-sense pols in both parties to form, if not a new party, at least a new bipartisan alliance. Let’s stay away from ideological labels. Let’s call it something like: The Can-Do Coalition.
OK, it’s not terribly catchy. But there is something to be said for truth-in-labeling. Especially in Hate City.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)