A letter writer in the New York Times commented yesterday on some Democrats votes against President Bush's $87 billion proposal on Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction. The letter writer wrote:
It seems they have no regard for the divided face it shows the world, particularly the Iraqi people and the terrorist operations within and without Iraq. This shortsighted view emboldens the enemy, potentially putting our troops at greater risk.
Letters like this sadden me. It cheapens democracy to say that dissent is bad. Dissent strengthens us. But even barring that argument, the writer is mistaken in his analysis.
The writer first fails to realize that a false unity provides no more protection for us than a minor disagreement. We cannot hide disagreements; it doesn't work. Our government is too large to hide such things. Lobbyists, aides, clerical workers, and especially garbagemen and dumpster divers would quickly know that that real disagreements sit beneath the surface. So what? The enemy would then know that we could put aside the differences to face their calumny. I think not. Instead, I think just as likely would be the thought to perpetrate acts which drive a wedge into the quiet chasm. But the fact remains, a false unity cannot be held.
Second, the fault and responsibility for the difference lies not with those voting against the proposal, but with the administration which made the proposal in the first place. The United States does not have a concept of a “national unity” government, as we govern on a winner takes all system, rather than a more proportional system like a parliament. In times of need in many countries, parties from the opposite ends of the political spectrum come together. Israel is most known for this, but such governments have formed in other countries, including Britain. Even the United States has known such a government. During the ware between the states, Abraham Lincoln chose a Democrat to run with him on the National Union ticket.
We do not have the system for that. But we could make an approximation. However, it falls on the party in power to take the steps necessary to present a united front. What would those steps be? Primarily, it would involve consulting with the opposition before introducing legislation. Come to an agreement first. It smacks of back-room dealing, and generally I am against such a practice. However, in some cases it may be appropriate. This administration has never been one to consult with those who hold differing views.
What the administration should do is get key Democrats into the White House and discuss the proposal. It's not too late even now. Work out the differences. Be willing to compromise. Be willing to lose some of the items in the bill that it really wants. The Democrats will likely be magnanimous. I could be stretching. But it's rare to see that party take a scorched earth policy.
Until and unless it does this, Republicans and whoever supports this (or other bills put forward by the party in power) lose whatever moral position they had to criticize for divisive, public dissent on their legislation. If the opposition exists merely to rubber-stamp the majority, then we have devolved into a one-party state. I'd prefer to keep our disputes out of the backroom, and allow meaningful public debate on matters of interest to the country. If necessary, the debate could happen behind closed doors. But in no event should a large portion of our population, as represented by the minority party in Congress, be shut completely out of substantive policy-making.