[Last update: 16 October 2002]

Last days of the Republic

Berkshire Eagle editors


The judgment of history will not be kind to the 107th Congress, which, just 25 days before an election, has allowed itself to be stampeded into giving away the constitutional authority of the legislative branch to decide when, how and why the United States should go to war. The resolution approved by the House and Senate amounts to a blank check for President Bush to wage war upon Iraq in any way and at any time he deems "necessary and appropriate." To entrust the greatest war machine the world has ever known to the sole and unfettered control of a president elected by majority vote of the Supreme Court is a fateful decision.

Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, saw this clearly and tried to stop the juggernaut. He spoke of how he voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 that legitimized Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam, and how he has been ashamed of it ever since. When all was lost, he stood on the floor of the United States Senate and in the cadences of the Mountain State marinated in 40 years of parliamentary procedure, declared the eternal verity of the Constitution, reproached his colleagues for their political cowardice with the story of Lazarus, and compared George W. Bush to the English tyrant Charles I, who usurped the authority of Parliament and paid with his head.

Having abdicated its responsibility, Mr. Byrd said, Congress may find it difficult to get its power back if it should someday decide the president's military adventure needs to be reined in. Any law to undo this resolution could be vetoed, and a two-thirds vote would be necessary to override it. Having made itself irrelevant, Mr. Byrd said, Congress ought to hang a sign on the Capitol that says "gone fishin" and go home.

It was a great speech, but on Friday the resolution carried, 77-23. In Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry, who is running for president, voted for the resolution. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who is not, let his conscience be his guide, as did Representative John Olver, who found himself on the short side of the 296-133 vote in the House of Representatives. Honor to them for choosing principle over expediency.

The Senate, which was designed by the framers of the Constitution to act as a brake on the popular passions of the day, was little more than a speed bump under the White House steamroller. Julius Caesar couldn't have handled the Roman Senate any better. This is a moment as decisive as the crossing of the Rubicon. The president may now make war at his pleasure, like a king in days of old. The days of the Republic are done.

The Empire is here.

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