Thursday, January 27, 2005

Senator Byrd and the Rice Confirmation Vote

The Guardian has published the Senate roll call on the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. It is disheartening to see that 32 Democratic senators voted in her favor. Only 12 had the courage to vote no.

One of those 12 was the truly great Senator Robert Byrd. Throughout the Bush administration, Byrd's articles and speeches have gladdened my heart. He invariably steeps his remarks with references to the Constitution (a copy of which he always keeps in his breast pocket) as well as the writings of the Founders. A true patriot, Senator Byrd is a voice crying in the wilderness reminding us over and over of what it means to be a republic.

His speech on the Senate floor given in opposition to Rice's nomination is just one powerful example. I give you only a brief excerpt here and I urgently recommend that you read the entire transcript.

There is no question that the President has the inherent authority to repel attacks against our country, but this National Security Strategy is unconstitutional on its face. It takes the checks and balances established in the Constitution that limit the President’s ability to use our military at his pleasure, and throws them out the window.

This doctrine of preemptive strikes places the sole decision of war and peace in the hands of the President and undermines the Constitutional power of Congress to declare war. The Founding Fathers required that such an important issue of war be debated by the elected representatives of the people in the Legislative Branch precisely because no single man could be trusted with such an awesome power as bringing a nation to war by his decision alone. And yet, that it exactly what the National Security Strategy proposes.

Not only does this pernicious doctrine of preemptive war contradict the Constitution, it barely acknowledges its existence. The National Security Strategy makes only one passing reference to the Constitution: it states that "America’s constitution" -- that is "constitution" with a small C -- "has served us well." As if the Constitution does not still serve this country well! One might ask if that reference to the Constitution was intended to be a compliment or an obituary?

As National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice was in charge of developing the National Security Strategy. She also spoke out forcefully in support of the dangerous doctrine of preemptive war. In one speech, she argues that there need not be an imminent threat before the United States attacks another nation: "So as a matter of common sense," said Dr. Rice on October 1, 2002, "the United States must be prepared to take action, when necessary, before threats have fully materialized."

But that "matter of common sense" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. For that matter, isn’t it possible to disagree with this “matter of common sense?” What is common sense to one might not be shared by another. What’s more, matters of common sense can lead people to the wrong conclusions. John Dickinson, the chief author of the Articles of Confederation, said in 1787, “Experience must be our only guide; reason may mislead us.” As for me, I will heed the experience of Founding Fathers, as enshrined in the Constitution, over the reason and “common sense” of the Administration’s National Security Strategy.

We can all agree that the President, any President, has the inherent duty and power to repel an attack on the United States. But where in the Constitution can the President claim the right to strike at another nation before it has even threatened our country, as Dr. Rice asserted in that speech? To put it plainly, Dr. Rice has asserted that the President holds far more of the war power than the Constitution grants him.

Senator Byrd is in his 80s. I pray that he's able to hang on a little longer and not deprive us of his sanity and eloquence any time soon.


  1. Anonymous9:38 PM

    The list of those Democrats who voted to confirm Dr. Rice is surprising. While it is customary to support the president's choice and the Senate certainly follows traditions, I had hoped that more senators would use this opportunity for leadership. Marilyn

  2. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I too have long admired and valued the presence and eloquence of Senator Rober Byrd. Why don't they choose HIM to be Time or Newsweek's Man of the Year? I am having a hard time understanding how we have come so far from our founding principles. A. Callaway


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