Not Yet a Beautiful Friendship: Some Leading Democrats Play Politics on Iraq

In the classic film Casablanca, the Gestapo orders Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to close the saloon owned by Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine. Needing a pretext, Renault seizes the law against gambling: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”1

At which point, a croupier hands Renault a pile of money.

Just as gambling can be found in nightclubs, politics can be found in Washington. The approach of most – though not all – leading Democrats to Iraq issue is no exception.

In a debate that should have been characterized by a thoughtful assessment of the threats posed by Saddam Hussein and the best ways to alleviate them, it has seemed that every move of some leading Democrats is a instead a calculated maneuver against President Bush.

Take the bizarre trip of Congressional Democrats Jim McDermott (D-WA), Mike Thompson (D-CA) and House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI) to Baghdad, where they criticized Bush in Hussein’s front yard. The spectacle was so clearly inappropriate that Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift, usually a Democratic Party sympathizer, compared the men to a bunch of “Hanoi Janes.”2 Except, Clift said, what the lawmakers did was worse.

Jane Fonda was a confused young actress. The Baghdad Johnnies are congressional veterans who have repeatedly sworn an oath to protect the U.S. against all enemies.3

Fortunately, some other Democrats, notably House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), put these men to shame. Though no Bush supporter, Gephardt distanced himself from the Baghdad Johnnies by supporting a genuine debate and resolution expressing the will of Congress on Iraq.

Gephardt also distinguished himself from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who urged Bush to get congressional approval for his Iraq policy while Daschle used his control over the Senate calendar to halt consideration of the war resolution. The hypocrisy didn’t stop. While complaining that Bush shouldn’t erode legislative branch powers by moving on Iraq without Congressional consent, Daschle announced the Senate would only consider the matter after the U.N. had provided guidance. Does Daschle truly believe that erosion of legislative power to the executive branch is bad while its erosion to the U.N. is good? Unlikely.

Finally, when Bush delivered a well-regarded speech to the U.N. and the political tide shifted toward Bush, although the basic issues were unchanged, Daschle abruptly switched course.

Then there’s Al Gore. Gore famously was accused by several Senators of offering his vote on the first Persian Gulf War to the side that would give him the most TV time. Then Gore seemingly became a committed hawk, taking tough anti-Hussein positions during the Clinton-Gore years and in the months following the September 11 attacks. Now he’s staked out the far-left pacifist approach.4

Approximately three-fourths of the donors of the Democratic Party – donors Gore will need should he mount another run at the White House – take the far-left line on Iraq. Coincidence?

At the conclusion of Casablanca, the formerly bitter Rick Blaine and Captain Renault shed their cynicism and self-centeredness, deciding to join the fight for freedom and the allies.

“Louis,” says Blaine, “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”5

If only it could happen in Washington.


Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

Footnotes:1 Casablanca, Warner Brothers, 1942.
2 Eleanor Clift, “Bizarre Behavior,” Capitol Letter, Newsweek, October 4, 2002. Downloaded from on October 12, 2002.
3 Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.
4 For an interesting review of Daschle’s and Gore’s recent posturing on Iraq, see Stephen F. Hayes, “War is Hell… For the Democrats,” The Weekly Standard, October 7, 2002, available on the internet as of October 15, 2002 at
5 Casablanca.

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