We live in perpetual hope in these parts, and we are open to surprise. So we eagerly anticipated the first installment this week of the new Chamber of Commerce speaker series, "Frontline Politics 101." Inaugural speaker was Memphis' increasingly media-friendly congressman, Harold Ford Jr., who, we were told in a chamber press release about the new series, would be "sharing his thoughts on the War in Iraq and his outlook on the 2004 presidential election."
There is no doubt that the congressman is both complex and thoughtful, but there is very little mystery attached to his thinking about either of these issues. He is a national co-chair of the presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry; so we naturally divined that Ford would be touting his man while, no doubt, distributing some praise too for some or all of the other eight announced Democratic candidates.
And on Iraq the congressman has also been explicit -- if you can call it that. He belongs to that category of cautious Democrat who, from last year's congressional vote authorizing military action on, has managed to be critical of President Bush and supportive of his Iraq policies -- each and every one of them. Unsurprisingly, so has the congressman's main man, Senator Kerry. Both worthies bestowed their approval on presidential action in Iraq last year, and both also -- albeit with face-saving misgivings -- endorsed the president's latest proposal to spend $87 billion to "reconstruct" Iraq, i.e., to commence a cleanup of the mess we've made.
It has been observed of Senator Kerry that he does not begin a sentence on the Iraq question without leaving himself at least three ways out. The same can be said of our ever-inventive and ambitious congressman.
By way of contrast, we note that there are still some specimens up Washington way who can speak both bluntly and eloquently about Iraq. Foremost among them is octogenarian Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, whose orations hearken back to a more forthright age, when giants like Clay and Webster and Calhoun addressed issues of great national moment.
Though paraphrase and partial quotation do not do justice to Byrd, we must nevertheless take note of his most recent remarks concerning Bush's aid request. Basing his speech on the old tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes," the august senator retold the story, relating how "rogues" (read: neoconservatives) had beguiled the ruler about the majesty of garments (read: policies) whose glory could only be discerned by the elite few. "Minister after minister went to view the new clothes and all came back exhorting the beauty of the cloth on the looms even though none of them could see a thing."
In Byrd's retelling, "the bubble burst when an innocent child loudly exclaimed, for the whole kingdom to hear, that the emperor had nothing on at all. He had no clothes." And Byrd drew the moral concerning the president's Iraq policies and the newest proposal to fund them: "The emperor has no clothes. And our former allies around the world were the first to loudly observe it. ... I shall vote against this bill because I cannot support a policy based on prevarication. I cannot support doling out 87 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars when I have so many doubts about the wisdom of its use."
We can surely be pardoned for having hoped that our precocious congressman, whose gifts are many and admirable, might have been the innocent child of the story and not one of the king's ministers, voting Yea on everything even while ostentatiously holding his nose.