Let Us Take A Moment To Appreciate Barbara Lee's Premature Correctness, Re: War

Let Us Take A Moment To Appreciate Barbara Lee's Premature Correctness, Re: War
Barbara Lee | U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee speaking with a… | Flickr

Twenty years ago, on September 14, 2001, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against giving George W. Bush the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) he wanted in response to the terrorist attacks that happened only three days before. It was not a decision she took lightly, or that made her very popular, and it led to her being accused of treason and no small number of death threats.

It was an act of incredible bravery.

Lee said:

September 11 changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States.

I know that this use-of-force resolution will pass although we all know that the President can wage war even without this resolution. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. There must be some of us who say, let's step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today -- let us more fully understand their consequences.

We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. This crisis involves issues of national security, foreign policy, public safety, intelligence gathering, economics, and murder. Our response must be equally multifaceted.

We must not rush to judgment. Far too many innocent people have already died. Our country is in mourning. If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children, and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire.

Nor can we let our justified anger over these outrageous acts by vicious murderers inflame prejudice against all Arab-Americans, Muslim, Southeast Asians, and any other people because of their race, religion, or ethnicity.

Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.

It is important to note that Lee was not just dragged by Republicans, but was also not too popular among some Democrats at the time. There was an absolute terror of looking unpatriotic, and there were a lot of people who thought the anti-war left presented a serious image problem for the Democratic party. Or for MSNBC. (Yes, I am legally obligated to never stop mentioning that MSNBC fired Phil Donahue for opposing the war.)

While Lee has long been vindicated for her uncompromising stance against the War on Terror, it is particularly obvious now that she was right about all of it, that getting into wars without a plan or an exit strategy was never going to end well. It wasn't just that she happened to pick the right side of history to be on, it's that she had seen this movie before and knew how it was going to end.

Lee continued that day in 2001:

In 1964, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to "take all necessary measures" to repel attacks and prevent further aggression. In so doing, this House abandoned its own constitutional responsibilities and launched our country into years of undeclared war in Vietnam.

At this time, Senator Wayne Morse, one of the two lonely votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, declared, "I believe that history will record that we have made a grave mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States. I believe that with the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake."

Senator Morse was correct, and I fear we make the same mistake today. And I fear the consequences. I have agonized over this vote. But I came to grips with it in the very painful yet beautiful memorial service today at the National Cathedral. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, " As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."

Morse was absolutely correct and was vindicated later when former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted that the Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. Just like Lee was and would be.

This was not a fluke, either. Barbara Lee has been, for a very long time now, the absolute queen of being prematurely correct. Had Democrats listened to her that day, they would forever be able to point to it and go "See? See? We were right. This was bad from the get. We told you so." Had they listened to her on LGBTQ rights from the get, no one would have to be defending any previously mealy-mouthed, noncommittal things they said in hopes of not frightening the homophobes that were never going to vote for them to begin with.

Lee was also one of the few voices opposing the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which also turned out very bad.

What does Barbara Lee support now? Lots of good things!

Like the Medicare for All Act of 2021!

"In the wealthiest country on earth, it is unacceptable that nearly 100 million people are uninsured, and many denied quality care, especially in the midst of a devastating public health crisis," said Congresswoman Lee. "Medicare for All ensures that everyone, including communities who have been hit hardest by this pandemic, can access the care they need no matter their employment status or how much money is in their pocket. [...]

The Medicare for All Act builds upon and expands Medicare to provide comprehensive benefits to every person in the United States. This includes primary care, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, substance abuse, long-term services and supports, reproductive health care, and more.

This legislation also includes universal coverage of long-term care with no cost-sharing for older Americans and individuals with disabilities and prioritizes home and community-based care over institutional care. Additionally, patients have the freedom to choose the doctors, hospitals, and other providers they wish to see without worrying about whether a provider is in-network.

Lee has actually supported single payer since pretty much forever, having introduced a Universal Health Care bill in Congress in 2002. That would be right about the time she was also being correct about the second AUMF bill being a terrible idea.

She's also a big fan and co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.

"From the devastating wildfires in my home state of California to the snowstorms in my birthplace of Texas, there's no denying that the climate crisis is here, and the threat to the safety and economic security of our communities is growing by the day," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. "In order to ensure a healthy and safe future for our children and grandchildren, the federal government must invest in bold policies that address the climate emergency head on, especially in communities of color and low-income communities that have experienced generations of environmental injustice. Our solutions must match the scale of the crisis—that's why I'm proud to support the Green New Deal."

Ending the War on Drugs, which is probably one of the few things that almost every American can agree on these days.

Or actually talking to sex workers about what would help them instead of making laws that hurt them under the guise of protecting them.

Here she is today, by the way, helpfully explaining that "there has never been and will never be, a U.S. military solution in Afghanistan. Our top priority must be providing humanitarian aid & resettlement to Afghan refugees, women and children." She's right! Again! This is literally what actual Afghan people are telling us would be helpful. So let's listen to her this time. And them.

If you'd like to call your reps to get them to support that, but also hate talking on the phone, Afghans For A Better Tomorrow has written up a script.

I don't necessarily agree with Barbara Lee on literally everything. That would be ridiculous. There are many areas in which we part ways.

I do, however, respect the hell out of her and think she has a knack for being frequently prematurely correct about things, and that the reason for that is that she worries more about whether she thinks she's right than if other people think she's right. Because if there's anything I've learned in life, it is that worrying about what other people might think and trying to do that pretty much never works out as well as fighting for exactly what you want and believe in.

Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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