Bob Schwartz

We knew Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Senator Joe Manchin, you are no Robert Byrd.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy? Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?
—Senator Robert Byrd, March 2003

Joe Manchin is a Democratic Senator from West Virginia. He is in a tough battle for re-election in a Trump state, and so he said today that Hunter Biden is a relevant witness in the impeachment trial, a Republican talking point. Hunter Biden is not a relevant witness by any measure. He is a collateral character with no direct knowledge of the president’s conduct—unlike John Bolton. Giving Machin the benefit of the doubt, we will say he is being political rather than uninformed.

Manchin sits in the Senate seat once held by West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd. Byrd served in the Senate for over 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010. More than his tenure, and in spite of his repudiated earlier political life as a segregationist, no member of Congress has ever been a more knowledgeable and committed constitutionalist. At the drop of a hat, he would pull out a copy of the Constitution that he kept in the breast pocket of his jacket and would read from it.

Maybe Byrd’s shining hour was his unrelenting opposition to the Iraq War. He knew the Bush administration had not made its case, he knew that America was courting disaster, he knew that the future would not be benefited and would be indefinitely darkened by the war. Yet few members of Congress of either party opposed it.

Here is a speech he gave in March 2003 as the country marched to war. One more bit of evidence that in terms of judgment, Joe Manchin, you are no Robert Byrd:


I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today, I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of pre-emption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism.

We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America’s image around the globe.

The case this administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The Twin Towers fell because a worldwide terrorist group, al-Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on 11 September and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of Western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names and many addresses.

But this administration has directed all of the anger, fear and grief which emerged from the ashes of the Twin Towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. We will probably drive Saddam Hussein from power. But the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to ‘orange alert’. There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.

Walt Whitman Visits the White House

The White House would benefit from many visitors. The founders of the republic, particularly the authors of the Federalist Papers. Abraham Lincoln would be a welcome presence. Above all, the current White House needs poetry, most especially the poet who most embodied, ahead of his time, the spirit of the ages taking form in the present American ideal.

As it happens, Walt Whitman recently visited the White House. This is how it went.

DJT: Who the hell are you? How did you get in here?

WW: I am large, I contain multitudes. I am Walt Whitman. I live here in Washington and work for the Attorney General. I am also a poet.

DJT: You work for Barr? (picks up phone) Get me Barr. Bill, there’s some homeless guy here who says he works for you.

WW: Let me read you a poem about an election.

DJT (hangs up phone): About my election?

WW: It is called Election Day: November 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.

DJT: Yeah, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, they’re going to swell my sails! My heart pants, I get it. Napoleon, I like the sound of that. I’m going to tweet about you right now. How do you like Wild Walt?

WW: Another poem:

To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist
much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever
afterward resumes its liberty.

DJT: Resist much, obey little!? (picks up phone again) Get this bum out of here!

WW: I’ll be back. Be best.