Tonight’s debate will among other things serve as a reminder that there is no longer an anti-war party, or even anti-war wing of a party, in American politics, at least among those political parties whose existence is acknowledged by the people who define the borders of acceptable public discourse. It’s completely impossible to imagine a “serious” presidential candidate saying anything about our current wars even remotely like what George McGovern said to his fellow senators in September of 1970 regarding the Vietnam War:
Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land-young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.”
There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes.
And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.
So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: “A contentious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.”