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Don’t Mention the War
An analysis of Congressional web sites reveals that although Republican Members are less likely to mention the War in Iraq than their Democratic counterparts, neither party delegation appears intent on highlighting the war.Four out of five Republican Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have taken Basil Fawlty’s admonition to heart: “Don’t mention the war!” Fawlty was that desperately twitchy character played by John Cleese in the seventies BBC television series "Fawlty Towers" and the admonition appeared in “The Germans,” the episode where parapraxis defeats every attempt to attempt to communicate with a group of visiting German VIPs. House Republicans know that the American electorate associates their president and their party with the War in Iraq, and in all but the safest districts that spells electoral danger. Unsurprisingly, their response is to avoid discussing the war. What is surprising is that it isn’t just the Republicans who are being quiet about the War in Iraq. Many House Democrats also appear reluctant to draw attention to the War in Iraq.
Although Republican Members are less likely to mention the War in Iraq than their Democratic counterparts, neither party delegation appears intent on highlighting the war. That doesn’t mean they are unwilling to mention foreign affairs. Numerous references to Sudan and the crisis in Darfur can be found on the web pages of the Democrats while Republicans favor Dubai and Mexico. Most of the countries on the planet are mentioned by at least one Republican: although Iraq doesn’t merit a mention from Tennessee Rep. John J. Duncan, Scotland does. To be sure, there are numerous immediate references to Veterans, and several mouse clicks into many of the official web sites old press releases about Iraq can be found, but it’s all too obvious that many Members are ready to move on even while more American soldiers become casualties every day.
Immigration doesn’t feature heavily as an issue either. Less than one-fifth of Republican and only one-sixth of Democratic web sites mention the issue on the first page. This is clearly not an issue that works well for all Republicans. The most obvious difference is that the web sites of Democrats are more likely to include a translation to Spanish button than those of Republicans. Of course, a few House Republicans are staking out strong positions on Immigration. Read Texas Republican John Culberson’s web page and you might wonder whether the United States, or at least Texas, was at war with Mexico.
Roughly the same frequency distribution exists for references to Pres. George W. Bush, with little more than one-fifth of Republican and one-sixth of Democratic web sites mentioning him on the first page. House Republicans are keeping their distance from a Republican president unable to arrest the decline in his poll numbers.
For the first time in two decades many House Democrats are presenting themselves as Democrats while House Republicans are presenting themselves as individual Members of the House of Representatives.The big difference in the figures is that between references to political party affiliation. More than half the Democratic web sites mention membership in the Democratic Party on the first page while barely one-fifth of the Republican web sites do so. For the first time in two decades many House Democrats are presenting themselves as Democrats while House Republicans are presenting themselves as individual Members of the House of Representatives.
Just as many House Democrats once felt it necessary to disguise their party affiliation, now many House Republicans have begun to mimic those across the aisle. Connecticut Rep. Nancy L. Johnson‘s web site provides the best example. Not only has her web page been sanitized of all references to the Republican Party but it mentions an award received from the Sierra Club and a photo of Rep. Johnson and former Pres. Bill Clinton smiling at one another. When Republicans lose their majority in the House of Representatives in 2006 or 2008 Rep. Johnson and several others like her may be ready to increase the Democratic majority by switching parties.
Not mentioning the war is clearly insufficient for four out of five House Republicans. They have also decided to distance themselves from the Republican Party as the incumbent party of government voters will punish for Iraq, Katrina and other disasters. What all this suggests is a new shape to American politics in 2006 and afterward, with Democratic candidates running for office as a team against the execrable performance of the second Bush administration and its tame Republican Congresses. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t promise is any political accounting for the War in Iraq. Silence on this issue leaves Americans with an unacceptable collective burden of repressed material. Who is responsible for marching the United States into a war that it didn’t need to fight? Who will be held responsible? The only way to answer these questions is to talk about the war itself.
Dr. Hickman is Associate Professor of Government in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Georgia. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story was published on May 31, 2006.