The Ethics Of Voting Yes On The Supplemental
by Chris Bowers, Thu Mar 22, 2007 at 01:49:56 PM EDT
Looking around the `sphere today, I have noticed that a lot of other people seem to be tired as well. It is always easy--and dangerous--to project the way you feel onto others, so perhaps I should not assume that others in the political and activist world are simply feeling like me when it comes to the supplemental fight, but the anecdotal evidence is strong. In the blogosphere, when it comes to the Iraq supplemental debate in the House, discussion seems to be dying off. No diaries, whether for or against the bill, are reaching the recommended list at Dailykos. Dairies on this subject are not even generating much discussion anymore, which certainly was not the case over the last weekend (see here and here). Much the same is happening at BooMan Tribune. In other areas of the netroots, MoveOn.org's vote on the bill had a fairly small 4% click-thru rate. While that actually isn't that bad for a large email list, and while it certainly does not invalidate the bill (statistically speaking, 85% for one position, even at a 4% response rate, makes it perfectly clear that a very sizable majority of MoveOn.org members are in favor of supporting the bill, at least in the way that the bill was described in the email), it does show a generally lower amount of passion on both sides than one might have expected. In the news, both established and independent, other stories, including the Edwards announcement and the ongoing U.S. Attorney's scandal, are clearly taking precedence for both most people and most outlets. We seem to have arrived a rather odd moment where the number one issue in the country, and the number of issue in the 2006 election, is undergoing its first legislative fight of the new Congress, and yet somehow is not the center of either national or activist attention.
Before I head off, and before tomorrow's vote, I wanted to offer one final perspective on the Iraq supplemental fight. Right now, with few remaining progressives willing to vote against the supplemental bill, and with the House leadership probably having enough votes to pass it (for more on this, see here), the remaining progressive opposition is being cast as "principled," in contrast to the "pragmatic" progressives who have decided to vote in support. This is certainly the dichotomy proposed by McJoan in her latest piece on the supplemental over at Dailykos. This is a binary opposition with which I disagree, primarily because I have always looked at ethics from an applied perspective, where the ethical value of a given action can only be judged in the context of the consequences of that action. In this circumstance, I am, not arguing that voting against the supplemental from the a progressive stance is unethical, just that it is not any more ethical than voting in favor.
Consider a crude summary of both sides of the debate right now:
- Those opposed to the bill tend to argue either that all funding measures should be defeated, or that this specific funding measure should be defeated because it does not go far enough. This bill should be scrapped, and a better bill / no bill should be put forward.
- Those in favor of voting yes argue that this is the best we can do at the current time, that it has provisions that will force Bush to either drawn-down / end the war or conduct it illegally, and that if this bill is defeated an even weaker bill will be put forward in its place.
Now, from an applied ethical perspective that views the war as immoral and unethical, if neither plan will actually bring an end, or even result a in de-escalation, then I don't think either plan has the clear moral high ground as the "ethical" position. Both will probably result in the same consequence, and thus the two positions have equal ethical values. Even if we look at this from an intentions perspective, both sides can also claim that at least they are trying to end the war, either by trying to defeat all funding for the continued occupation, or by trying to incrementally move toward a point where opponents of the war have enough clout in D.C. to bring the war to and end once and for all. In fact, both sides will probably argue that they are simultaneously engaging in both short-term and long-term actions, and both are probably right.
My point is this: don't tell me that I am less principled, moral or ethical than you because I am supporting this measure even though I don't think it goes far enough. I am certainly not going to do the same thing to you, because I don't really see how either of our positions will result in a more ethically acceptable outcome. I arrived at my position because, in my final analysis, I believed the politics of the situation demanded it. You could respond that I should appreciate the ethical values of actions in and of themselves, rather than in the context of their consequences, but if that is your position than ultimately it represents an ideological difference between the two of us that will not be settled either in the discussion of this post, or before the House vote tomorrow. I do not see an ethical high ground in the progressive debate on this vote, and thus political considerations take precedence. Now, I don't think we handled the politics of this vote as well as we could have, but a progressive engineered defeat of this bill would make the political situation even worse. Republicans have to be the ones who hold this bill up, and / or fail to implement it, not Democrats and not progs. If the war will continue either way, then it must be clear that it was their decision to continue it, not ours.
I have placed the progressive caucus's statement on the vote in the extended entry. They have struck a deal that now gives the leadership enough votes to pass the bill. Progressives were, as the release states, decisive in this debate.
Progressives Decisive in Supplemental Debate
(Washington, DC) - After two grueling weeks of meetings, Progressive members of Congress brought forth an agreement that provided the momentum to pass a supplemental spending bill that, for the first time, establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Congresswomen Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Diane Watson (D-CA) have led Congressional opposition to the war in Iraq since before it started and have consistently voted against funding for the war as a matter of conscience. Still, they decided that they could not stand in the way of the passage of a bill that would establish a clear timeline for ending the war, especially if the failure of that bill would mean the passage of a supplemental without any restrictions.
After a painstaking series of meetings with members of the Progressive Caucus and Out of Iraq Caucus and other members of Congress, the group agreed that, while they could not vote for the bill themselves, they would not block its passage.
"As someone who opposed this war from the beginning, I have voted against every single penny for this war as a matter of conscience, but now I find myself in the excruciating position of being asked to choose between voting for funding for the war or establishing timelines to end it," said Lee. "I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war."
"Although the debate on this supplemental appropriation has been heart wrenching, I have always been clear on my position. While we respect the decision of our colleagues who will support this legislation, those of us who believe that this is a vote of conscience will remain steadfast in our opposition," said Waters.
"The American public knows a simple truth: you can't be against this war, and vote for $100 billion dollars to continue it. Let me make myself very clear - I will not stop, I will not rest, and I will not back down in my fight until every last American soldier is home safely to their families," said Woolsey.