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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I never thought I would say this , but I’m deeply disappointed in Dick Durbin. His tearful apology on the floor of the Senate was called "an act of courage" by John McCain. I call it something closer to an act of cowardice. An act of a man whose principles aren’t strong enough to withstand an onslaught of criticism that wasn’t in the least bit warranted. It’s as though he allowed others to convince him that he had said something that he never said.

I have listened to and re-read his original statement again and again and nowhere do I detect a comparison of the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo with the evils of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or Cambodia - only that the report of the FBI agent that he was reading into the record, could have been describing the sort of thing that we know took place in those kinds of countries. Nowhere is there any hint that our military personnel at Guantanamo are comparable to the butchers of any of those countries or that the handful of detainees whose treatment violated our standards of human rights, are comparable to the millions who suffered at the hands of the those repressive regimes.

I am a Jew. Relatives of mine died in the Holocaust. One survivor, my late cousin Rene Wolfin, a French doctor, wrote about the period and the members of our family who died in a memoir titled Ashes and Remorse. Not for one moment did I believe or get the sense that Senator Durbin was comparing our military personnel with the evil creatures who slaughtered millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies and other "sub humans." Anyone who did, particularly Jews, weren’t listening to what Durbin said.

But apart from that - apart from the fact that Durbin apologized for something he didn’t say, the way that members of his own party have acted over the past few days speaks volumes about the differences between the two major political parties and why the Republicans control the White House and both Houses of Congress. They would never do what Durbin has just done. They would never speak of a fellow party member the way Richard Daley, the malapropistic Mayor of Chicago did today, with his face contorted with anger as if he was talking about someone who had just assaulted one of his children! They just don’t apologize. For anything!!

We have a President sitting in the White House who has quite probably committed the kind of acts for which he could be impeached, were it not for a majority in Congress who put party ahead of country. George W Bush not only never apologizes for anything, he never acknowledges that anything he does or says might be wrong. Bill Frist and others committed grievous acts of political cynicism during the Schiavo case debacle - and you can see how fast Frist is rushing to apologize and how his colleagues - specially the enigmatic John McCain are urging him to do so.

For a long time now - at times it seems forever - we’ve heard talk about the Democrats having trouble defining who they are and what they stand for. I don’t have any problem understanding what they stand for and some of the things they most definitely do not stand for - among them kowtowing to the richest among us at the expense of the poor and middle class, blurring the line of separation between church and state to the point where it almost disappears and insisting upon political loyalty as a requirement for appointment to the Federal bench. But there is no question that a substantial number of voters are confused and I don’t imagine that they will become less confused after observing how Durbin handled the full court press of criticism that the Republicans hurled at him - with help from more than one Democrat.

After yesterday’s performance, Howard Dean is looking pretty good. Some people have been calling him a loose cannon. Some people have been calling for him to apologize for some of his criticisms of the Republican party. He may have been a little harsh in defining who the Republicans are and what they stand for, but Republicans have been doing that to Democrats for years and do you ever hear any of them apologize? Dean is taking the right stance. If and when he says something that he didn’t mean to say or says it in such a convoluted way that it could easily be misinterpreted , then I think he wouldn’t hesitate to offer an apology.

What Durbin should have done was to have hurled the criticism back in the face of the Republicans. Immediately. Before some of his fellow Democrats felt the heat and stepped back into protective shadows with comments like "he doesn’t speak for me." He should have said that those who are attacking me know damn well that I wasn’t saying that our military personnel at Guantanamo are as bad as Nazis. He should have said it’s interesting that they jump on my mention of repressive regimes - almost as though it was an act of treason - while ignoring what I was talking about - and you have to wonder why? Are they satisfied with what is being reported about what’s happening at Guantanamo? Are they happy with it? Do they give a damn or are they more interested in trying to smear me for bringing it up?

Instead, I think Durbin made the mistake of his life that will haunt him for the rest of his political career.

If Democrats are ever going to recapture Congress or the White House, they’re going to have say what they think and believe in no uncertain terms and not back down when they are criticized for saying it. If they follow the Durbin example and wince every time Howard Dean gives an impassioned speech, they’ll be doomed to the land of the minority for many elections to come.