Patriotism Is Not the Issue

March 27, 1991

We agree with H. Ross Perot, the Texas entrepreneur and public-policy idea man, on the postwar partisan political debate. He said it was on the third-grade level of name-calling.

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, didn't even wait for the war to end before he sent out a party fund-raising letter referring to Democrats in Congress as "appeasement before country liberals." Other Republicans have resorted to even more demagogic statements, accusing Democrats of trying to undermine President Bush's efforts. One Republican representative said critics of the president's policies were not good Americans.

This criticism is hitting below the belt. Almost all Democrats in Congress supported the war aims in the gulf. They supported sanctions and a trade embargo, if not force. Most said they would not rule out eventually using force. Democrats in Congress may not have been right in their judgment, but their patriotism was above reproach. The Democrats who led the fight against the use of force in January, immediately rallied around the president as commander-in-chief and supported the war effort after losing in the voting.

We are not calling for the two parties' views of the right course in the Persian Gulf to be excised from political debate. Democrats who voted against the use-of-force resolution and justified this by predicting dire outcomes ought to be called on to explain themselves. They can't keep saying, as some have been, that their difference of opinion with the president was only a marginal one of timing, and that anyway the issue ought to be forgotten.

The dazzling success of President Bush as diplomat-in-chief and commander-in-chief is something Republicans have every right to exploit politically. However, we think House Republican whip Newt Gingrich is at only the sixth- or seventh-grade level when he sums up the difference between the two parties with the assertion, "The last time we had a Democratic president, they could not get eight helicopters across the desert." Jimmy Carter is not going to be the Democratic nominee in 1992. He is not his party's leader. Mr. Gingrich reminds us of those Democrats who kept running against Herbert Hoover a decade or more after he left office.

There are many unresolved issues in the land as another presidential campaign nears. These include the proper use of military force. To let partisan debate sink to childish name-calling (on the part of Republicans) and denial of reality and amnesia (on the part of Democrats) would be a farce.

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