Last night, the US Senate held an all-night debate on a proposal to force a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 120 days. The fact that a bunch of middle-aged (and older) millionaires would be staying up all night was irresistible to the New York Times, which ran a front-page picture of the cots that the tired legislators would be using (doesn't that defeat the purpose of an all-night debate? Just shows just how useless big government is...it can't even get an all-nighter right). The Times thought the even so important to run a page 7 article that described the idiotic theater that went on: Pizza boxes (one would hope that the Senate has good enough taste to order from Pizzeria Paradiso, but I doubt it), the photo shoots of the cots (in which the Times obviously participated) and the gift bags sent to the Republicans by the majority leader Harry Reid which were tied with yellow ribbons and bore a note reading “A few supplies for your sleepless night — help us bring an end to this war.” (And Reid insists this all-night debate wasn't about political theater.)
I don't quite understand the oohing and aahing about the Senate doing what many of my students do on a routine basis. So a bunch of rich people who only work half the year (true, I only work half the year, but I don't make $165,000 a year) stayed up all night once? So what? Are we supposed to be awed by how seriously the Senate is taking the question of withdrawing troops? Only a group as self-congratulatory and narcissistic as the Senate could believe that such a transparent and empty gesture as an all-nighter could substitute for intelligent and informed discourse.
But the shame of the Senate goes even farther. What was the point of the debate? To pass a law requiring the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 120 days; a law which would undoubtedly be vetoed or simply ignored as unconstitutional (as I have argued several time, unless the power of the purse is used, Congress may not tell the president how to use the armed forces). The time to oppose the surge, or even the entire mission, is not now; it was months ago when Congress voted on the appropriations bill to fund the war in Iraq. The Senate didn't have the guts then to do what it would take to end the war, so the surge went forward and the war continued. It's now only a few months into the surge, so why give up now? Not that the Republicans are any better. Several prominent GOP Senators, like Richard Lugar (R-IN) or Pete Domenici (R-NM) have backed away from the Iraq mission publicly but failed to back the Democrat's bill. So why have they distanced themselves from the larger mission?
For the Senate to behave this way is shameful. Iraq demands and deserves serious political discussion. It demands politicians who have the spine to do what they believe is right, even if it may be politically damaging to them. But to put on political theater to convince us that they're serious is utterly disgraceful.