WASHINGTON – On one side: Abe Lincoln, Davy Crockett, poet Robert Frost. On the other: Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr.
The House debate on the Iraq war has a ghostly quality as lawmakers tap the wisdom of long-dead men to press their case. No one knows what any of them would have thought about this war. But their thoughts about grand events of their time are coming in handy now.
In perhaps the oddest use of history, Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., imagined Davy Crockett, his back against the wall at the Alamo, getting a message on his Blackberry from Congress saying "we support you" but won't be sending any reinforcements.
"I'm sure that would be really impressive to Davy Crockett," Akin said.
King's words weighed in on the side of the war's opposition, the civil rights leader's words being used to make a point that speaking out against President Bush's course is the right thing to do. "A time comes when silence is betrayal," said King, who had been talking about Vietnam.
The same point was made, compliments of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., by the ghost of Republican Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, speaking a few weeks after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941: "Criticism in a time of war is essential to the maintenance of a democratic government."
But, noted the other side, Lincoln once said: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
And Frost once wrote that "the best way out is always through."
"We doggedly seek the way through: success in Iraq, security for our allies and everlasting victory for freedom," said Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla. "This week's discussion should be about the way through, not the way back."
An overnight ice storm delayed the opening of the government Wednesday, but did not interfere with the pressing business before Congress. House debate on Iraq resumed inside a largely empty chamber.
Bush answered questions about Iraq at a news conference held at about the same time members of his own party who oppose sending more troops to Iraq took to the House floor to speak.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the World War II allied leader and later president, was one of the historical heavyweights whose presence was felt in the chamber: "History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid."
And Churchill's foresight was invoked on Bush's behalf. The British leader's recognition of the menace of Nazi Germany, when others thought Adolf Hitler might be appeased, was used to suggest Bush might be right after all.
Remarks from Gen. Douglas MacArthur's farewell speech at West Point echoed in the chamber, in praise of the "the American man at arms" who had "written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast."
He was invoked from the Republican side, as well as the Democratic side.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a decorated Korean War veteran who served under MacArthur, said: "I didn't come down here, my colleagues, to talk about General MacArthur, but I guess I knew of him better than anyone in this room."