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War by billboard could end quagmires

October 07, 2007|By ROBERT GARY

In the future, Americans should only enter into those wars that the people of this democratic republic truly want. How could this be arranged? Congresspersons are at least somewhat sensitive to how they are regarded by their constituents.

They try to avoid taking positions that are abhorrent to the great majority of voters in their districts. OK then, here's how to ensure that future wars won't arise out of a cabal of Texas oilmen, or the confused brain of a less-than-perfectly-smart president or the boardrooms of some huge corporations in the government services contracting business.

Every war has to get an authorization from Congress. Here's some language to add to future ones. "Billboards shall be placed every 100 miles on the National Defense Highway system, in each state where that system has highways, containing the names of the members of the U.S. Senate and House, from the state where the billboard is located, who voted in favor of the war. The top of the billboards will say: This War Brought to You By:

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"The names of the legislators who voted "yea" on final passage of the war authorization bill respectively in the U.S. Senate and House shall be listed using letters large enough so they can be read easily by passing motorists. These billboards shall remain in place until the war is over and all U.S. combat troops have returned home to U.S."

This modest proposal is not pro-war or anti-war. It's pro-personal responsibility - that's all. One need not be a liberal to accept it, or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican. To accept it, one only has to believe that legislators should accept responsibility for their own conduct, and by doing so, empower all of their constituents to provide advice and consent (or not) by continuing to vote for them (or not).

If the billboards clause were added to all future war authorization bills, we would decline to enter wars that very few ordinary people thought worth fighting. Our chances of being hijacked, as a nation, into an improvident, wasteful and inappropriate war would be greatly reduced.

The cost of the billboards would be about .0000001 percent of the cost of a misadventurous war resulting in massive loss of life, health and treasure. So putting them up would be a good investment, even if they just kept us out of one unnecessary war every 20 years.

The billboards clause would have no impact on the ability of the U.S. to respond quickly in a crisis. Congress would not delay voting on a war authorization bill merely because it contained the billboards clause. If a war is necessary and proper, the politicians who vote for it can only gain glory for themselves by doing what's right and then being known for having done so.

They must act or abstain when the vote is called, the billboards go up several weeks later and they just tell it like it is. What righteous man was ever afraid of that?

Politicians can always resign if they find that accepting responsibility for their deeds is too onerous. The risks and pains of a soldier in battle are greater than the risk of having one's name up on a billboard for a vote one has cast. This provision would at least make the people, whose job it is to cast votes after due deliberation, have some skin in the game when we go to war. When there is accountability, the tough questions get asked before the decisions are made. Quagmires are what happens when there is no accountability.

I'm not suggesting consensus democracy. I believe in majority rule. The billboards clause would just ensure that we're not living in a cabalocracy or a cocoonocracy where a tiny group of misguided men can send the greatest nation the world has ever seen reeling down a path of terrible consequences with no accountability by anyone. It's not exactly Power to the People - it's more like A Little Bit More Power to the People.

We don't want government by plebiscite. But we earnestly need the people to judge those extraordinary governmental decisions that will require the sacrifice of their blood, their treasure, and their reputation in the eyes of mankind. Our Declaration of Independence speaks of a decent respect for the opinions of mankind - the billboards proposal would go a long way toward helping us live out the true meaning of that enobling intention.

The Declaration of Independence was, after all, our first declaration of war. The Founders knew quite well they had some skin in the game and they set a good example for us today. Accountability is necessary, (but not, of course sufficient) to ensure good decisionmaking.

Without it, how will we avoid future quagmires?

Robert Gary is a Hagerstown resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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