The Senate, the Iraq War and the 80/20 Rule

After all is said and done, the unfortunate results of the Senate Roll Call on October 11, 2002, seem once again to validate Pareto’s Principle (80/20 Rule)… or more accurately Juran’s Principle [to us purists]. Indeed there appears to be a fairly constant relationship between the vital few (20%) and the trivial many (80%).

On that day, the Iraq War Resolution was passed by the Senate 77-23… close enough to 80-20 for our purpose. That vote gave Bush authority to do “his thing,” something we have just now begun to understand. As Senator Byrd might have described the vote: “Tonkin Gulf Resolution redux… unchecked powers for the president… forget our Constitution!” The 48 Republicans and 29 Democrats representing the trivial many had spoken, showing the country their true colors as politicians, and not as defenders of our democratic system, one that places unequivocal emphasis in the balance of power between the three branches of government.

Although the House had approved an identical resolution hours earlier, 296-133, it was still up to the Democratic majority in the Senate, however slim, to stand fast for the power given to Congress in the Constitution: the power to declare war. Instead, it voted to give up a right, something that in our democracy appears as unconstitutional… but which does not seem to invoke action from our Supreme Court. Sad!

It was truly a day of shame for the Democratic Party. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, his reservations to a side, came forth to “support” President Bush, as did the majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues. Yes, the Two-Johns, Kerry and Edwards, were in that “Yes” group. At the same time, it was also a day which taught us that we still elect people, if not often, who are serious about our system of government and wish to preserve the purpose in which it was conceived. There were 21 Democrats, 1 Independent and 1 Republican who saw it that way. For this day at least, these 23 vital few senators were heroes to m. As a Washingtonian, I was especially proud to have Senator Patty Murray in that exclusive group.

What was being voted on had little to do with the danger that Saddam might represent to the United States , and everything to do with giving the President a blank check. An overwhelming majority of the Senate showed the nation a blatant dereliction of duty, and made those who question how well democracy works in this nation a few degrees more cynical.

In a democracy that struggles to remain free from the unduly influence of the powerful, the 80/20 Rule applies well; the defenders, as a rule, being the vital few. Truth and honesty are not things that can be changed by a simple vote, and neither should matters clearly written in our Constitution, such as the power to declare war.

We feel compelled to render tribute to those 23 senators who in a losing battle taught us that voting one’s conviction or one’s party may have a place in politics… but it has no basis, no merit when it modifies the basic tenets in the Constitution. These 23 vital few senators were:

Akaka (Hawaii); Bingaman (New Mexico); Boxer (California); Byrd (West Virginia); Chafee (Rhode Island); Conrad (North Dakota); Corzine (New Jersey); Dayton (Minnesota); Durbin (Illinois); Feingold (Wisconsin); Graham (Florida); Inouye (Hawaii); Jeffords (Vermont); Kennedy (Massachusetts); Leahy (Vermont); Levin (Michigan); Mikulski (Maryland); Murray (Washington); Reed (Rhode Island); Sarbanes (Maryland); Stanebow (Michigan); Wellstone (Minnesota); and Wyden (Oregon).

It’s not our intention to take anything away from Kucinich and his 132 colleagues in the House, heroes as well. They, too, deserve our respect, but the addition of their names and states would irremediably change this column.

Just as we remember 9/11, we may wish to keep the memory of 10/11 alive… a reminder of the burden placed on America … and Iraq , in blood and resources, by trivial politicians. How many more Tonkin Gulf resolutions do we need before Congress assumes its responsibilities?