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Partisan Crowd Cheers Anti-War Pro-Environment StatementsAt House Candidates

Tuesday October 3, 2006

By Ed Barna

The smoke of the Iraq War and the haze of global warming hung over a Sept. 26 session meant to bring out the foreign policy stands of candidates for the U. S. House of Representatives.

The Vermont Council of World Affairs and Middlebury College’s Rohatyn Center for International Affairs had wisely chosen the Mead Chapel, official capacity 715 people. The place wasn’t completely packed, but probably 500 people came to hear Democrat Peter Welch, Republican Martha Rainville, and four of this year’s six alternative party candidates.

The feeling of urgency in the crowd broke out when one woman yelled a question about “an October surprise,” a Bush administration attempt to galvanize support through an equivalent of 9-11 such as a war against Iran. She was not the only one who spoke of that scenario, but the panelists had enough tangible things to talk about without venturing into speculation.

Rainville and Welch were the ones with tables of literature, buttons and bumper stickers facing each other in the lobby, and the statewide interest in the event will probably center on whether it helped to delineate the difference between the two frontrunners. It did, both with the Middle East and Mother Earth.

Rainville continued her previous stance, which she said afterward would not be fairly characterized as “stay the course.” Her belief is that we are close to accomplishing our mission there, that being to build up Iraq’s Internal Defense Force and establish a constitutional government--after which we need to let the Iraqis choose their own future course.

“We have to recognize first and foremost that military action is the least effective way of influencing world affairs,” she said, though sometimes its use is inevitable.

Welch emphasized the need to change both the “you’re on your own” approach to domestic policy and the “go it alone” approach to foreign affairs, which led to an Iraq invasion he has opposed “from the beginning.” From World War II until the neoconservatives took over foreign policy, the U.S. gained strength from being one among many allies, and only that kind of strength has a chance of solving the problems we now face, he said.

Those who only see campaign advertisements may not even know any of the names of the other House candidates. But they got equal time in Mead Chapel: the Vermont Green Party’s Bruce Marshall, Independent Keith Stern, Liberty Union’s Jane Newton, and Dennis Morrisseau, who says in his campaign literature that he is running AT Congress, and who used his three allotted words on the ballot to indicate his “party” was Impeach Bush Now.

A check with the Secretary of State’s website verified this. Also, it said Independent Jerry Trudell and Chris Karr of We the People were in contention.

No lover of literature would want to see “minor” authors banished from the libraries, and those who care about public affairs ought to care about “third party” candidates, for similar reasons. In both cases, the individuals sometimes deliver unique thoughts in particularly effective ways.

On the subject of withdrawing from Iraq, Morrisseau said he had laboriously researched two things: the locations of “hardened” bases the U.S. expected to hold onto even after a withdrawal of combat troops; and the locations of Iraq’s major known oil deposits. Both were in the same places, he said--a claim that couldn’t be verified, but which no one denied.

It was Morrisseau’s closing statement that brought the evening’s loudest applause. Earlier, he had characterized his candidacy as “Lieutenant Morrisseau’s Rebellion,” and had promised to explain why.

“I was always opposed to the Vietnam War--always,” he said, though he enlisted and became an officer under pressure from the draft board. But he continued to speak out, in his Army uniform, twice for the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign in New Hampshire, and once alone in front of the White House with a sign “125,000 American casualties--why?”

Finally, the Army had MP’s bring him to an airfield where he was told to board a plane headed for Vietnam, while national news TV cameras rolled. The plane left without him, and he was charged with disobeying a direct order. In the end, instead of serving five years in prison, he was given the chance to resign--the Army not needing his kind of publicity.

Morrisseau, standing, turned toward where Rainville was sitting, several seats down the table. “You do have a duty to disobey illegal orders. You don’t send troops to an illegal war, I don’t give a damn if it was George Bush who told you to do so, General Rainville!” Thunderous applause and footstamping followed this lightning bolt.

One of the side questions in this election is whether the Liberty Union party or the Green party should take the lead in representing those most disaffected from the current system. Newton, of Liberty Union, spoke in a manner so jumbled and hard to hear that it was hard to imagine her as a state spokesperson. Her chief concern seemed to be nuclear power, which she said would turn our children’s future into “a radioactive wasteland,” creating wastes that “would last more years that we have lived on earth.” She pointed out that Welch, in the Legislature, had favored letting Entergy increase output from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

Marshall displayed a wide-ranging mind, capable of citing Plato and several social theorists in connection with returning to true constitutional government, then later shifting gears to attack flexible currency exchange rates engineered by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which he said had caused devastation to many countries’ economies. Asked about the U.S. ratifying the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emission, he said the current effort to speed up siting coal-fired power plants was more of an immediate concern--something “will have to happen very quickly” to stop them “or we’re in deep trouble.”

Stern shared the anti-Administration views of the other smaller party candidates. He recalled hearing a journalist who had been in Iraq, who was asked if that country was in a state of civil war. The answer was, “By definition, a civil war is organized. It’s just utter chaos.”

The evening at Mead Chapel was civil and orderly, but beneath the surface, there were ghosts from The Big One whispering “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” Many carried home copies of Morrisseau’s Sept. 20 letter to Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urging him “to arrest George Bush and Richard Cheney, if necessary, to prevent the planned and now already underway attack on the nation of Iran...The President has NO AUTHORITY to attack Iran in the absence of a competent Declaration of War. This is the Constitutional requirement.”

"I am afraid to tell you, but must, that I and our nation and the whole world really, are now depending on you,” Morrisseau concluded. Translated into electionese, this might be stated as “Get out and vote.”

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