Dear Sen. Biden,
I don't have to remind you of the importance of this Thursday's debate from
a political perspective. But as you prepare, I invite you to spare a few minutes
to look at the opportunity from a moral and religious perspective. You may
wish to examine your conscience regarding how you have acted on key foreign
policy issues and reflect on John 8:32: "And you shall know the truth,
and the truth shall set you free."
The holy days of religious traditions serve a very useful purpose, if we but
take the time to pause and ponder. I write you on Rosh Hashanah, the first
of 10 days focusing on repentance.
In Judaism's oral tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the day when people are held
to account. The wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living,"
while the righteous are inscribed in the book of life. Those in the middle
are given ten days to repent, until the holiday of Yom Kippur – the solemn
Day of Atonement.
If that has a familiar ring to it, Joe, we heard it in as many words at Mass
last Sunday in the first reading, from Ezekiel 18: "If one turns from
wickedness and does what is right and just, that one will live."
At Rosh Hashanah the ram's horn trumpet blows
to waken us from our slumber and alert us to the coming judgment. Rabbi Michael
Lerner has been a ram's horn for me. On Sept. 28, he sent a note addressing
forgiveness and repentance.
He encourages us to find a private place to say aloud how we've hurt others,
and then to go to them and ask forgiveness. "Do not mitigate or 'explain'
– just acknowledge and sincerely ask for forgiveness," says Rabbi Lerner.
He suggests we ask for "guidance and strength to rectify those hurts –
and to develop the sensitivity to not continue acting in a hurtful way."
Again, a familiar ring. Think, Joe, about the instruction we both received
as Irish "cradle Catholics." Surely you will remember the emphasis
on examining one's conscience, confessing, and pledging to "sin no more."
The phrase comes back, clear as a bell; we were to "confess our sins,
do penance, and amend our life, Amen." Remember?
And remember how clean we felt at the end of that therapeutic process? I was
reminded of that by Monday's gospel reading from John 1, in which Jesus says
of Nathaniel: "Here is a true child of Israel; there is no duplicity in
him." Just think of how Nathaniel must have felt.
Joe, you can feel that clean; but one cannot shortcut the process. You must
first come clean on your role in greasing the skids for President George W.
Bush's war of aggression on Iraq. I use "war of aggression" advisedly,
for that is the term used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson to
denote "the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes
only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole."
There is no getting around that – despite the reluctance of church, state,
and the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) to acknowledge it. I imagine that you,
as a lawyer, have moments of acute shame over our country's flouting of international
law and the UN Charter, duly ratified by the Senate and thus the law of the
And there is no getting away from the important role you played in roping
Congress into facilitating that war. Were the war not to have killed, injured,
and displaced hundreds of thousands, your lame circumlocutions regarding your
own culpability would be laughable – on a par with, say, some of the recent
comments of your rival for vice president. But they are in no way funny.
For my own penance, I made myself read again
through your marathon, "in-depth" interview with the late Tim Russert
on April 29, 2007. Your comments are notable for two things: (1) periodic sentences
that can be diagrammed only by a German philologist with the patience of Job
in waiting for verbs and an empty quiver for dangling participles; and (2)
It is not hard to spot the lies half-hidden in the underbrush of euphemism
and circumlocution. I do not refer to relatively harmless ones like your firm
denial of any interest in running for vice president. I'm talking about the
real whoppers – the ones we used to call mortal sins. Despite the goings-on
in Washington in recent years, Joe, I don't believe anyone has actually passed
legislation repealing the commandment against false witness. It's time you
For some reason, you were calling for an invasion
of Iraq and making unsupported claims about its "weapons of mass destruction"
even before President George W. Bush came into office. Later, on Aug. 4, 2002,
after it had become clear to many of us that Bush was intent on attacking Iraq,
you declared that the U.S. was probably going to war. That was three weeks
before Vice President Dick Cheney voiced his spurious "intelligence"
and set the terms of reference for the war. And it was a month before the administration
launched its marketing campaign for the new "product."
You became the administration's most important congressional backer of Bush's
preemptive-with-nothing-to-preempt war advocated by neoconservatives and various
Former UN weapons inspector and ex-U.S. Marine Maj. Scott Ritter was correct
in describing the hearings you chaired during the summer and fall of 2002,
from which you were careful to exclude Ritter and other expert witnesses, as
a "sham … to provide political cover for a massive military attack on
Iraq." What the country needed was an appropriately skeptical Sen. William
Fulbright who listened to dissenters after he got burned on Vietnam. Instead,
you took unusual pains to ensure that those dissenting on Iraq would not get
a fair hearing.
Ritter: "While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding
the disposition of Iraq's proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent
level of verified disarmament. … It is clear that Sen. Biden and his colleagues
have no interest in such facts." Indeed, just before the Senate voted
to give Bush authorization to attack Iraq, you plagiarized Cheney in assuring
your Senate colleagues that Iraq "possesses chemical and biological weapons
and is seeking nuclear weapons."
And why, tell us, Joe, why did you join Sen. John McCain and others in voting
against the amendment offered by Sen. Carl Levin that would have forced the
president to obtain UN Security Council approval before launching war on Iraq?
'Explaining' the Unexplainable
Then, in 2007, when your catastrophic misjudgments
were obvious and hundreds of thousands were dead and maimed, you borrowed administration
rhetoric to "explain" to Russert how "everyone in the world
thought Saddam had them [WMD]." That was rank hyperbole. When you added,
"The weapons inspectors said he had them," that was a lie.
Please, no more torturous explanations of the kind you gave Russert; I mean
like this one: "It [the resolution] allowed the president to go to war.
It did not authorize him to go to it." Come on, Joe. The resolution says:
"The president is authorized to use the armed forces of the United States
as he determines to be necessary and appropriate." Sen. Robert Byrd, who,
unlike you and other Senate Democrats, had no presidential ambitions, rightly
observed at the time that those who "voted for a use-of-force resolution
handed a 'blank check' to the president."
When the war/occupation brought bloody chaos, you expressed regret only that
the Bush people weren't doing it right. For example, in 2004 you told Charlie
Rose and in 2007 Russert: "If I'd known that they were going to be so
incompetent in using it, I would have never, ever given them the authority."
So you approve of preemptive war as long as no one botches the job?
More recently, Joe, you have said of your vote to authorize the war: "It
was a mistake. I regret my vote." Pardon the comparison, but you sound
like the disgraced Colin Powell, who has expressed regret only for the "blot"
on his record. But wait, Joe: "Imagine All the People."
Im-Palin Old Joe
If you do not find my suggestion for confession
and repentance morally compelling, Joe, then think of it this way. Your debate
partner on Thursday evening will be loaded for bear. I assume you wish to avoid
being field dressed.
Ain't no way out of your dilemma but by making a clean breast of it, Joe.
She is going to wave her finger at you and quote your fulsome remarks at length
– no stranger she to dangling participles. She will do a John Kerry on you,
which worked so well four years ago. You were for the war before you were against
it, she will wink. And she will have a field day, if not a field dressing.
I don't know what your motives were in giving the president permission to
attack Iraq – whether it was the neoconservative-cum-Israel-lobby cabal, the
Cheney notion that the only way to ensure the supply of foreign oil is to control
it, or a calculated move to ensure your viability as a candidate for president
(the kind of thinking that turned out to be, deservedly, the kiss of death
for Sen. Hillary Clinton). You had more luck, landing on your feet – sort of.
But you are a "grave and growing" danger (so to speak) to the campaign
of Sen. Obama; that is, unless you mount a (God forgive me) "preemptive
attack." And you have only one day – not 10 – in which to prepare. It
will not wait for Yom Kippur.
Here's What You Do…
And it makes sense from a practical, as well
as a moral, point of view. Forget the natural inclination to try to defend
the indefensible on your cheerleading for the war. To claim you were fooled
by the administration, after almost 30 years in the Senate, is not going to
be any more persuasive or exculpatory than to cite what other pressures you
may have yielded to.
Here's an idea that might not have occurred to you, since it involves a practice
that has been out of vogue for so long. Shock everyone by telling the truth!
(But briefly, please.)
Some suggested text:
Gov. Palin, I feel terrible about the role I played in helping President
Bush launch this godforsaken war. I confess; it was a terrible decision.
I apologize to you and to other mothers whose children have been sent
to Iraq, to the hundreds of thousands who have died and been injured,
to all Americans and all Iraqis. And I ask for forgiveness. I have learned
a painful but powerful lesson; you can count on me never letting that
kind of thing happen again.
Heed Rabbi Lerner's caution: "Do not mitigate or 'explain' – just acknowledge
and sincerely ask for forgiveness."
Now, Joe, to be quite honest, I cannot guarantee a good result from this kind
of approach, since I have no empirical evidence. That is, although I've been
in Washington 45 years, I've not seen unvarnished honesty ever risked in quite
this way. But I am guessing it could be quite disarming, and could send your
debate partner scurrying for less effective talking points.
You will be debating a "fundamentalist," but that is actually a
misnomer. The fundamentals of Judeo-Christian morality have to do with truth-
telling, justice, and concern for the unprivileged. Confessing, forgiving,
and repenting are also fundamentals. Don't be ashamed of them, Joe. Embrace
them. My guess is that if you do, you will leave your debate partner shocked
– if not speechless.
In the process, you will have succeeded in drawing a stark contrast between
the "lies to nowhere" that she continues to tell on the one hand,
and your (hopefully) terse, disarming honesty, on the other. You will be free
to go ahead and demonstrate that in John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, no
presidential candidate in the history of this country has made a more irresponsible
selection for his running mate.
And best of all, you will be able to sit back and smile next Sunday as you
listen to the second Scripture reading (from Philippians 4): "Whatever
is true, honorable, and just … think about these and keep on doing them. …
Then the God who gives peace will be with you."
Let Nathaniel be your model: no duplicity.
This article first appeared on ConsortiumNews.com.