It was a chilling moment on a split-screen of
history. While the Senate debated the Iraq war on Tuesday night, a long-dead
senator again renounced a chronic lie about congressional options and presidential
The Senate was in the final hours of another failure to impede the momentum
of war. As the New York Times was to report, President Bush "essentially
won the added time he said he needed to demonstrate that his troop buildup was
Meanwhile, inside a movie theater on the opposite coast, the thunderous voice
of Senator Wayne Morse spoke to 140 people at an event organized by the activist
group Sacramento for Democracy. The extraordinary senator was speaking in May
1964 and in July 2007.
A typical dash of media conventional wisdom had set him off. The moderator
of the CBS program "Face the Nation," journalist Peter Lisagor, told
the guest: "Senator, the Constitution gives to the president of the United
States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy."
"Couldn't be more wrong," Morse shot back. "You couldn't make
a more unsound legal statement than the one you have just made. This is the
promulgation of an old fallacy that foreign policy belongs to the president
of the United States. That's nonsense."
Lisagor sounded a bit exasperated: "To whom does it belong, then, Senator?"
Again, Morse didn't hesitate. "It belongs to the American people,"
the senator fired back. And he added: "What I'm saying is under
our Constitution all the president is, is the administrator of the people's
foreign policy, those are his prerogatives, and I'm pleading that the American
people be given the facts about foreign policy "
"You know, Senator, that the American people cannot formulate and execute
foreign policy "
"Why do you say that? Why, you're a man of little faith in democracy
if you make that kind of comment," Morse retorted. "I have complete
faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if you'll give
them. And my charge against my government is we're not giving the American people
As Wayne Morse spoke, applause pulsed through the theater. I've seen the same
thing happen many times this summer whether in New York or D.C. or San
Luis Obispo or Sacramento with audiences suddenly bursting into loud
applause when they hear Morse near the end of the documentary
Made Easy, based on my book of the same name).
Even most antiwar activists don't seem to know anything about Wayne Morse.
Whited out of political memory and media history, he was long ago banished to
an Orwellian vacuum tube.
Compared to Morse even today, more than four years into the horrendous
Iraq war almost every "antiwar" member of the U.S. Senate is
restrained and unduly deferential to presidential war-making power. If you doubt
that, consider the Senate's 97-0 vote in mid-July that laid a flagstone on a
path toward military confrontation with yet another country: warning Iran that
it would be held accountable for an alleged role in attacks on U.S. soldiers
Morse's exchange with the "Face the Nation" host on May 24, 1964,
occurred more than two months before the Gulf of Tonkin resolution sailed through
Congress on the basis of presidential lies about a supposed unprovoked attack
on U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf. Morse was one of only two members of the entire
Congress to vote against that resolution, which served as a green light for
massive escalation of the Vietnam War.
As the years of carnage went by, Senator Morse never let up. And so, when
a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee neared a close on February
27, 1968, Morse said on the record that he did not "intend
to put the blood of this war on my hands."
A big media lie is that members of Congress are doing all they can when they
try and fail to pass measures that would impose a schedule for withdrawal of
U.S. troops from Iraq. The Constitution gives Congress the power to pay for
war and to stop a war by refusing to appropriate money for it. Every
vote to pay for more war is soaked with blood.
Wayne Morse knew that truth and said it out loud. Today, few senators