Good Luck on Your War

Photo by Jack GouldThe Orange County Board of Supervisors recently took a break from the exhausting work of slashing the county's budget to send President George W. Bush an attaboy letter for standing up to Saddam Hussein, even if that means war against Iraq.

Led by newbie and perhaps temporary Supervisor Bill Campbell, all five Republican supervisors signed on. Campbell said he was motivated by a desire to do something “constructive” to support the president. Constructive? Campbell might consider riding a bike to work; greater energy conservation by everyone might reduce this nation's dependence on foreign oil, and that might remove our incentive to wage wars designed to speed delivery of Middle East oil. Better still, having “missed” the opportunity to volunteer for service in Vietnam during the early 1960s, Campbell could consider some sort of non-active military duty now. That would be constructive, too.

But, no, Orange County's official support of the president's desire to wage war on Iraq will have to be limited to a letter from the five members of the Board of Supervisors. “Constructive?” They may as well have sent Bush a Hallmark greeting card: “Good Luck on Your War.”

It's not the board's decision to involve itself in foreign policy that offends me; there's a compelling argument that local governments are uniquely situated to represent the interests of their residents on all matters, even—or especially—those concerning foreign affairs.

No, what's offensive is the cowardly way in which the board went about expressing its readiness for war. No public hearing. No public deliberation. All on their own, the supes sent their letter to Bush on behalf of all Orange County residents.

The supes should hang their heads in shame. At a time when young American men and women are preparing to die in the defense of democratic values (or so we have been repeatedly told by the Bush administration), the Board of Supervisors behaved like petty dictators and spoke for the demos without ever consulting it.

According to one newspaper, board members didn't want to hold a public hearing or take a public vote on the matter because they wanted to avoid the possibility of a chamber filled with anti-war activists. Allegedly, board members were fearful the tumult that characterized a recent meeting of the Los Angeles City Council—on a resolution to oppose war with Iraq—would erupt in Orange County.

Well, supervisors, democracy is messy. If you have better things to do than listen to citizens testify on issues of war and peace, then I suggest you may wish to seek another line of employment.

Add this fiscal irony to public insult: in sending Bush fan mail, our fiscally conservative Board of Supervisors was also blessing an estimated federal expenditure of more than $200 billion to conduct a war in Iraq. They drafted the letter in the midst of the most radical budget cutting in years. The first to feel the county's local budget ax—programs to protect the elderly, people needing housing, the environment—were the same programs cut after the county's historic 1994 bankruptcy.

The cuts were perfectly consistent for a board that hopes to avoid painful public discussion on matters of war and peace. Both speak volumes about where the board sees a role for the people they claim to represent: no role at all.

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