TOPICS > Politics

A Representative of the People

October 7, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


LEE HOCHBERG: For Seattle area Congressman Jim McDermott, the reaction he got at yesterday’s anti-war protest in his home district was a welcome change from the criticism he’s attracted in recent days.

SEN. JIM McDERMOTT: Thanks for coming out. Thank you.

MAN: Thanks for speaking for me.

MAN: Thank you.

MAN: Stand your ground.

MAN: Thank you for taking so much heat.

MAN: Yeah, that’s all right.

PROTESTORS ( Chanting ): No endless war! Not in our name! No endless war! Not in our name!

LEE HOCHBERG: McDermott has become a lightning rod in the debate over a U.S. invasion of Iraq. He went to Iraq recently with two other Congressmen. While he was there, he called for unfettered inspections, but also was critical of President Bush.

SEN. JIM McDERMOTT: It would not surprise me if they came with some information that is not provable. I think the President would mislead the American people.

LEE HOCHBERG: Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott immediately attacked him for country sizing President Bush while on Iraqi soil.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: To be questioning the veracity of our own American President is the height of irresponsible. He needs to come home and keep his mouth shut.

LEE HOCHBERG: Washington Post columnist George Will wrote, “not since Jane Fonda posed for photographers at a Hanoi anti-aircraft gun has there been anything like Representative Jim McDermott.” McDermott says the criticism is scurrilous.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: The United States was at war in Vietnam. People were being killed on a daily basis when Jane Fonda went over there and did what she did. We’re not at war, so I’m not undercutting the troops, nor am I undercutting the President By raising the question.

PROTESTORS ( Chanting ): No more war!

LEE HOCHBERG: The seven-time Congressman, a Navy psychiatrist who treated casualties during the Vietnam War, says he speaks for millions of Americans to whom the President’s reasons for going to war make no sense.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: I don’t trust. I want proof. And from my point of view, the President has not made a sufficient case, and I think everybody should be skeptical. This intensity of wanting to go to war, I mean, this is Vietnam all over again. “Very upset with Jim’s traitorous action.” “Opposed to Jim’s action, treason.” “You, sir, are a disgrace to this country. You, sir, need the services of your fellow psychiatrists.”

LEE HOCHBERG: In the week since his comments about the President, McDermott’s office says it’s received more than 2,000 phone calls and letters. Mail from outside his district is evenly divided for and against him, but within his liberal district, where he’s always elected by strong majorities, he says 60 percent of the letters and 90 percent of the phone messages were supportive.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: I think they… they are… were so relieved actually or empowered by somebody actually raising some questions out loud, when out leadership was going one way, going with the President. There’s a lot of people here who don’t have anybody representing them.

KWAME HOLMAN: Those locally who took issue with the Congressman’s remarks were more upset where he spoke than by what he said. Newspaper columnist Joel Connelly, a longtime admirer of McDermott, said the Congressman handed Saddam Hussein a propaganda coup.

JOEL CONNELLY, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: A totalitarian state is an echo chamber, where basically they are repeating the same message over and over and over again to their people. And if they can find a United States Congressman who even appears for a millisecond to support that propaganda line, I think you give them a victory and you give them a certain amount of reinforcement.

LEE HOCHBERG: But even the Seattle Times, which endorsed George Bush when he ran for President, praised McDermott last week for igniting the discussion. Washington State Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt notes McDermott’s same remarks were virtually ignored when he made them ten days earlier in Washington, D.C.

PAUL BERENDT, Washington State Democratic Chairman: It was a dramatic action to go to Iraq to speak out on the war, but it had to happen, because if he hadn’t gone there, they would have silenced this debate, they would have jammed through this resolution, and there would have never been a real discussion about the merits of this issue.

SPOKESMAN: Get a million people in Washington, D.C., a million- person march, and do it now, because we don’t have time.

LEE HOCHBERG: And at appearances in Seattle this weekend, he received enthusiastic and heartfelt support for his stand. Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, visiting Seattle to speak about inspections, saluted McDermott and chided those who attacked him.

SCOTT RITTER: My God, when Senator Trent Lott stands up and comes after him, that’s an assault on democracy right there is to have a fellow elected representative dare… dare question the loyalty of a man who is simply trying to gather information on behalf of his constituents.

LEE HOCHBERG: At a town meeting yesterday in Seattle, most of the crowd of 150 came out to support him.

MAN IN CROWD: Yes, first of all, I just want to thank you for your courage. ( Applause )

LEE HOCHBERG: Though a few signs in the room labeled him “Jihad Jim.”

ANOTHER MAN: And I think you and members of your party would risk the lives of our servicemen and mislead the American people to get yourselves in the headlines. When or if Hussein develops nuclear weapons, do you have any doubt they’ll be used against his own population or other countries?

LEE HOCHBERG: But most of the people at this meeting and across Seattle give McDermott enthusiastic support.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: We have a President who says, “I can go to war without the Congress.” (Crowed yells “no!” )

LEE HOCHBERG: He says he’ll continue his campaign against the President’s military plans, both in his district and in the nation’s capital. He plans to vote no on Congress’ upcoming vote on using military force in Iraq.