Can Our Economy Survive a Growing Political Divide?

by: Michael Panzner

Coincidentally or not, growing political discord between Democrats and Republicans, emblematic of a darkening social mood, seems to be shadowing the ongoing deterioration in the economy.

In "Iraq War Draws Nays in State Capitols," the nonpartisan details what appears to be an increasingly intractable divide.

Discontent with President Bush’s call for bolstering U.S. troops in Iraq not only is flaring in Congress but also is beginning to surge in state capitols.

The U.S. House is expected to vote Friday (Feb. 16) on a nonbinding resolution against Bush’s plans for a troop surge in Iraq. But the first legislative bodies in the nation to lash out at the war were the Democratic-controlled Vermont Legislature, which passed a resolution Tuesday (Feb. 13) calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and the Democratic-controlled California Senate, which adopted a measure Feb. 13 against an increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Another legislative body controlled by the Democrats, the Iowa Senate, adopted a resolution on Thursday (Feb. 15) critical of an escalation. Measures calling on Congress and the president not to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq have been introduced in another 20 state capitols.

Governors are beginning to make their voices heard as well, largely to raise their concerns over the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on part-time soldiers in the National Guard, whose state-based units serve at the direction of governors until called to active duty by the president.

Although the U.S. Constitution gives federal lawmakers the power and purse strings to wage war, the unprecedented use of National Guard troops is making the four-year-old conflict a local concern for governors and state legislatures nationwide. While unable to change the execution of the war, state politicians are able to amplify pressures on Congress, which can.

The National Guard is the chief flash point between the Bush administration and governors when it comes to the war. Governors rely on Guard units in time of natural disasters, such as snowstorms or hurricanes, and communities face the loss of employees, many from vital services such as police and fire departments. Of 3,122 U.S. soldiers and Marines killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, 468 were from National Guard units, according to the Department of Defense and the Army National Guard.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm [D] opposes the president’s call for a surge, said spokeswoman Liz Boyd.

A day after the announcement that 3,500 Oklahoma Army National Guard soldiers in the 45th Infantry Brigade would head to Iraq in the largest mobilization of the state’s soldiers since the Korean War, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry [D] told The Associated Press that the Defense Department had essentially reinstated “the draft on the backs of National Guard units throughout the country.”

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius [D] wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressing her disappointment at the decision to extend the tour of duty of Kansas National Guard members in Iraq by four months and requesting hardship pay of $1,000 per month, commensurate with what full-time soldiers receive after serving one year in Iraq.

Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho, who is a former member of the 116th Cavalry Brigade, said that 18 months in Iraq was enough for his former National Guard outfit. In a news release, he said he doubted his state's unit would be called to fill the troop surge in Iraq because of a lack of equipment and a need for retraining. But he also said he “would certainly make a personal and persuasive argument to the president that our men and women have gone above and beyond.”

When asked about the Defense Department’s outreach to governors, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano [D], who is also chair of the National Governors Association, told that she has had “good communication” with the top brass in the National Guard and Army especially concerning “Operation Jumpstart,” a deployment of 6,000 guardsmen in the Southwest to help stop illegal border crossings in an initiative funded by the Department of Defense.

Still, she added that “the Pentagon as a whole needs to understand that the Guard has responsibilities in addition to being active duty foot soldiers in Iraq.”

Two governors who just stepped down and now are running for president also have taken issue with Bush for the war’s toll on the National Guard.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee [R] said there is “a growing impatience” in the United States over anything that impacts National Guard units. The death of a National Guard soldier has a different impact on communities “because a few months ago that soldier was coaching soccer or teaching Sunday school,” he said in an interview with

On Feb.10, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack [D] wrote an Op-ed article in The Washington Post calling on Congress to “act immediately” to bring home U.S. troops from Iraq and deplored how the war has depleted the military and National Guard units.

In state legislatures, an advocacy group called Progressive States Network has been pushing local lawmakers to introduce nonbinding resolutions or send letters to Washington, D.C., against any surge in U.S. troops for Iraq.

“A big goal of this is to raise public pressure,” said Joel Barkin, executive director of the network. “It’s to localize this issue. This is not just a Washington issue – this is an issue that affects every local community in America.” The network is working in concert with Americans against Escalation in Iraq, whose members include, Service Employers International Union [SEIU] among others who are pressing Congress to act.

Some of the resolutions, such as Senate Joint Resolution No. 9 introduced in Montana on Jan. 31 by state Sen. Steven Gallus [D], cite a laundry list of hardships endured as a result of National Guard deployments including “lost lives, combat injuries, psychic trauma, disruption of family life, financial hardship for individuals, families and businesses, interruption of careers, and damage to the fabric of civic life in our communities.”

A recent snafu that left some Iowa units in Iraq to find out from Web sites and family members that their overseas duties had been extended also didn’t sit well and led state Sen. Tom Hancock [D] to write a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Some legislators are taking the campaign a step further: On Wednesday, Washington state Sen. Eric Oemig [D] introduced a resolution that asks Congress to consider impeachment investigations for President Bush and Vice President Cheney surrounding the U.S. invasion and ongoing presence in Iraq. A similar measure was introduced in New Mexico.

It sounds like things are going to get pretty ugly, pretty soon.