Forty years ago, Sen. William Fulbright, D-Ark., then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published his book, “The Arrogance of Power.”
In the midst of the debacle that was Vietnam and the untrammeled arrogance of power by President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Fulbright's was a reasoned voice of dissent, contending that the war was sapping U.S. resources that should better be used “for the education of our children, the rehabilitation of our cities, and the making available of jobs for all who want to work.”
Those, he said, represented “the real source” of this nation's strength, and usurping them in the name of national security would only undermine that security and strength.
Substitute “Mideast” for “Asian” and the following quote from the book is as relevant today as four decades ago: “What I do question is the ability of the United States, or any other Western nation, to go into a small, alien, undeveloped Asian nation and create stability where there is chaos, the will to fight where there is defeatism, democracy where there is no tradition of it, and honest government where corruption is almost a way of life.”
There is, Fulbright wrote, “something unseemly in conducting a foreign policy that involves it in the affairs of most of the nations of the world, while its own domestic needs are neglected or postponed.”
The upset Nov. 7 of one-party rule in Washington poses a major challenge: for Democrats and Republicans to replace partisanship and petty bickering — their arrogance of power — with united effort for the country's good.
Voters sent a clear message that they want a solution, not posturing, to the drain of money and lives that is Iraq, and that they want diligent attention to issues that concern them, not just empty rhetoric and inane sound bites.
Last week's elections, observed John Weaver, a strategist for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., were “not an affirmation of a Democratic agenda… (but rather) about how we Republicans set aside our principles to try and stay in power. We decided to try and spend money like Democrats, we decided not to reform or tackle big issues, and at the end of the day, American voters said, ‘Enough is enough.’”
It was also a wake-up call to Democrats that they have to be more like Republicans should've been but weren't: in touch with the mood of voters who want responsibility in fiscal matters; meaningful attention to issues such as health care, Social Security, and the environment; and less swagger and bluster and more statesmanship in our dealings with the rest of the world — very much including a workable solution to the quagmire that is Iraq.
We can also hope there will be a careful, studied approach to developing a new farm bill and an acknowledgment that a strong, vibrant agriculture is vital to this nation's economy and security.
Above all, we can wish that they were not just empty words, White House spokesman Tony Snow's assertion that “we look forward to working with Democratic leaders on issues that remain foremost,” and presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's vow to work with Republicans “in partnership, not partisanship.”