Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Other Triumph in North Carolina

Earlier this month, the news media focused so heavily on Senator Barack Obama's victory in the North Carolina primaries that another important primary showdown went largely ignored. Representative Watler Jones (right) battled for his political survival, fighting to keep the Congressional seat he has held since 1995. Jones is a Republican and a staunch conservative. He was swept into power in 1994 as part of the Republican Revolution that saw the triumph of Georgia representative Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America. Jones was part of the Contract with America cohort. As political commentator Christopher Check noted, "His conservatism is beyond reproach: tough on immigration, a strong supporter of American manufacturing, 100 percent pro-life, unwavering on Second Amendment rights, a firm defender of marriage and family, et cetera."

But Rep. Jones committed a terrible sin in the eyes of hawkish Republicans. He turned against the Iraq War. Rep. Jones -- who proposed changing the name of "French Fries" to "Freedom Fries" in the House dining hall back in 2003 (in reaction to French criticism of the Iraq War) -- backed President George W. Bush 100 percent when the Commander in Chief sent troops into Iraq. But Jones had a change of heart -- and a very dramatic one. Traveling to Iraq, talking to soldiers over there, coming home and seeing the disgraceful way that veterans and their families have been treated by the U.S. government, Rep. Jones turned against the war after a lot of "difficult soul searching." Especially difficult for Jones was writing letters to the families who lost loved ones in Iraq.

The United States, Jones insisted, invaded Iraq with "no justification" and Congress and the American public were “given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration.” In 2005, Jones -- along with Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii -- proposed legislation to establish a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. As Jones put it, "I just feel that the reason of going in for weapons of mass destruction, the ability of Iraqis to make a nuclear weapon, that's all been proven that it was never there."

Rep. Jones' strong antiwar position prompted conservative Republican Joe McLaughlin to run against him in the North Carolina primaries this year. McLaughlin claimed that Jones was not a true conservative. He insisted Jones was "betraying" the troops in Iraq. He visited the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, located in the 3rd Congressional District, where he questioned Jones' patriotism. "We are blessed in the 3rd District with a very active military presence," McLaughlin told the press. "The men and women fighting overseas deserve a congressman who supports their mission." Going door to door, McLaughlin told voters, "The biggest difference between me and Walter Jones is I believe when you're in a war, you find a way to win it, not a way to get out."

When voters went to the polls on May 6, Jones won with 60 percent of the popular vote -- a sign that even in heavily conservative eastern North Carolina, people are becoming fed up with the catastrophe that is the Iraq War. They instinctively understood that you can be pro-troops but against this reprehensible conflict. Jones has vowed that he will continue to oppose the Iraq War. "Mine is just a heart that aches because we should never have gone into Iraq to begin with," Jones said. "This has been my mea culpa."

Good for Jones. Here is a man with guts and, most importantly, integrity. His victory over McLaughlin in the North Carolina primaries earlier this month serves as an indication that American voters are no longer swallowing the lies and propaganda about this most terrible of wars.

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