Gordon Smith: Profile In Cynicism

Steve Novick

On March 2, 1967, Robert F. Kennedy rose on the Senate floor to criticize the conduct of the Vietnam war and propose a bombing halt - a position supported, at that time, by 24% of the public. Among the things he said was this: "I can testify that if fault is to be found or responsibility assessed, there is enough to go around for all - including myself."

Contrast that statement with Gordon Smith's speech last week. With 71% of Americans disapproving President Bush's handling of the war, Smith decided to join their ranks. But Smith took no responsibility for his vote for the war. He took no responsibility for his four-year history of supporting the war. He falsely stated that he has been "silent" on the war, when in fact, as Steve Duin explains in his column today, as recently as June of this year Smith was on the Senate floor, arguing that anyone who would set a timetable for redeployment would be giving in to Al-Queda and abandoning the fight for "freedom."

If Smith were changing his mind on the basis of brand-new evidence, perhaps we could cut him some slack. But in fact, the arguments that he is making now are the same arguments that war opponents have made all along. Smith says that he would never have voted for the war if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction. But we have known that since 2003. Why did Smith not say then - as many others did - that the war had been sold to America on false pretenses? Why did he not call for an investigation? Why did he not admit then that the U.N. weapons inspectors should have been allowed to continue their work, and the headlong rush to invasion avoided?

Smith now says that we are policing a civil war, a war of sectarian violence. But that is not news. In 2003, Howard Dean warned that if we invaded Iraq, we would be putting a match to a powder keg of "Sunni, Shia and Kurdish factions that share both bitter rivalries and access to large quantities of arms." Certainly, as Duin's column explains, it was abundantly clear six months ago that we were embroiled in a civil war. But Gordon Smith did not acknowledge that fact. Instead, parroting the Administration's talking points, he continued to characterize the conflict as a war against Al-Queda.

Smith has already smugly observed that of course, the left will attack him as an opportunist. Yes, we will. And perhaps we would have done so no matter what, at this late date, he had chosen to say. But he would be much less vulnerable to that charge if his statement were not so shamelessly self-serving. What has he said or done to suggest that he is anything other than a rat fleeing a sinking ship?

Smith, in the manner of George Bush, loves to talk about his "heart." A man with a heart would not have made the statement that Gordon Smith made last week. A man with a heart would have apologized for his collaboration in this war. A man with a heart would have apologized to the taxpayers, to the wounded, and to the families of the dead.

  • lol (unverified)

    And we wonder why American's have such a diminutive view of politicians... what a better picture then Gordon Smith and Ben Westlund. Here is a salute to them both, wet finger held so attentively to the air, shamelessly testing the fickle winds of public opinion.

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    Smith is just following the path laid out in the November election: run away from Bush (and Iraq) as fast as you can. What a facile conscience he has.

  • TcH (unverified)

    Gordon Smith, poser!

  • genop (unverified)

    Sing it with me: (think Wizard of Oz) "While my time in Congress is dwindlin I might have to return to Pendleton Raise veggies on the vine But my sins might be forgiven In Bethesda I’d keep livin If I only had a spine"

    Fast forward to 08 - Were not in Bethesda anymore, there's no place like home. Send him home.

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    Interesting yet somewhat off-topic footnote about RFK, Oregon was the only state he lost in his Presidential run before he was killed.

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    "... what a better picture then Gordon Smith and Ben Westlund..."

    Posted by: lol | Dec 12, 2006 11:05:04 AM

    A little unfair to Mr. Westlund. He left the GOP before the elections, and backed Ted and withdrew because he didn't want the role of spoiler and in effect giving the Governors seat to his former party. Westlund is not the same rat-leaving-a-sinking-ship with hands covered in the blood of Iraqi children and our troops like Smith.

    As to the assement by Mr. Novick, I think he has it (and Smith) dead-to-rights on this one. Unfortunately there are real dead (Iraqi, American, and coalition) which are the grim reality undergirding that turn-of-phrase.

  • John Mulvey (unverified)

    Here's an interesting excerpt from an exchange between a reporter and Tony Snow regarding Gordo's flip:



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    Robert Kennedy entered the fray only after Eugene McCarthy had shown how vulnerable LBJ was. Nothing wrong with what he did, but I think it's silly to talk about those who "collaborated" in this war --or the one waged against Vietnam-- without recognzing sokme of the worst collaborators were Democrats.

    There's no "sincere-ometer" to judge Smith's born-again opposition. I still say accept it for what it is, enjoy seeing the Senator from Oregon on CNN using the word "criminal"...or diminish the value of what he's done, which get's you what?

    One's efforts don't need to be a "profile in courage" to make them helpful for ending the war.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    Why do I keep getting the impression from Messrs. Novick, Barnhart and others that they just cannot stand seeing Sen. Smith criticizing Bush, when after all that's what they do themselves (and I'm glad they do, too)?

    Give the purity tests, ideological and otherwise, a rest. If Gordon Smith can help us extricate ourselves from the Iraq mess, I will thank him. I will not vote for him, but I will thank him.

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    Once again, Novick hits the nail on the head. Gordon Smith has a habit of rarely being correct when it counts. He voted to impeach Clinton on what he described would be the most important vote he'd ever make as a senator. Rather than being thoughtful and independent he went along with all the witch hunters that run his party. On Roberts and Alito and countless Appeals Court judges, lockstep with Frist, Hatch and others. On Artic drilling after much hemming and hawing and hoping it wouldn't come to a vote, he said he opposed ANWR, but when it came time to support a filibuster to stop the bill, he went along with his party and again shed any patina of independent spirit. And then there's this war that has (finally?) put him at the end of his rope. GMAFB. I am so sick of Johnny come lately Republicans on this, and frankly, even less tolerent of the 29 Democratic senators who let the Rove/Rice/Matalin propoganda machine lure them into the War Resolution when we should have been discussing Enron and other corporate malfeasance during the 2002 mid-term election. Robert Byrd told us why to vote No. And Senator Bob Graham, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee voted "no" precisely because the intelligence community was equivocal and that there was a strong liklihood of no WMD's. Sooo, fooo on Gordo and Hilary and Patty Murray and Cantwell and Kerry and Edwards and all the others for their cowardly, reckless votes. There is really no good excuse. And if hear again: "If I knew then what I know now..." well, barf! Someone fresh and honest and outspoken better step up to the plate and call Smith out on all his gibberish.

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    Robert Kennedy only ran for PRESIDENT after McCarthy had announced, but his opposition to the WAR started well before that. I AM glad to see Smith criticizing Bush. But I am astonished by his absolute refusal to criticize himself. It matters to me that John Edwards said "I was wrong," and that Hillary Clinton, for example, has not. If Ron Wyden had done exactly what Smith has done, I would have criticized him as fiercely. Fortunately, Ron Wyden voted against the war. I think you should apply the same moral judgments to politicians that you would to yourself. Can you imagine yourself supporting such a monumental disaster as this war for four years, then coming out against it, and not whispering a word of apology? No, you can't.

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    as I said over in our space back when he made the speech, it's probably a very good thing for the country, but it's not going to buy him any bonus points with Oregonians in 2008. Steve is right on top of it with this piece. This amounts to a preemptory death-bed confession, made after watching many fellows fall of the disease Smith now comes to dread.

    Put it this way--I'm still a touch skeptical of Ben Westlund's motives, but when he says he literally had a change of heart, I believe him. Gordon, not so much.

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    Steve you really hit it right when you said, "Can you imagine yourself supporting such a monumental disaster as this war for four years, then coming out against it, and not whispering a word of apology? No, you can't."

    However, the issue is Smith can't stick to one story. Does he now believe that his support was wrong? His rhetoric says that is the case. However he acts as if it is just that Bush screwed it up, but it was the right decision at the time. He bounces back and forth between the two. If Bush screwed it up, but it was the right thing to do, then no need to apologize. But if it was the wrong thing to do, because Bush lied, then he would need to apologize and to criticize not just himself but his fellow Republicans. He isn't willing to go that far.

    Therefore it is not his fault. It is Bush's fault. You know those Republicans. It is always blame Bush for everything.

  • Unrepentant liberal (unverified)

    Count me as another voter who believes Senator Smith's announcement is way beyond too little, too late. It may help his conscience and it certainly won't help Bush's popularity, but at no point prior to this in his Senate career has he done anything but vote time after time to advance the radical republican agenda.

    Sorry, Gordon, I think you may be looking for a job in two years.

  • PoliticalLogic (unverified)

    Of course G.S. (rhymes with B.S. don't you know) is a fraud and is mainly doing this to try to salvage his political viability. But it is easy for the faux progressives and poor thinkers who haunt these pages to feign outrage when they can do that to distract from the failings of our side of which they claim to be leaders and activists.

    The thesis of Steve's criticism:

    But Smith took no responsibility for his vote for the war. He took no responsibility for his four-year history of supporting the war.

    applies equally to our rather embarrassing example of a Democratic Governor Kulongoski if one just substitutes "Kulongoski" for "Smith" and say "three" years for "four" years in this very sentence when Ted was touring a couple of weeks ago. He aggressively and stupidly supported the war at the outset. He only dropped out of the aggressive supporter as re-election loomed and he found his base was no longer with him because intelligent folks understood from the outset the war was unwinnable. Another parallel with Smith. And his opposition has consistently been on the basis the war was poorly run, nothing more or less.

    When I checked right before the election, he had yet to actually come out against war on anything resembling moral principle as some of us have from the beginning.  And even during his recent trip over there, after we re-elected him his public statments were mush-mouthed drivel that only an ignoramus would call moral integrity:

    Governor says Afghanistan, Iraq worlds apart http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1165206369175540.xml&coll=7

    "I'm very pessimistic about Iraq. I'm more optimistic about Afghanistan," he said.

    He said he spent hours talking with commanding officers and rank-and-file troops in both countries. In Afghanistan, "They actually feel that given time, they can help the Afghans a great deal," Kulongoski said. "They're very positive about it."

    Not so with those stationed in Iraq, he said. If he had a chance to talk to President Bush about the situation in Iraq, "I would tell him the security issue is extreme. American troops are at great risk. The insurgents have much better technology, and it seems as though they're getting stronger."

    Frankly, I defy anyone to demonstrate there is any true moral difference between Kulongoski and G.S. on this one.

    And of course Wyden hasn't exactly been a Wayne Morse in his opposition to the war either. Through most of the last 3+ years he didn't even use his own Senate webpage to talk about the war, much less post strong statements in opposition.

    Yup, G.S. is full of B.S. But so is most of the lame opposition here.

  • Garrett (unverified)


    Look, if you want to pretend like you actually thought Saddam did get rid of all his WMDs before the war happened go ahead...take the moral high ground. I thought the war was wrong but I was dead sure they were going to find something there either way. Turns out I was wrong. They didn't find anything and I've admitted I was wrong. No I didn't support the war either way. I think that if they are going to give Israel a free pass on WMDs why should they deny EVERY OTHER NATION IN THE MIDEAST the right to have them.

    (Rumsfeld moment) Did I think the war was right? : No Did I want Saddam to go? : Yes Did the evidence they gave the American people seem like Saddam was hiding something? : Uh yeah...

    Look...Gordo may have had a come to heavenly father (I lived in Utah for a while and am prone to making mormon speech jokes because they have their own lingo) and changed his mind. More than likely it's an election year ploy...but to charge Ted K. and Ron W. with being in the same boat is naive. Ted K. is powerless...he has spoke out. Ron W. has spoke out. Good on Gordo for FINALLY speaking out but really...it's too little too late and it reeks of election year ploy.

  • Ray Duray (unverified)

    Dear Mr. Novick,

    Let me set the stage a bit. In October, 2002, finding no one else in Central Oregon willing to step up to the plate, I organized the largest anti-war demonstration Central Oregon has ever seen. 350 of us were out on the streets demanding that there be no war in Iraq. Even at that time it was abundantly clear to most of us that we were being lied to about WMDs and the threat that Iraq posed to the U.S.A.

    I tell you this because I think it would indicate that I could possibly be bitter about Gordon Smith's refusal to accept the same truths that were abundantly clear to me back then.

    But I've adapted a completely different attitude toward Gordon Smith's recent announcement of his change of heart. Whatever motivated his conversion, I'm not so much concerned with retribution for Smith's prior sins as I am with the fact that the peace movement has a new ally.

    This I find to be good news. I'm completely indifferent as to whether Smith is motivated by electoral politics instead of true conscience. What matters is that week by week George Bush is losing his base. What matters here is winning the peace. Let's keep our eye on the prize.

    So, I'm saying "welcome, Gordon" to the side of justice, morality and decency. Anything Smith can do to help end the travesty of George Bush's nightmare will be appreciated. And one thing that Gordon Smith can definitely do is to help to spread doubt among his fellow Republicans both in the Congress and here in Oregon. It's that doubt about the wisdom and perhaps even the sanity of George Bush that will be the grace note that will end Gordon Smith's years in Washington.

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    Ray -- I appreciate your work and your thoughts. But first of all, the peace movement does NOT have a new ally; Gordon says we could EITHER dramatically INCREASE our commitment in Iraq or partially withdraw, he doesn't really care which. Second, I am attacking him for his CURRENT sin of refusing to accept any responsibility for his role in this. He wants political credit for switching without taking any blame. That is unconscionable.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    PoliticalLogic is correct, IMHO. And it can be extended beyond just Governor K. More than a few Congressional Dems voted to give Bush a blank check and really only backtracked with anything approaching the very blunt rhetoric which Smith used when both public opinion was wavering AND it became pretty obvious to most of us that rank and file Dems were pissed about the votes... and there was an upcoming election, dontcha know.

    Honestly, there are precious few who have a legit claim to the moral or ethical highground on this issue. Howard Dean and Senators Graham and Wyden certainly do. Lots and lots of Dems getting better treatment from the left than Smith is getting don't.

    That doesn't negate Duin's or Novick's points so much as it fleshes them out with some context and honesty.

  • ghost of Abbie Hoffman (unverified)

    Pathetic as it is, Smith's faux conversion is no more hypocritical than the failure of those "progressives" who have retained "anti-war" credibility to support McGovern's bill to de-fund the Iraqi occupation.

    Dennis Kucinich has it right again, although I expect him to end up supporting any pro-war candidate the DLC decides to run in '08.

    The sainted Earl Blumenauer, fresh from having led the cheers for the Israeli destruction of Lebanon and Palestine, still refuses to sign the companion piece to the Declaration Of Peace, the endorsement of McGovern's bill.

    By the way, I worked for McCarthy in '68, and I don't remember Kennedy being a vocal critic of the war until Eugene showed there was political traction in it. I also remember the wretched history of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the (Joe) McCarthy witch hunts.

    Worship of Democratic elites is no more rational than worship of Republican elites.

  • Pencil Neck (unverified)

    This grousing, drawing false equivalences, and pointing out the IRRELEVANT votes of Clinton and Kerry, is more than a little entertaining. Kerry and Clinton are toast. Their future hopes for the federal executive are DOA because of it. They are getting their punishment for being demogauges.

    Allowing the trolls here to goad you into innoculating Smith from his LONG HISTORY of exeplifying the stereotype of the rich white male boomer by comparing him to irrelevant, "trinangulator," Democratic senators is laughable.

    Being a Hillary Clinton and being Gordon Smith are not the same thing, and it is disingenuine to suggest it. Look at EVERY OTHER VOTE that Smith casts in the Senate and that becomes abundantly clear.

    So say nothing good about Smith. Ever. Throw him an anvil. If you comment that it is nice to have him on the side of the rightious, it gives him legitimacy. Give him no quotes to take out of context.

    His news cycle was over on Tuesday, and he is of no use to the anti-war types now anyway. So stop giving him cover.

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    he is of no use to the anti-war types now anyway. So stop giving him cover.

    I may have missed something, being home sick in bed, but I believe it's still SENATOR Smith with a few votes still left in him...so how do you want him to use those votes? More troops for Iraq? More funding? Or recognize him if he wants to go in another direction to end this war?

    Throw him an avil? We're too pure to have the likes of Smith questioning the conduct and utility of the war?

    How do you think this war is going to end without people who've been supporting it...stop supporting it?

  • Rebel Dog (unverified)

    Tim Johnson is critically ill and may die. We can't get ahead; no wonder cynicism is endemic.

    BTW, why am I hearing this as a newsflash on Australian radio during a cricket match without a shred of US coverage (11:30pm PST, the 14th)? Guess he's not 12 years old or a Mormon (had to get back on topic).

  • LT (unverified)

    The sad news about Sen. Johnson was on network news last night--NBC first. This morning it appears he had surgery for a congenital problem and is in critical but stable condition--not all that uncommon for major surgery, I wouldn't think.

    And for all those cynics out there, even Sen. John Thune (who lost to Johnson and then defeated Daschle) was on the news with a gracious comment--guess he finally decided maturity was smart after Nov. 7.

  • bob k (unverified)

    Before we condemn Gordan Smith for being late to the table, what is Ron Wyden's(Ariel Sharon's favorite senator)view of the imperial and Zionist project in the Mid East?


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