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An Open Letter to Bill Frist


Dear Bill:

Working the only way I know for sanity and prudence against the president’s mad rush to war, I offer a complaint and a suggestion to you, both as a Princeton classmate and as U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

Background: The framers of the Constitution sought to deny the power to declare war to “the chief magistrate” — the president. They thought such power too dangerous in the hands of any one man because one man’s judgment and perspective might err. Moreover, the power itself might lead the president into imprudent adventures.

Accordingly, our Founders reserved to Congress the power to declare war. Any decision to put the people’s lives and property at stake in war would have to be thoroughly and carefully debated by the people’s representatives before the president could wage war.

The complaint: Congress has abdicated its constitutional responsibility. Bush is, I think, a good, well-intentioned man. But you and your colleagues have given him a power no single human being should ever have, want, or accept.

In abdicating your responsibility to decide war or no war, you have denied the American people the right to a considered deliberation of the issue by their elected representatives in Congress, in which both its merits and its pitfalls could be weighed.

The suggestion: As world opinion continues to harden against Bush in particular and, increasingly, against Americans in general — as the administration finds itself squeezed ever tighter between its insistence on military action and the world’s disgust with that insistence — Congress should reassert its constitutional authority to declare war. In so doing, it can save face for Bush, regain the world’s good opinion for America, and avoid (or at least delay) the death and destruction of a war that is demonstrably not necessary now.

Bail Bush out, Bill. Bail us all out. Call your colleagues together, rescind officially any authority Congress has given to the executive branch to declare war on Iraq, and state publicly that the decision on declaring war with Iraq shall be made by Congress alone, as required by Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution.

No member of Congress would show disloyalty to country or to the president by such an action. Rather, Congress would be honoring the supreme law of the land they have sworn to uphold.

For his part, President Bush, given time to readjust to the Separation of Powers, would surely breathe a prayer of relief somewhere in his soul.

Then you and your colleagues in Congress can do your duty by deliberating and deciding whether the United States should indeed declare war on Iraq.

The grateful, relieved world would hail your courage, Bill, and marvel at constitutionally limited government in action.

Howie Baetjer
Princeton Class of 1974

Howard Baetjer, Jr.
Department of Economics
Towson University
410-704-4658 (w)
410-435-2664 (h)

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    Howard Baetjer teaches economics at Towson University.