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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Barbara Boxer’s Embarrassing Forays Into Foreign Policy
[Carol Platt Liebau] 8/4/03

There are many differences between a person who is “educated” and one who is merely “credentialed.” Credentialed people – like many Ivy League students and a fair number of journalists – think that attending a particular school, obtaining a specific degree, or adhering to a certain political ideology is a virtual sine qua non of intelligence. Truly educated people, on the other hand, understand that there are many forms of intelligence – academic, yes, but also kinesthetic, practical, moral, strategic . . . and the list goes on.

It would be unrealistic and perhaps unfair to expect California’s junior senator, Barbara Boxer, to possess multiple forms of intelligence. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect her to display some glimmerings of intellect from time to time. Unfortunately, however, Boxer shows no signs of any life of the mind – or of the kindness and humility that can make such deficiencies less glaring, as we were all forcibly reminded last week.

Boxer was in top form for the appearance of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which she serves (to the detriment of both the United States and her own reputation). Perhaps not surprisingly, in contrast to Committee colleagues like Russ Feingold (D-WI), Boxer doesn’t provide transcripts of her statements on the Committee. But just the brief radio and print excerpts of her posturing were plenty to make any Californian’s face burn with embarrassment.

Seizing an opportunity to engage in some moral preening, Boxer first took issue with Wolfowitz’s description of the Iraq situation as a “low-intensity conflict.” She informed him, “I want you to know when your kid dies, it’s not a low-intensity conflict.”

Well. Every senator knows (or should know) that the term “low-intensity conflict” refers to the number of casualties suffered, not to the profundity of the sorrow that each death causes. Is Barbara Boxer willing to manipulate definitions deliberately for the sake of a petty suggestion that the Bush Administration is indifferent to soldiers’ deaths, or has she no idea what she’s talking about? Sad to say, it’s sometimes difficult to tell – and neither explanation is flattering. Frankly, if she had been so concerned about the lives of fighting men and women throughout her career, perhaps she might have refrained from opposing virtually every proposed increase in defense spending and intelligence gathering resources throughout the 1990’s.

Boxer went on to tell Paul Wolfowitz that “[her] people” (presumably her constituents) wanted to know how the Bush administration could justify spending $45 billion on Iraq, with domestic spending that totals only $64.7 billion combined on Head Start, the National Institutes of Health and highways (truly spoken like a senator consistently ranked as one of the most Senate’s biggest spenders). Well, this constituent understands how such spending could be justified (and respectfully requests that Senator Boxer stop imputing her own ignorance to the voters of California).

As Dennis Miller has helpfully suggested, perhaps Boxer should think of what we’re doing in Iraq simply as “preventive health care.” It’s important for Americans to rebuild Iraq for numerous national security reasons -- to gain stability in the Middle East, offer a model for Arab democracy and minimize the risk that Iraq will become either a haven for terrorist activity or an outright enemy of our country, among others. The money spent on Iraq is intended to secure real benefits for all Americans (a standard that most of the domestic pork barrel spending so beloved by Senator Boxer completely fails to meet).

To round out her trifecta of posturing, Senator Boxer seized one final chance to wax indignant – this time about the proposed Pentagon program to create a market to predict future events in the Middle East. Her opposition isn’t too surprising – she’s apparently never been an ardent fan of free markets of any kind (remember her statement that Communism in Cuba was dead? “I hate to say it, it’s dead.”). But last week, she went over the top in her condemnation, telling Wolfowitz “There is something very sick about [the program] . . . terrorists knowing they were planning an attack could have bet on the attack and collected a lot of money.”

Well, yes, they could – and inform us about the nature and plan of attack at the same time. In the end, it would amount to little more than paying terrorists for information about upcoming attacks . . . not a bad deal, even from Boxer’s perspective. Given her floridly stated concern about “low-intensity” conflict, it’s hardly likely that she’d welcome millions of deaths in a terrorist assault that could have been revealed and prevented – but, then again, it’s so much easier simply to denounce the program (and enjoy that frisson of self-righteousness) than to make the effort to understand its logic. Boxer rounded out her attack by calling for the dismissal of those responsible for proposing the futures market program – a fitting punishment, indeed, for any government employee who makes the mistake of trying to be creative and effective all at the same time.

Cataloging Boxer’s voluminous foreign policy embarrassments is as disheartening as it is tedious. But it’s important. In such uncertain times, it speaks volumes about the Democratic Party that such a profoundly un-serious person is, first, allowed to serve on the Foreign Relations Committee at all, and then, taken seriously even when she reveals her total ignorance of the issues at hand.

Boxer herself might be a more sympathetic figure if she didn’t try to compensate for the weakness of her understanding with the strength of her moral condescension (an ironic approach for a woman who advocated keeping psychopathic tyrant Saddam Hussein in power, remarking on February 17, 2003, “[T]his whole thing of regime change in Iraq is not our business.”). And for someone who fancies herself a female role model, it’s amazing that Boxer isn’t aware of just how much she contributes to misogynist stereotypes about women by relying on emotional hyperbole and cheap verbal jabs, rather than developing a measured style and reasoned analysis of military matters.

Public servants aren’t uniformly intelligent. Nor are they uniformly kind. But more often than not, they are at least one or the other. With a California senator who combines Streisandian erudition with Dixie-Chickian judgment and Alec-Baldwinian charm, the 2004 elections just can’t come quickly enough.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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