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The Speech She Won't Give

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Until recently, I hadn’t made up my mind. Then Bill, Chelsea, and I sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. Chelsea asked what I thought about Congressman John Murtha’s saying the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq in six months. I commented on this publicly not long afterward; I said that setting a specific withdrawal deadline too soon would be a mistake. I still believe that. But the Bush administration’s open-ended war is just as big a mistake.

"It will be good to have a senator who is a presidential candidate. I’ll use the spotlight to draw attention to New York’s issues."

My opponents will say that I’m being an opportunist, shifting with the public-opinion polls. But that’s just more Republican cynicism. The truth is that I wanted to give President Bush every chance to succeed. That was only fair. The goals—defeating terrorism and building a free Iraq—are too important for partisan bickering. It’s also true that these are genuinely complex problems demanding patience and nuanced solutions.

But President Bush has had his chance. After misleading the nation about weapons of mass destruction, alienating our allies, and unrealistically claiming that triumph would be rapid, the president now offers a false choice between “total victory” and cowardly withdrawal. His refusal to face reality has been disastrous for our troops in Iraq, and it undermines faith in government here at home.

Which brings me back to Jamestown and western New York. Too many of its brave sons and daughters, soldiers Chelsea’s age and younger, have died in Iraq. They deserve our respect and admiration. We also owe the veterans who return an America where they can find good jobs, affordable health care, and quality schools. The Bush administration is failing the Jamestowns of our country, by spending $6 billion a month in Iraq with no end in sight, pushing our national debt deeper into the trillions while cutting the taxes of our wealthiest citizens. Even if this president finds a way out of Iraq soon, he’ll leave a tremendous challenge here at home for the next president. And I’ve seen firsthand how a Democratic president can create a prosperous country after inheriting Republican debt.

Over the past three years, I have criticized President Bush on specific points. A broader, harsher antiwar statement might have been emotionally satisfying to some. But I wouldn’t have been able to forge the kind of bipartisan alliances that helped me deliver for New York, particularly on homeland security. Now, though, it is time for a Democrat of principle and conscience to stand up and say we’ve had enough of the lies. I am that Democrat.

Thank you and God bless America.

Online E-mail: Chris_Smith@nymag.com.


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