Monday, January 29, 2007

Long Time Passing

The sight of Jane Fonda speaking at an anti-war march in Washington on Saturday, coupled with the death of Rev. Robert Drinan last night takes me back a very long way. . . but it is not the kind of nostalgia I enjoy indulging. Indeed, as the now 69-year-old Fonda remarked to the hundreds of thousands marching on the capitol this weekend, “I'm so sad that we still have to do this, that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War.”

But it was the passing of Father Drinan that made me really think how far we’ve come. . . and how far we haven’t. Elected to the US House in 1970, Drinan ousted 14-term Representative Phil Philbin in the Democratic primary, running on a staunch anti-Vietnam War platform (his campaign manager that year was John Kerry, btw). The strength of the antiwar message, and the power it had to usher in a new and different generation of politicians had echoes in some of last year’s midterm battles.

However, I would be remiss to remember the Representative from the Massachusetts 3rd as simply an antiwar politician, for Bob Drinan was what should truly be thought of as pro life. With Father Drinan being the only Catholic priest to cast a vote in the US Congress, perhaps you are blinking and rereading, wondering if this blog has been hijacked by some dopple-guy, but when I characterize Drinan as pro life, I am thinking of man who exhibited deep concern for those who were actually living. Besides opposing the senseless killing in Vietnam, Drinan fought for a broad slate of civil rights and social justice issues during his ten years in Congress. And Drinan broke with his church, taking liberal stances on both birth control and abortion rights.

It was his strong big-D Democratic principles that earned him the enmity of George H. W. Bush, then chairman of the Republican Party. It was the Reverend’s small-D democratic principles that focused upon him the wrath of Pope John Paul II. Bush the Elder vowed to drive Drinan from Congress, but was never able to; the Pope, a pretender to the title of humanitarian when compared with Drinan, declared elected public service against church doctrine in an attempt to drive Robert Drinan and his liberal values from the spotlight.

John Paul II forced the priest to choose his allegiance to the cloth over his commitment to the people, but the Pope could not silence the man. Drinan left Congress in 1980, but continued to remonstrate against the unjust policies of Presidents Reagan and Bush the Younger, in addition to testifying against the mockery of impeachment launched by the Republican Congress during President Bill Clinton’s second term.

And impeachment was something he could talk about with authority. It was Rep. Drinan that was the very first member of Congress to file an article of impeachment against Richard Nixon on the last day of July 1973—a year before many of his colleagues caught up to the idea.

Interestingly (though interesting, really, in hindsight only), Drinan did not seek to impeach Nixon over his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. What Father Drinan found most reprehensible almost 34 years ago was the President’s role in prosecuting an illegal war. Back then it was against Cambodia, just across the border from the ongoing bloodbath in Vietnam.

Knowing Bob Drinan’s deep commitment to peace and justice, it makes his passing during another illegal war doubly sad. Over three decades after the US pulled out of Vietnam, we again have to march in the streets to remind our elected officials of what the people stand for and what they stand against. And we again have to contemplate impeaching a president because he has no regard for those people or their constitution.

Those people today, as with Rev. Robert Drinan over the last half century, tried to teach those in power the meaning of life, of liberty, and of the pursuit of peace.

Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?


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