WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives debated the war in Iraq for four days this week. As one member after another rose to praise or condemn President Bush's approach to the deepening violence in that ancient cradle of civilization, most expressed sharp outrage or staunch support.
In some cases, though, the men and women who rose to discuss the war chose eloquent words reminiscent of great national debates in the past. Their arguments were filled with history, moral certainty and passion.
Thus, in an all too rare appearance beneath the dome of the Capitol, this week the true meaning of democracy was apparent: The American people were speaking through their representatives.
It wasn't uncommon to hear reverent references to the Constitution, to the words and deeds of such historical giants as Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
Here are some weighty snippets from the war debate:
_Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich.: "I share the sentiments Sir Winston held for Neville Chamberlain: You are an American worthy, who, however the fates may play, will march always in the ranks of honor. Yet, because the resolution thrust before us is a craven exposition of political expediency in a time of national crisis, today many may stray from the ranks of honor.
"My friends, history harkens your honorable hearts to reconsider supporting this immoral resolution. If one believes all human beings are equally God's children, whether they be free or yearning to breathe free, one cannot, after a cruel sip of hope, condemn 20 million of God's equally beloved children to a saturnalia of slaughter."
_Tim Walz, D-Minn.: "This debate has been going on for nearly four years in houses, in grocery stores, in workplaces, in houses of worship all across America. No greater responsibility rests with us, the people's representatives, than debating the decisions involved in waging a war.
"I, like all Americans, wish nothing more than this president had made good decisions and that the situation in Iraq were better. Unfortunately, wishful thinking does not make good foreign policy. But, fortunately, the genius of the founders of this nation is on display right now. This Congress, by taking this first step of oversight and accountability, and passing this resolution, will begin to right the ship of state . . ."
_Joe Barton, R-Texas: "But when the time comes, I am going to vote `no' because I believe as Thomas Jefferson believed, and if you go to his monument not too far from here and look up around the ceiling, Thomas Jefferson says, `I have sworn upon the eternal altar of God unending opposition to all forms of tyranny over the mind of man.' This Islamic terrorist campaign is a direct attack on our democracy. It is a direct attack on our tolerance. We need to support our president."
_Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md: "The world, rich and poor, the people of the world, are intimately familiar with American history. . . . They know the words of Thomas Jefferson: `We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, (and) the pursuit of happiness.' They know Lincoln's words: `With malice toward none and charity for all.' They know Martin Luther King Jr.'s words: `You should be judged by the content of your character.'
"America is the race of races. The melting pot has become a common heritage with the world's people. Our enemies are ignorance, arrogance and dogma. The new phase of the war in Iraq and the global war on terror not only includes the military, it not only includes the intelligence community, but in this instance it must include a surge of diplomacy, to integrate the Middle Eastern countries in a diplomatic dialogue about the stability of the region . . ."
_Tim Walberg, R-Mich.: "As Abraham Lincoln said famously in his second inaugural address: `Fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.' As Americans we are reluctant warriors, but throughout our rich history, whenever our troops have been in harm's way, America has supported the men and women in uniform and made certain our troops have the necessary resources to accomplish their mission.
"Without a doubt, mistakes have been made, and these mistakes are important to acknowledge, but we must go forward with a new strategy in Iraq based on quantifiable goals and measurable results. We must not retreat."