November 6, 2006 | Family Security Matters

It’s National Security, Stupid

There is no doubt that a wide variety of issues factor into the dynamics of this year's midterm elections. While the war in Iraq looms large, nationwide voters will decide directly on measures dealing with everything from stem cell research (Missouri) to the minimum wage (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio) to the amount of living space that farmers will be required to give pregnant sows (Arizona). For me, however, this election, like every election, is fundamentally about national security. Any government's first task is providing for the defense of the nation, without which justice, welfare, and all the other blessings of liberty are, at best aspirations.
Given the security situation across the globe in general and the Middle East in particular — the deteriorating situation in Iraq, the brewing crisis over Iranian nuclear ambitions, the continued spread of radical Islamist ideologies and activities — this axiomatic emphasis on national security means that whatever differences we Americans have between ourselves on how we organize our society and lead our lives, we can only carry on arguing (as we should as a free people) so as long as we remain free and are protected from those to whom our very debates are anathema.
Of course despite the deadly seriousness of all this, modern elections are about images and there's one image that I'm frankly surprised has not already been plastered across our television screens and which I hope, if the conventional wisdom is correct and Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, does not begin to appear prominently in the media coverage of the global war on terrorism: Alcee Lamar Hastings, Democratic Member of Congress from the 23rd District of Florida.
Mr. Hastings is currently the second-ranked Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. However, as the Washington Post's Charles Babington first reported more than a year ago in a story that has never been denied (and which has been confirmed by numerous press accounts, including the congressman's hometown Miami Herald), presumptive Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to replace the current ranking Democrat on the committee, California Representative Jane Harman, with Mr. Hastings in a gesture to the Congressional Black Caucus to whose support she owes her current leadership and whose members were angered when she picked Harman to be the ranking member over Georgia Representative Sanford Bishop in 2003 and when she pushed Louisiana Representative William Jefferson (he of the frozen cash) off the Ways and Means Committee earlier this year.
My difficulty is that Mr. Hastings has been allowed by Ms. Pelosi to venture anywhere near national security matters at all, much less onto a field as vital as the oversight of intelligence organizations ranging from Central Intelligence Agency to the U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Department and everything in between, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.
Mr. Hastings's own website says this about his pre-Congressional background: “Known to many as ‘Judge,' Congressman Hastings has distinguished himself as an attorney, civil rights activist, judge, and now Member of Congress. Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, he became the first African-American Federal Judge in the state of Florida, and served in that position for ten years.” What it omits are the reasons why his judicial tenure ended after only a decade. Barely two years into office, “Judge” Hastings accepted a $150,000 bribe in exchange for giving a lenient sentence to two swindlers and then lied in his subsequent testimony about the incident. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives impeached Mr. Hastings for bribery and perjury and the Democrat-controlled Senate of the United States convicted him in 1989, making him only the sixth judge in the history of the Republic to be removed by Congress.
In its vote convicting him, the Senate neglected to include language barring him from seeking future federal office. Thus Mr. Hastings was elected to Congress in 1992 as the representative of a new, specially-designed majority-black district. There, his record on counterterrorism measures is not especially reassuring. In the 109th Congress alone, he voted against authorizing the trial by military commissions of unlawful terrorist combatants, against the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act, and against the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act. He has also been an opponent various counterterrorism tools, including NSA communications intercepts and terrorist financing tracking.
While Mr. Hastings has not been much of the national campaign issue that perhaps he might have been, should a Speaker Pelosi seek to elevate him over the generally centrist Ms. Harman who, while critical at times of the Bush administration's conduct of intelligence and counterterrorism operations, has also introduced sensible legislation on national security concerns including government-wide security clearances and enhanced seaport security, she will certainly be sending a powerful signal that, election year rhetoric aside, her priorities have little to do with “providing for the common defense” (to say nothing about ethics in government).
This time, more than ever, it's not the economy. It's national security, stupid.        

J. Peter Pham, Ph.D., is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, and an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.