news feature
May 25, 2007




The war and presidential politics
the focus at Truman Days
by Tom Bogdon

There was an undercurrent of opposition to the increasingly bloody and divisive Iraq War at the 20th annual Truman Days gathering May 18-19, as Missouri Democrats looked ahead to the Super Tuesday presidential primaries and then to the election of George W. Bush’s successor in November 2008.

The keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, whose Nov. 17, 2005 break with the Bush administration over Iraq galvanized the Democratic Party and helped lead to the takeover of both houses of Congress in November 2006. Murtha received two prolonged standing ovations .

Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha (r), keynote speaker at Truman Days, with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver and former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes. (photo by Tom Bogdon)

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who invited Murtha to Missouri, introduced the Pennsylvania congressman. Other speakers included U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who occupies the senate seat once held by Harry S. Truman, and Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, whose hat is in the ring for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2008. Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders served as master of ceremonies.

At a Saturday morning Truman Days breakfast, former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, a Platte County resident, confirmed her candidacy for the 6th District U.S. House seat against Republican incumbent Sam Graves, saying: “I’m absolutely committed to this race. The people of northwest Missouri deserve better than Sam Graves; the people of the United States deserve better than George Bush.”

In introducing Murtha, Cleaver said he recalled very vividly the congressman’s November 2005 anti-war speech to the House Democratic Caucus, which was significant since Murtha, whose military credentials are impeccable, had previously supported the Bush administration’s conduct of the war.

“Murtha told how he visited the troops at Walter Reed (Army Hospital),” Cleaver said. “He talked about his service in Korea and Vietnam. And he laid out the reasons he no longer supports the war.

“On that day the Democratic Party stood up and again became the Democratic Party,” Cleaver said. “He stood up and said, ‘This is wrong.’”

“I’ve been battered and bruised since I started standing up,” said Murtha, who was first elected to Congress in 1974. “But we took back Congress. You did it. The ordinary people stood up.”

Murtha said he still goes to military hospitals to visit wounded veterans. He said some are blinded; some have lost multiple limbs. Murtha said one young man who had lost both hands asked the congressman if he (the soldier) would receive a Purple Heart, a medal reserved for servicepersons wounded in action.

“I called the commandant of the Marine Corps,” Murtha said. “He told me regulations are pretty strict. I told him I would give this young man one of my Purple Hearts. Then the Marine Corps gave him one.”

One of Murtha’s latest concerns — shared by thousands of military families — is the growing number of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Murtha said about 75,000 Iraq War veterans have this psychiatric disorder, some of whom have committed suicide or attempted suicide.

“I get battle fatigue going to military hospitals,” Murtha said.

Murtha said he wrote to President Bush about his concerns regarding the war, and seven months later he received a reply from an aide to the president. Referring to the Missourian who is current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Murtha said, “Ike Skelton never did get a letter back.”

“We went to war without a reason to go to war,” Murtha continued. “There was no threat to our national security. But they (politicians) say we’ve got to stick it out. But we’re not fighting the war. We’re in air-conditioned offices on our backsides.”

Murtha said the shift to Democratic control of Congress has made a difference; he said there had been five congressional hearings on Iraq in 2006, and more than 30 so far in 2007.

Missouri Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill at Truman Days. (photo by Tom Bogdon)

“When we elect a Democratic president, we’re going to be out of Iraq,” added Murtha.

In recalling the use of “wedge” issues by Republicans, Missouri gubernatorial candidate Nixon said, “They said we were not supportive of kids, of family values. We now have neo-cons running the state. Our legislators spend their time on the defensive. Well, any time these people want to talk about values, I’m ready to talk.”

Nixon added that Republicans have starved higher education with the result that it is very difficult for many high school graduates to go on to study at the state’s colleges and universities. He said Missouri’s current state budget is the largest ever, but the massive health care cuts of two years ago had not been restored, while tens of thousands of children still lack adequate health care.

“We’re working real hard,” Nixon said of his campaign. “We’re determined to fight these Republicans in every corner of this state.”

Speaking after Nixon was U.S. Sen. McCaskill, who served as a state representative from Kansas City and Jackson County prosecutor before being elected Missouri auditor and then last November to the U.S. Senate..

McCaskill recalled how her Senate race was a cliffhanger, and on election night she was getting calls from national people telling her that she was running behind as the returns rolled in. But McCaskill said she was not worried.

“I leaned over and said we’ve been elected to the U.S. Senate because I knew what was going to happen in Jackson County,” McCaskill recalled, noting some of the characteristics of Jackson County’s “bloody knuckles” politics.

Yet McCaskill added that Missouri Democrats have gotten “lazy.” And Democrats now lag Republicans 6-5 in the number of U.S. House and Senate seats. But she added, “With Kay Barnes, we’ll turn it around.”

“We’ve got so much to do,” McCaskill said. “We have to work hard, we have to work smart. We have to take back the Governor’s Mansion. And we’re going to do what Missouri has always done in this country. We’re going to elect a Democratic president of the United States.”

eKC online conducted an informal survey concerning which Democratic presidential nominee had the most support among the 200 or so Democrats who visited the hospitality suites Friday night at the Hilton Garden Inn. All Missouri Democrats (and Republicans) will be able to vote on Feb. 5, 2008, “Super Tuesday,” when voters in about a dozen states, including California and New York, express their presidential preference.

With two votes, former Vice President Al Gore did as well as any of the announced candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Clem Wittman, a United Auto Workers (UAW) retiree and recording secretary of the Greater Kansas City Community Action Program (CAP) Council, said he supports Gore and predicted that Gore would win the nomination and the election.

“He’s in the best position,” Wittman said. “I think Hillary (Clinton) and Barack Obama will wear each other down. Then Al Gore will enter the race in September or October. I think John Edwards will be the VP nominee again. He’ll (Edwards) make a good campaigner up north and down south. Gore’s right on all the issues — I can say this, because I’m retired.”

Betty Dorrell, a Communications Workers of America (CWA) retiree backing Gore added, “Hillary would make a good VP.”

Sixth District Kansas City Councilman John Sharp said he is backing Obama: “I went to his KC rally and I agreed with everything he said. He has the charisma and the electricity to energize our party and unify the country. Really, his campaign reminds me of the Kennedy campaigns, the enthusiasm of the Obama supporters and the number of college students involved in the campaign. They’ve got the energy and enthusiasm to carry Obama to victory.”

Former Jackson County legislator Eugene Standifer at Truman Days. He recalled that his late mother, a seamstress, sewed new dresses for Bess Truman’s Tuesday Bridge Club of Independence for their visit to the White House in 1946. The Bridge Club visit made Life magazine and caused a mild sensation, according to records at the Truman Presidential Museum & Library. (photo by Tom Bogdon)

Michelle DiSanto, a former 11tth Ward Committeewoman from Old Northeast, said, “My dream candidates are Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, the former Alaska senator. But my practical candidate is John Edwards, who is more palatable to middle-of-the-road Americans. I think John Edwards can win the nomination and the presidency, and he would make a wonderful president.”

Rudy Chavez, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 124, said he is backing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

“I’m going to back whoever wins the nomination, but Bill Richardson is my guy,” Chavez said. “I like his experience. He was ambassador to the U.N., a congressman, energy secretary, and he’s governor of New Mexico, a red state. Bill Clinton was governor of a small state from the south. This guy is the governor of a small state from the southwest.”

Mary O’Halloran, a communications consultant and regular panelist on Ruckus on KCPT-TV, likes several of the Democratic contenders but Hillary Clinton “is certainly my favorite. I’m so impressed about how much she’s grown as a candidate. She’s a better speaker. She’s a better debater. She’s a more attractive campaigner than she was a year ago."

State Rep. Craig Bland, the new president of Freedom, Inc., the influential African-American political organization, said he didn’t have a preference.

“What we trying to do is find out what the candidates have to offer,” Bland said. “There are so many things going on now in the U.S. and in the world. There’s health care, the issues of the war, oil and gas, which way’s the economy going, and which candidates offer the best plan.

“So far, I’ve been impressed with some of the solutions offered by Barack Obama, but I can’t make a commitment. Then there’s Hillary, of course, because of what she brings to the table. I’ve also gotten a lot of positive responses about John Edwards, that he’s a viable candidate. So I want to wait and see.”

Tom Bogdon can be contacted at


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