- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

If Republicans and Democrats can agree on anything about Iraq, it should be that casualties and partisan politics can’t mix. So it’s worth asking why Democratic Reps. Rahm Emanuel and Jim Turner apparently want to use American deaths for political gain this November.

In late August, Messrs. Emanuel and Turner sent House Speaker Dennis Hastert a letter proposing an unprecedented memorial to the soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. At first glance, the proposal was promising: A memorial would be set up in the Capitol Rotunda, one of the nation’s most revered public places, “to honor the memory of those brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice” and to recognize their families. The memorial would feature photos, short biographical notes and space for visitors to leave messages. It would be the first such use of the Rotunda; never before has Congress designated the space for individual casualties of an ongoing war.

So why start using it for such a purpose now? For the families and the servicemen and women, the congressmen say. “The Capitol Rotunda has been used for public viewing of the most honored decedents in our history,” they said. “This is an opportunity for the entire U.S. Congress to show its strong support for the families and respect for the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

But maybe electoral imperatives have something to do with it, too. With the presidential election seven weeks away, Democrats have been hoping to use the ongoing insurgency in Iraq against President Bush. So far, they’ve been frustrated in their efforts: The latest poll data show John Kerry falling behind the president by a 52 percent to 45 percent margin, and problems in Iraq as having seemingly little effect upon the widening gap between Messrs. Kerry and Bush. So why not put a thousand human faces on the costs of war, and do so in one of the brightest of public spotlights the country has? Here, the prevailing calculus in Democratic circles holds, the president can be made more vulnerable. The problem, of course, is that the calculus is turning out to be wrong. Americans are rightly wary of war and casualties, but are willing to pay a precious price when they judge that freedom is at stake.

To their credit, Republicans are taking Mr. Emanuel on his word. They are considering the memorial proposal as a good-faith effort to honor fallen soldiers.

That’s what it should be, and what it can be. But to make it so, Republicans will need to guide the effort and keep it from becoming the referendum on the election or echo of the Kerry Iraq platform the congressmen seem to intend.

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