More Political Fallout for Barbara Lee

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a black Democrat, has wracked up a string of dubious political firsts since she cast the sole Congressional vote against giving President Bush full license to wage war against terrorists. She has been branded a traitor, un-American, and accused of aiding and abetting terrorism. Her office has been swamped with mountains of letters and emails denouncing her vote.

She is the first congressperson in living memory to require a round the clock police guard. Her picture, set next to a picture of the smoking World Trade Center, is blazoned across the Web site mockingly called The site is a rallying point for Lee haters who want to oust her from Congress. The get-rid-of-Lee drive almost certainly will gain even more steam after her recent vote against Bush's anti-terrorism bill.

Now Lee's critics are really going for the jugular. She will likely draw a gang of challengers to her reelection bid in the Democratic primary March 5. The first of the expected pack of anti-Lee candidates to announce she's gunning to get Lee is Audie Bock. In 1999, the former Green party candidate-turned Democrat got some name recognition when she beat the heavy odds and upset veteran, political warhorse, former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris for a California assembly seat. Though Bock was thrashed in her reelection bid, she will probably have little trouble grabbing cash and backing from outraged Lee opponents throughout the country. Her campaign will boil down to reminding voters that Lee's vote was tantamount to treason and that she is unfit to hold office.

At first glance it looks like Lee can easily beat back her political assailants. Three thousand persons cheered wildly for her at a recent rally in downtown Oakland. Her Oakland-Berkeley Congressional district, which takes in the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the most liberal voting districts in the country. She has a solid record on liberal activist issues, and believes that by the time the dust settles on the war many will applaud her for having the guts to say no to Bush.

Even if that doesn't pan out, she can still hope voters have fickle memories when it comes to remembering and punishing the sins of wayward politicians. She also has a trump card in the black voters who make up a sizeable percent of the voters in her district. Normally, they'd be a sure lock for her.

These are huge political assets that are usually more than enough to ensure a slew of repeat terms for incumbents. But this time it could be different. Polls show that Americans haven't wavered in their fever to nail the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his terrorist henchmen.

There's also the looming threat that if the bombing doesn't succeed in getting bin Laden, and there's much likelihood that it won't, Bush will be forced to up the ante and send in American troops en masse. This would spark pitched battles with the Taliban; stretch out the war for many more months, and likely produce shipments of body bags back home. This would almost certainly cause even more Americans to rally around Bush and the Pentagon.

Bock and the other anti-Lee challengers would have a field day with this. They would relentlessly pound away that she helped sabotage the war effort, and must share blame for the peril to the nation. Blacks also may not bail her out this time. The month before the September 11 massacre blacks were savaging Bush for the Florida vote debacle, the U.S. pullout from the Durban racism conference, and his snub of black leaders. Black Democrats had free rein to pillory Bush anyplace, anytime. No more.

Blacks have done a sharp about face on Bush and the war. In a recent Black Entertainment Television interactive poll nearly half of blacks say they like the job Bush has done as president, and by whopping margins favor the war to root out terrorism. A recent Gallup and Zogby International poll, which many black activists hotly disputed, but is probably accurate given national angst over September 11, found that more blacks than whites back racial profiling, and even national identity cards, for Muslims and Arab-Americans, if it will make the streets and the airports safer.

The Congressional Black Caucus, which waged relentless war against Bush from the moment he took office, instantly rallied round the flag and backed Bush's war power resolution. Some Caucus members broke even broke liberal ranks and voted for the anti-terrorism bill.

Lee showed courage and conscience in taking her lone stand against the war. But Lee may learn the bitter lesson that there's always steep political fallout for those who vote that conscience.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion Web site:

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