What Integrity Looks Like
Until recently, I've been completely unimpressed with Washington antics. Politicians get paid a lot of money to do their jobs. They take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Watching them blatantly abdicate their responsibility in the run-up to the Iraq war was almost as difficult as watching most of America let them get away with it.
Worse, however, has been watching these elected officials sit on their hands as Americans die every day in the desert amid the stateside failure of policy and leadership.
I had all but given up. Then I met Walter Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina. While generally conservative, he's got a solid track record of recklessly leading with his heart and voting his conscience.
I first heard of him prior to the invasion of Iraq. Like many others on Capitol Hill, the White House sold him on the idea that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States and that there were links between Iraq and 9/11. Angry that our allies saw such overwhelming evidence in a different light, Walter Jones insisted that french fries be renamed "freedom fries" in House office building cafeterias.
Since the invasion, Jones has distinguished himself by actually paying attention to facts as the Bush administration's arguments started to show cracks. He began to see in Iraq what he saw Vietnam: a war justified by false pretenses and empty ideology that had the real consequence of needlessly killing American soldiers. Jones started sending personal letters with handwritten words of condolences to the families of every soldier killed in Iraq. The hallways outside of his Capitol Hill office are lined with the faces of the fallen.
My family recently went to Washington to thank Walter Jones for his efforts. One of those pictures in his hallway is of my brother, Sgt. Sherwood Baker. One of those letters he sent is on my living room table.
Sherwood was killed in Baghdad last year. His death has kept my faith at the fore. That faith is challenged, quite honestly, when I hear the warmakers extolling their belief in Christ as their savior as they drop cluster bombs and commit other people's children to the hell of war.
Walter Jones could easily be considered one of "them" -- a Christian conservative. I sat next to him in his office and quickly relearned how wrong it is to label a person. As a Christian myself, I understood immediately that his personal belief in Christ has been the basis of his actions. The most obvious aspect of our meeting was the authenticity of his humility.
He began by speaking specifically to my mother and the mothers of two other fallen soldiers who were with us.
Tears have been easy for me to come by over the last 14 months since Sherwood died. The catalyst could be the unabated laughter of my nephew or the national anthem; anything, really, that brings Sherwood to mind.
When Walter Jones said this simple sentence, "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for this war," I found myself unable to hold them back.
I waded through the election rhetoric last year waiting to hear those courageous words. My brother was on the security detail of the Iraq Survey Group. He died looking for those non-existent weapons of mass destruction that President Bush used as a rationale for this disastrous war.
Walter Jones is now introducing legislation that seeks a timetable for exiting Iraq.
The leadership that advocated for the Iraq war has displayed a deplorable contempt for reality. Our troops suffer injury and death every day. The Bush administration, meanwhile, finds it best to nurse its own bruised egos, to spin history and the truth on their heads just to make themselves look good.
Walter Jones, on the other hand, has done what Jesus would ask. Those principles have led him through a maze of unchecked passion and righteousness. And now, he finds himself in catharsis, staring at revelation. Some call this the path. The next step on that path is to try to right the wrong.
As a conservative Republican congressman who has changed his mind about the war, he's in a position to do it. This country needs a restoration of integrity and competence in our government. Walter Jones stands as a beacon of hope that we are pointed in the right direction.
This piece originally appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.