What about Bob?

We’ve all witnessed with alarm the mounting death toll in Iraq in the spring of 2004—evidence of a debacle to which the world’s future security has become inextricably bound. It’s time for all of us to demand that our political leaders stand up, oppose the war and create an efficient plan for exiting our troops from Iraq.

We’ve yearned all year for such leadership from Robert Matsui, the representative to Congress from the Sacramento area, and we were much heartened to see him finally speak out at a national news conference in Washington, D.C., last Friday, blasting President Bush’s conduct in the war. The conference (held by Democrats to defend House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who had questioned Bush’s basic competence as president the day before) featured our typically under-the-radar Representative Matsui speaking out boldly, calling the president “either clueless or incompetent” about the situation in Iraq.

Kudos to Matsui. After all this time, we were beginning to doubt that our 24-year veteran representative had it in him to speak out about the wrongfulness of the war; his track record on Iraq thus far had been contradictory and uninspiring.

Matsui voted in October 2002 against the first resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. But then in March 2003, he vowed “unequivocal support” for the president and the military operation in Iraq.

After supporting war funding in April 2003, he then voted “no” in October 2003 on Bush’s request for $87 billion in supplemental war funds. That vote was a good one, right? Then why did Matsui choose to become chairman of Representative Dick Gephardt’s California presidential-campaign run? Gephardt is the man who co-authored the resolution giving Bush congressional approval to launch a war on Iraq.

We’ve basically watched Matsui toe the standard, moderate Democratic line on most key issues—from the war to the environment to campaign funding to international trade—throughout his career in D.C. His method of operation as a political leader with increasing powers (he’s a senior member of the Committee on Ways and Means and is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign) usually has been to steer away from the strong positions and the big fights.

As a result (and not surprisingly) Matsui is being challenged in his forthcoming re-election bid by a Green Party candidate—Pat Driscoll, founder of the local Veterans for Peace chapter—who thinks timid Democratic leadership is a big part of why the country is in the mess it’s now in.

As the Iraq death toll climbed ever higher last week, it was at least encouraging to have our congressman come out from the back of the pack and voice his strong disapproval of how Bush has handled war. We urge Matsui to follow through on this new boldness by working aggressively with Pelosi and other Democrats on a strategy to bring the Iraq debacle to a close. The country is crying out for courageous leadership and vision—it’s time for Matsui to step up with both.