Republican Walter Jones has been a conservative voice in the North Carolina congressional delegation since his election in 1994, for which he changed both parties and districts to run. Jones is so conservative that he won and accepted the "True Blue" award from the ultra-conservative Family Research Council. He even gained infamy by leading the charge to change "French Fries" to "Freedom Fries". But his switch from leading war supporter to critic has recently gained him praise from progressive circles.
The most recent and perhaps prominent praise was heaped on him in an article by Mother Jones in their newest edition. Unfortunately, only a small amount of that article is available for non-subscribers online. But what is available is enough for this discussion and is quite well written:
Jones wasn’t the first erstwhile war supporter in Congress to have second thoughts; lawmakers like Senator Chuck Hagel and North Carolina Rep. Howard Coble preceded him in that reversal[.] [snip] Yet among all the defections, Jones’ may be the most telling. The courtly 62-year-old Republican represents North Carolina’s flag-waving 3rd District, home to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune. He is known to his constituents as a staunchly conservative Christian, and known to the nation and the world for his insistence, back during the lead-up to war in 2003, that House cafeterias replace French fries on the menu with “freedom fries.” He banished French toast, too. “A lot of us are very disappointed in the French attitude,” Jones said then.
I think the reason that his conversion was so much better than the others was the manner in which he first expressed his disgust at the war effort:
UNTIL THE CONGRESSMAN from North Carolina spoke, the hearings were proceeding routinely. The Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives was convened on April 6 in a stately room in the Rayburn office building to consider the progress of the war in Iraq; much of the testimony was barely more animated than the paintings of deceased legislators adorning the walls. Richard Perle, a former Pentagon adviser and one of the war’s principal architects, had taken the witness chair. He was serene and unflappable as he answered questions about the Pentagon budget, oil prices, and the training of Iraqi troops. Then the chairman called on Rep. Walter B. Jones. Glaring at the witness, Jones quoted a statement from Perle’s testimony suggesting that the administration had been misled in its assessment of Iraq by “double agents planted by the regime.” The congressman’s voice quavered as he demanded an apology to the country. “It is just amazing to me how we as a Congress were told we had to remove this man, but the reason we were given was not accurate.” “I went to a Marine’s funeral that left a wife and three children, twins he never saw,” Jones said, his voice cracking as his eyes began to water. “And I’ll tell you—I apologize, Mr. Chairman, but I am just incensed at this statement.” He continued, “When you make a decision as a member of Congress and you know that decision is going to lead to the death of American boys and girls, some of us take that pretty seriously, and it’s very heavy on our hearts.”
That statement by Jones accelerated the anti-war movement to another gear. When it was only liberal Democrats protesting the war, Bush had an easy way out. He just blamed Democrats. Once Republicans got into the fold the calculus changed. Remembered that it was Republicans that finally convinced Nixon to step down not Democratic investigations or threats of impeachment. That is also why Clinton showed up to a press conference with a group of Democrats the day of his impeachment. Once someone on the other side breaks ranks the ability for real movement begins. Many progressives have launched into long rants on how the praising of Jones is a betrayal to Democratic values, including this one from Real Values. I understand the desire not to rush to congratulate Jones, but this is a destructive reaction that will only hurt progressives in the future. By not being willing to acknowledge when a member of Congress is doing good, progressives leave themselves looking like fanatics. They also deprive representatives of needed encouragement to take those positions.
The Republicans are known for their party loyalty. One reason they have such loyalty is that they punish those that disagree with them. Jones has been punished for his stance. He has lost funding and now faces a conservative primary challenger as a result of his conversion. Therefore, those of us that welcome his position and the fact that he had to break ranks to get there must support him. If we do not, we are giving Republicans more leverage in controlling their members. We as a movement must be able to praise Jones for his conversion. After all, we still have the ability to say we support this vote but do not support Jones because of his social positions. We should not let social positions blind us the way that abortion blinds those on the Right or we are no better than them.