Run a web search for “Barbara Lee” with “traitor” and you’ll get more than 600 hits. Go to www.politicalusa.com/specials/traitors/traitors.htm, and you’ll see a photo of Lee captioned “Traitors [sic] – Barbara Lee”. U.S. Rep. Lee inspired all this when she became the only member of Congress to vote against the sweeping Sept. 15, 2001 war declaration that gave President Bush equally sweeping power to make war against any “nations, organizations or persons” he deemed affiliated with the 9/11 tragedies.

But Lee was reelected to her California congressional seat in a landslide, and as the Afghan aftermath went bad and more became known about Iraq, she started getting better receptions around the nation. In 2002, she received the Wayne Morse Integrity in Government Award (Morse was one of two members of Congress who voted against war in Vietnam). Last weekend, Lee received a thunderous ovation at the Nevada Women’s Summit.

When you cast that vote, did you anticipate the intensity of the reaction?

I knew that it was a very difficult vote for many because we all were very angry, the country was in mourning, we were quite frankly thinking about the loss of life and what this all meant. Precisely for that reason I felt that was not the moment to cast a vote that would lead to war in perpetuity. That’s what happened. You know, oftentimes in the midst of storms, one has to try to be rational and try to set out a course that is an alternative so that our country and our people and the world will be safer as a result of a horrific act, rather than be put in harm’s way.

In a lot of districts, Nevada’s among them, both parties’ congressmembers tend to support presidents’ military adventures— Libya, Grenada, so on. How can the system offer more of a choice than that?

I think people have got to rise up and say, “This is a democracy, and we want a foreign policy that protects our national security but that provides for international cooperation and diplomacy because the world is a very small place.” If we don’t understand the causes of terrorism and work with countries that we don’t agree with … to make the world a safer place, we won’t be safer. These adventures, these bombings, these wars are wrong. They’re killing civilians, they’re killing our young men and women. Their families are hurting. Economic security is [something] that military families don’t have as a result of this administration’s policies. I think it’s just very important that the American people demand that their government not put their tax dollars into waging war, forever.

As Afghanistan has slipped back into warlordism, and we have not found the WMDs in Iraq, have people’s reactions to you changed?

I think what I’m witnessing now is more [people] coming out and being more comfortable in talking about the fact that they support my position and my vote. Initially, of course, John Ashcroft and this administration really, as a result of the PATRIOT Act and other measures, instilled fear in the psyche of the American people. I think people are beginning to see this for what it is.

At one time, some of the things said about you would have been considered beyond the pale. What has happened to the political dialogue that this is possible now?

I don’t think they understand this a democracy, and that whether you agree or disagree, in a democracy, dissent and debate are central. So those are organizations and individuals who I question in terms of their commitment to the flag, in terms of their commitment to patriotism, because they certainly don’t understand the constitution and understand what the constitution entails in terms of allowing for the voices of all to be heard without being attacked.

Avatar photo

Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...