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Victory in Defeat: Anti-Bush Iraq War Vet Nearly Wins Republican District

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An Iraq war veteran, Democrat Paul Hackett, may have lost a special Congressional election in a heavily Republican district in Ohio. But his narrow defeat may be counted as a victory the Democratic Party. Paul Hackett joins us from Cincinnati. [includes rush transcript]

And in election news in this country, Republican Jean Schmidt has won a special Congressional election in southern Ohio beating out Democrat Paul Hackett by a 52 to 48 percent margin. Hackett was attempting to become the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress. He had run on a platform highly critical of President Bush’s handling of Iraq. Analysts had originally predicted the Republican Schmidt would easily win since no Democrat had come close to winning the House seat in decades. But Hackett nearly pulled off a major upset by losing by only about thirty-five hundred votes. The Cincinnati Enquirer described Hackett’s run as “nothing short of astounding.”

While he did lose in Ohio, extremely close race of 52-48, many are saying it was a huge victory for him and the Democratic Party in a fiercely Conservative district. No Democrat has won there for thirty years, with Republican victors often taking more than seventy percent. George W. Bush took more than two-thirds of the vote last November. The victor Jane Schmidt is head of Cincinnati Right to life.

  • Paul Hackett, defeated Democratic candidate for Congress in Ohio, narrowly lost the race to fill Robert Portman’s seat.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hackett joins us on the line right now from his home in Cincinnati. Welcome to Democracy Now!

PAUL HACKETT: Thanks so much for having me this morning. Not had too much sleep, but it’s great to talk you to this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s hard to say congratulations on your defeat, but it has astounded many. Can you talk about what happened and the platform that you ran on?

PAUL HACKETT: Well, I mean, I had first confessed that I did not sit around and (quote/unquote) “come up with a platform.” There are many issues that I believe in, and believe very passionately in, and those issues, as they came up in the campaign, I shared with the citizens of the Second District. So, it’s funny, when I hear the term “platform,” I sort of think as though that there was a committee that sat around and said, 'Okay, this is what we believe on this.' I mean, I just felt that in this district there had not been a choice. There had not been an alternative, and that many like me were not being represented, our voices were not being represented regarding many issues in the U.S. government, foreign policy to name a big one that was certainly spoken a lot about in the election campaign, and so forth. And then many social issues, as well. I mean, I just — I’m just not happy with the state of politics in southern Ohio and, frankly, across the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Paul Hackett, let me ask you about Iraq, because that is what you are known for speaking out on. You have called George Bush the greatest threat to this country. Why?

PAUL HACKETT: I think that any president, be he or she democrat or republican, who cultivates a sense that political dissent is unpatriotic, is dangerous. And I believe that this administration has cultivated a — almost a — forgive me, I’m so tired — he has cultivated a sense that political dissent is unpatriotic, and that is completely un-American. Political dissent is what makes America great. It’s what makes us the beacon of freedom and democracy, arguably, throughout the world. And all Americans should be frightened by any government that wishes to quell their public debate and opinions.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hackett, yesterday seven marines died in Iraq from Ohio.


AMY GOODMAN: There were a lot of marines out campaigning for you —


AMY GOODMAN: — leading up to yesterday’s election of Jean Schmidt. Can you talk about your reaction?

PAUL HACKETT: You know, I actually received a phone call. It’s the first time this has ever happened to me. I received a phone call from a family member of one of the marines who was killed, which just blew me away. I was driving in my car, and my cell phone rang and, you know, it’s just — it’s just a horrible tragedy. Some of my marines who I was with in Iraq came to work with me. Marines from all over the United States and soldiers from all over the United States and other service men and women from all over the United States came to help me in this election as word spread of our campaign. And, you know, I’m humbled, and to the chicken-hawks out there that think that what I say about this administration is not representative to some large degree in the military, I say that this was only a shot over the bow. You had better wake up and smell the coffee, because we are minting young Democrats day by day in Iraq, and maybe it didn’t happen in this election, but it’s going to happen in many elections in the future.

And the only criticism that I have heard about my comments regarding this administration are usually of those who have never served in the military. And a very, very small percentage of people have come up to me and said, “I was in the military. That wasn’t right.” And usually then, when I then ask them, “Have you ever been in combat?” the answer is “no.” I have yet, and, you know, I am not asking —- this is not an invitation, but I have yet to have somebody say, “Hey, you know, I was in combat, and what you said was wrong.” That I have not heard. Almost unanimously the word from the veterans that have contacted me by email, by telephone, and come to work with us in person have been overwhelmingly supportive, and so -—

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hackett, you have been very critical of President Bush and of the reasons for going to war. And yet, you say that if your unit is called back, you’re headed back to Iraq. Why?

PAUL HACKETT: Right. Well, look, I’m an American first. Those are my marines over there who are fighting and dying. And I feel a bond with them, and I feel I need to be there with them. And I set my politics aside when I put the uniform on to be with — you know, I really mean this — to be with my brothers and sisters in the Marine Corps. I mean, they are my second family that I have been with many years. So, that’s it. I mean, they need good leadership. I think I certainly try my best to provide that good leadership when I’m in uniform.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you would return to fight a war that you think is unjust?

PAUL HACKETT: Well, I’ve not said it’s unjust. I have said that it’s been mismanaged by the administration. I have said it was a poor use of our military. I’m not quite sure the implication of the label of unjust, so I’m uncomfortable using that. I have been critical of it up and down, but to me, that’s not inconsistent with my desire to want to serve and my desire to want to lead marines and be with them in the field.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you feel about people like Camilo Mejia? He is a Florida Army National Guardsman. He went to Iraq, like you, returned. He was supposed to return to his unit but felt he just couldn’t go back, that the war was unjust, and he didn’t want to be a part of it. He also said he didn’t want to be a part of the abuse at one of the detention facilities in Iraq. He was court-martialed, and he only recently came out of the brig, out of jail, after almost a year in detention. How do you feel about those who are saying no to war and are refusing to return?

PAUL HACKETT: Well, look, let me parse that out. If you’re in the military, and you wear the uniform, that’s a choice that you have made. And if, while in uniform, you make a choice not to go back, you’ve made the choice to be court-martialed. So — we’re big boys and girls. Accept the consequences of your choices. So, how I do feel about it? Hey, he’s an American. Those are his choices. He makes those choices. He lives with the choices that he has made. So I have no empathy, and I have no sympathy, but I have no criticism of that. I don’t know his case, so I take it on the facts that you presented to me, but, you know, hey, those are his choices and, you know, more power to him. I mean, I’m assuming when he makes those choices, he knows the consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the U.S. should get out of Iraq?

PAUL HACKETT: I’m not there yet. I think that — let me step back and say, when you say, 'Should the U.S. get out of Iraq?' Yes. Eventually, yes. The question is, are we going to do it tomorrow, or are we going to accomplish the bare minimum and allow the Iraqis to survive within their defined government and social structure? And right now, I don’t think that any form of security force in Iraq is capable of providing that for the people. And, while it may seem difficult to comprehend on this side of the world, at this point, I believe that Iraq will spiral out of control. And even though it’s in a terrible condition today as a result of the insurgency phasing into civil war, perhaps, I don’t think it’s currently today as bad as it will be if we were to pull out tomorrow. I think that the administration has got to permit the American military over there to fight that fight and train the I.S.F., the Iraqi Security Forces, in a manner acceptable to our military, which I argue they’re not — the administration is not allowing that, so that the I.S.F. can be up to speed and we can get out of there. I think that, as a citizen of the United States, setting aside, you know, my uniform and so forth, I think we need to turn up the heat on the administration and demand some sort of oversight, as citizens, as to what successes the administration is having in training the Iraqi Security Forces.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hackett, one last question. That is, Jean Schmidt, the woman who won, your opposition, Republican, is the head of Right to Life Cincinnati. What’s your position on abortion?

PAUL HACKETT: Right. Well, I think everybody by now knows I’m pro-choice. And I think that is the only choice. I mean, the very simple way I explain that is I don’t need Washington, D.C. coming into my personal life, telling me, you know, how to live my personal life or dictating to my wife what choices she makes with her doctor. And not only is that un-American, it’s contrary to the Republican Party, as best known by perhaps Barry Goldwater. And I think it’s wrong, and I think all Americans need to think very seriously about how much government intervention they want in their personal lives. And if you think it’s just Terri Schiavo or if you think it’s just the abortion issue, think about Terri Schiavo and their family, and there’s another perfect example of Washington intruding into private lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hackett, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us.

PAUL HACKETT: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Hackett speaking —

PAUL HACKETT: Thanks so much for having me on your show.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. Paul Hackett, speaking to us from Ohio. He lost a very closely watched congressional race in a heavily Republican area, lost by 52 to 48, has astounded many, not only in Ohio, but around the country.

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