Joseph M. Hoeffel, a Democrat and former congressman from Abington, has returned to the spotlight in recent weeks with a media tour promoting his new book about the lead-up to the Iraq War.
In it, Hoeffel doesn't pull any punches, starting with the title: The Iraq Lie: How the White House Sold the War.
Hoeffel, 64, was a state representative from 1977 to 1984, a Montgomery County commissioner from 1992 to 1998 and 2008 to 2012, and a U.S. representative from 1999 to 2005.
Since retiring from politics, Hoeffel said in a breakfast interview in Abington on Monday, he's enjoying a quieter life as a lawyer, adjunct professor of political science at Temple University and, for the first time, a published author.
Question: Why did you decide to write this book now, more than a decade after the vote to authorize the war?
Answer: When I read the Bush team memoirs, I got so frustrated because only George Tenet and Colin Powell told the truth. . . . The memoirs by Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice - they're still trying to con us.
I had stuff I wanted to get off my chest, I was frustrated by my own mistake in voting for the war, I wanted to set the record straight. I didn't want the Bushies to get away with trying to rewrite history.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from your book?
A: The major lesson of Iraq is that if any president asks for congressional authority in the future for preemptive use of military power, the intelligence has to be disclosed. Not just to all the members of Congress, but to the public.
The intelligence judgments in a national intelligence estimate are just opinions. They're well-educated, hopefully backed up by information, but they're opinions. There's no risk to national security in disclosing those for the public to chew on and the press to question.
Q: Would you run for office again?
A: It was exciting when I was in the middle of it, but it seems impossible now to go back.
The reason I left what was becoming a safe [congressional] seat in 2004 . . . is that it was getting so partisan and nasty - that was 10 years ago, and it's worse today. Much worse.
I couldn't get anything done. The day-to-day was so frustrating. You're one of a pack, our team against their team, and it's total victory or total loss on every issue.
Most people in government would die to be in the House. But that was the truth of it, I couldn't get anything done.
Q: That problem seems to only get worse with time. Is there any way to solve it?
A: Voters have to wake up a little bit and stop rewarding politicians that go to the extreme of the political parties. Stop rewarding them for being extreme and for fighting all the time.
And the Supreme Court should do something about gerrymandering.
Q: There was no lack of candidates this year to fill your old seat in the 13th Congressional District. Were you surprised to see a four-way Democratic primary?
A: It became pretty obvious that Brendan [Boyle] had a huge advantage, being the only Philadelphian. And a very attractive and hard-working politician in his own right.
As hard as I worked for Daylin [Leach], and as good a campaign as I think Daylin ran, I think Montgomery County will love Brendan. That's a solidly Democratic seat now, so I think he can hold that as long as he wants it.
Q: As a friend and supporter of Leach, what did you think of his marijuana sampling in Colorado?
A: [Laughs.] Totally in keeping with Daylin. I was laughing about how he made a point of saying, "Well, after I sampled marijuana, we were in lockdown for the night, I was in my hotel room guarded by my staff."
Q: Some of your students at Temple will become the next generation of politicians, reporters and professionals. Is the future in good hands?
A: The kids are sharp. Skeptical about government, which they ought to be.
When I graduated from college in 1972, we were very idealistic, we wanted to stop the war in Vietnam, we wanted to do a lot of things. I think kids today are much more cynical because government's been so crappy.