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May 26, 2007

Welcome to 2006

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

All the Democratic sorrow and Republican gloating of the past week came from the heart. With the passage of the Iraq funding bill, Democrats will be forced to watch a thousand more soldiers die, while Republicans can enjoy many more months of pretending they're good at fighting terrorists. But the political impact of the bill is exactly the opposite of what the partisans believe. The Republican Party just signed away its best chance to avoid catastrophe in 2008.

As in 2006, Republicans will be left with total ownership of the Iraq War, and in voters' eyes, total responsibility for disaster. If Democrats had forced a withdrawal, voters would regard them as partially responsible for whatever followed, and as Matt says, Iraq will probably get worse with or without us. (It's our inability to change the bloody course of sectarian dynamics that eliminates any reason to stay.) But now Democrats will be able to run against Republicans on Iraq, just as they did in 2006. And given the trajectory of public opinion, things will be even worse for Republicans than before.

A recent Rasmussen poll showed Americans trusting Democrats more than Republicans on every issue tested -- including national security, where they lead 46-43, and Iraq, 49-37. These are direct results of the disaster that Republicans have inflicted on themselves and the country. And it's partly because of the Iraq War that Democrats were able to take a Senate election where 18 of their seats were at risk versus only 15 Republican seats, and come out with a six-seat gain. Republicans are set on making 2008 a replay of 2006, with two more years for anger over Iraq to make voters hate them, and with 21 of their Senate seats in play. (Democratic investigators are setting us up for a good dose of GOP scandal too, just as in 2006. The US Attorney scandal has already made Domenici beatable in New Mexico, and we've got 17 more months to play.)

Democrats who follow the issues closely are angry at our leadership for capitulating, and I don't blame them. But by November 2008, all most voters will remember of the Iraq funding fight is that Republicans wanted more war while Democrats didn't, and Republicans got their way. One look at Iraq will tell them who's smarter about foreign policy. That's a problem that Republicans have proven their inability to solve, and in November they'll regret bringing it on themselves again.

May 26, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Huh? The Dems portrayed themselves as the ones who were going to stop Bush and his war. This only served to emphasize their emasculation when they capitulated and gave him everything he wanted. Perhaps if they had explained all along that though they wanted to do right by the vast majority of the American people, they were hamstrung by an arrogant and isolated President who would veto any attempt to end the war, they could have maintained their position that it was his war and his alone. But they didn't do that. As a result, now they own the war, too.

Posted by: bobbo | May 26, 2007 11:12:26 PM

I agree with half of what bobbo sez: the Dems really really messed up the story, both before the first funding bill was passed and vetoed, and after they had to back down because of the lack of veto-proof majority (assuming, dubiously, that the Dems stayed together). The real story is that Bush/Cheney and the GOP have played national security as a partisan game, demonizing the Dem. opposition and playing the fear gambit to the hilt.

But my crystal ball is cloudy, and I half-believe that in the long run Neil might be correct and the public will figure out that the Dems just didn't have a real chance to stop this insanity in the face of a loyal GOP in Congress and a stubborn, fact-ignoring, lying-when-convenient, Bush/Cheney administration.

This isn't over till its over, and lots of things could change the dynamics before the 08 elections. The most probable in my opinion is that the current Iraqi government will fall, and that would change even the GOP position, as would a direct request from the Iragi parliament for the US to leave the country.

And then there is Iran. I'm more fearful of that situation exploding by overt design or miscalculation. BushCo is capable of both.

Finally, another major attack on the US by terrorists would create a whole new ball game.

I keep recalling the Ben Franklin story: A woman asked Ben what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had come up with. He responded, 'a Republic, if you can keep it'. That is the real danger over the next two years.

(Waiting for Sanpete to dismiss my paranoia.....)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 27, 2007 12:18:44 AM

Yes, the Republicans wil be hurt deeply by Iraq, but there are at least three other issues that will make the Dems a compelling choice in 2008, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Republican party implodes after 2008. Maybe then we could have a two party state, with the Greens and the Democrats, and the Republicans could be relegated to third party status.

The three other issues are:

1. Public Health, specifically the Public Health infrastructure that does exist in every other industrialized nation, but doesn't exist for most of the USA, and which, coupled with the rise in public health catastrophes brought about by globalization (as in, please no glycol in my toothpaste, not bird flu in my city) and global warming (as in Katrina)

2. Climate Change, which has become a wedge issue for Republicans, and a diplomacy disaster as well, with USA isolated by it's persistant refusal to acknowledge reality.

3.The loss of social mobility, tied directly to the high cost of a good University Education.

If the Dems stay on message, on all three they should win in nearly every state.

PS...Notice how no one is mentioning Jeb Bush's name anymore...?

Posted by: enigma_foundry | May 27, 2007 12:20:56 AM

Yeah, I'm with bobbo on this. All week I've had card-carrying Dems (I'm one, or was, anyway) telling me either, "Aha! Our clever party leaders have wrapped the war around Republicans' necks!", or, "What the hell, nobody will remember this in November '08 anyway".

Maybe so. But it looks to me like the real lesson is, when it came time to go to the wall over what was supposed to be their most important issue, the Dems couldn't be bothered to take a risk. And count on it, this theme is going to appear in EVERY Republican campaign in '08. Because you know what? The Dems didn't even have much at risk. A veto from a widely despised pipsqueak, a guy who's become a punchline?!? Shit, that's a privilege, that's a badge of honor, not a threat.

Posted by: sglover | May 27, 2007 12:22:39 AM

I strongly suggest you read Andrew Bacevich's essay in today's WaPo. It doesn't get much more damning than this:

To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.

Posted by: sglover | May 27, 2007 12:42:44 AM

I don't quite see how voting to continue funding the war, no strings attached, leaves the GOP with total ownership of it. It looks a lot more like the Democrats have bought themselves a share of it.

In the end, this war is Bush's, and by extension the GOP's. But the argument against the Democrats in 2008 is going to be that they own the war too, and passing this bill just gave that argument a lot more credence. I'm not saying it will be convincing, but I sure don't see how this bill makes it less convincing.

There are really only two possible explanations for the Democrats' capitulation. One, they are pansies, and are still, inexplicably, frightened of being called soft on terror by the Republicans. Two, they want the war to continue because they think it will help their electoral prospects in 2008.

They don't come out looking very good either way.

Posted by: Jason | May 27, 2007 12:58:41 AM

while Republicans can enjoy many more months of pretending they're good at fighting terrorists

Perverse way to characterize their reasons.

Iraq will probably get worse with or without us. (It's our inability to change the bloody course of sectarian dynamics that eliminates any reason to stay.)

It's the level of certainty about this, which far outstrips the evidence, that eliminates any soundness in this line of thought.

Neil, your political analysis makes some sense (as do the comments pointing out that the Democrats have actually voted more funding to the war and this own it too), but it's too early. This same decision will come up again in September, and possibly again after that. It isn't over yet.

Waiting for Sanpete to dismiss my paranoia.....

Consider it done, Jim.

But it looks to me like the real lesson is, when it came time to go to the wall over what was supposed to be their most important issue, the Dems couldn't be bothered to take a risk.

Maybe, sglover. Or possibly there are a few Democrats who actually think it's a bad idea to set a timetable, and that the leadership can count votes.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 27, 2007 1:27:48 AM

Two, they want the war to continue because they think it will help their electoral prospects in 2008.

It does make one wonder, eh? Kinda like the endless Republican jerk-off over abortion.

...the leadership can count votes.

Ah yes. The "veto threat". How awful that would be, to force the Idiot Prince to cast a veto, and then have Republicans affirm, yet again, their support for unhindered war. That's some mighty shrewd strategizing there, you bet.

Posted by: sglover | May 27, 2007 1:31:48 AM

The point was that there may be a few Democrats for whom this isn't merely a political strategy, and who won't continue supporting stalling the funding and/or timetables because they think that's not good for the country. Just a thought.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 27, 2007 1:54:19 AM

The point is that anyone who ignores the fact that 70 percent of the American public is against this is delusional. That's putting it nicely. Good luck, with the rest of the blogs, in your delusion because I don't know one single moderate, even Republicans, who supports us staying there. Not one. Other than politicos who can argue their position when it comes to what really matters- what voters feel and think. This decision is out of step with reality. It's really that simple.

Posted by: akaison | May 27, 2007 1:58:39 AM

Who's ignoring that?

Posted by: Sanpete | May 27, 2007 2:15:32 AM

The average low-information swing voter -- the guy who decides most elections -- is pretty clueless about legislative mechanics, and doesn't have a good grip on the fact that Democrats were in position to stop this thing by cutting off funding.

Even more important, Republicans will entrench his perceptions by continuing to portray Democrats as war opponents. The crazy thing about Republicans is that the attacks they like best depend on denying Democrats ownership of this war. They're using their power to buy out our stake in this horrible venture. I'm happy to sell... heck, I'm happy to do some very heavy short-selling.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 27, 2007 2:24:08 AM

The point was that there may be a few Democrats for whom this isn't merely a political strategy, and who won't continue supporting stalling the funding and/or timetables because they think that's not good for the country. Just a thought.

The Senate vote was something like 80-13 against.

So your contention is something like this: Many Dems are solidly against the war, but opposed to any kind of tangible measure to actually bring it to an end. Wow that's subtle.

Who's ignoring that?

You are, for all practical purposes. 70% of the population against the war, 80% of the Senate (and approximately a similar proportion of Dems) for an unchecked continuation. If you don't see the discrepancy, that's your problem, pal.

On to an interesting comment:

Even more important, Republicans will entrench his perceptions by continuing to portray Democrats as war opponents. The crazy thing about Republicans is that the attacks they like best depend on denying Democrats ownership of this war. They're using their power to buy out our stake in this horrible venture. I'm happy to sell... heck, I'm happy to do some very heavy short-selling.

For all the bullshit about how September is going to bring some kind of sea change, the only real difference is likely to be this: Lots of Republicans will try to distance themselves from the war, and now they'll try to obfuscate matters by pointing to votes -- like this last week -- in which the Dems rolled over. The Dems assumed a real measure of complicity with the vote.

You can say that most voters don't follow these votes too closely, and that's true, as far as it goes. But nobody would've remembered the initial "supplemental" appropriation soon after the war began, except for a certain slogan, "He voted for the war before he voted against it". It was catchy, it had more than a kernel of truth, and John Kerry never got away from it.

Posted by: sglover | May 27, 2007 2:44:03 AM

But my crystal ball is cloudy, and I half-believe that in the long run Neil might be correct and the public will figure out that the Dems just didn't have a real chance to stop this insanity in the face of a loyal GOP in Congress and a stubborn, fact-ignoring, lying-when-convenient, Bush/Cheney administration.

Big whoop. The people who voted against invading Iraq in the first place are in a better position than the vast majority who voted for it, despite not having had a chance to stop it. When you know something is going to taste and smell like shit, saying "I don't think you should eat it" is always a good idea - whether or not you're going to be listened to.

What would have been the downside of voting against it, assuming one predicts it's going to go very very badly?

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | May 27, 2007 3:12:13 AM

I'm happy to sell... heck, I'm happy to do some very heavy short-selling.

I thought you were unhappy with the price for this sale, which extends the war.

The Senate vote was something like 80-13 against.

Against what? This doesn't conflict with my point at all. They voted for the supplemental without a timetable. We can't infer from this vote how many Democrats refused to back a bill with a timetable.

If you don't see the discrepancy, that's your problem, pal.

Discrepancy with what? You're being oddly vague.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 27, 2007 3:15:35 AM

Sglover, I think Kerry's cursed tongue did more to make that statement a disaster than the underlying facts did.

There's a simple answer for the Democrats who get accused of flip-flopping. "I wanted to set a timeline for withdrawal, but Bush vetoed and this was the only option left." If your Republican opponent is saying, "so why didn't you cut the funding anyway?" he's pretty close to arguing with himself. It's really not a line he can press.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 27, 2007 3:25:15 AM

I was thinking today that the right way to handle the 'Democrats are refusing to fund the troops' line is, every time Bush vetos a funding bill with timelines, re-vote it back to him. Never let him go a news cycle without a bill on his desk that will fund the troops. Make him keep making funding not happen. Make him go on prime time and talk about how he'd like to sign his name and fund the troops, but he just can't.

Largely, I agree with Neil; 'for the war before he was against it' worked against Kerry in ways that, properly played, this can't be used against Democrats in 2008.

Posted by: NBarnes | May 27, 2007 4:11:31 AM

I agree with Neil here. This is the sequence of events for the average voter. Democrats in Congress passed a law with a pull-out deadline. The President vetoed it and demanded a new bill without deadlines. Eventually the Democrats gave in.

Most people are not going to blame the Democrats here. It's clear that continuing the war is a Republican idea. And yes, this is bad for the GOP politically.

Sadly, I'm less interested in the political future of the Democratic party than I am in stopping Really Bad Ideas. Caving on the issue for political reasons strikes me as deeply immoral, for those people who really think the war is a bad idea. And it's hard to view the peole who flipped between the two major bills as doing anything but that. If they supported continuing the fight, they should have voted against the first bill. If they support stopping the fight, they should have voted against this one.

Posted by: RickD | May 27, 2007 7:36:13 AM

If your Republican opponent is saying, "so why didn't you cut the funding anyway?" he's pretty close to arguing with himself. It's really not a line he can press.

Since when was logic something that stopped a GOPer from spewing forth bile?

Confusing the issue works for the GOP, and there is little distinction between being upset with the government as a whole and singling out one side or the other on this. They all stink and it fuels a "throw the bums out" movement as much as a "why bother, I'm staying home" attitude.

What was required here was leadership. If representatives and senators cannot stand up for principle on this issue, when the stakes are so catastrophically high, then they can't be counted on to do anything that is not a craven, politically calculated game over any issue whatsoever.

Chris Dodd stood up and was counted. Feingold, Kerry and Kennedy all spoke from the Senate floor -- prior to the vote -- as much to explain their position as to persuade their colleagues. John Edwards put as much pressure on Congress as he could from outside.

But sadly absent were people whose position and roles naturally give them a leadership mantle that they could have used to bring others to the battle.

Obama and Clinton waiting until the vote didn't matter, then issuing a press release as explanation was not leadership -- it was gamesmanship. Harry Reid standing on both sides, sponsoring a cut-off with Reid-Feingold then presenting the Capitulation Bill shows he stands for nothing. And Nancy Pelosi appeared particularly weak and ineffectual -- but at least got the politics right.

The outcome Neil, is not avoiding the smears from the GOP because they can't argue with themselves (that never stopped them before). The problem we face is that the Dems already are arguing with themselves.

Posted by: Mark Adams | May 27, 2007 9:56:47 AM

The arguments all come down to this: it's not that Democrats could not stop the war, it's that the Democrats could not stop the war without taking what they believed to be unacceptable political risk. I think they're wrong about the risks, in much the same way that Democrats who voted for the war authorization in the first place were wrong. But more importantly, they're just plain wrong not to do whatever they can to end the killing and dying and damage to American honor. If the war meant to them what it means to many of their constituents-- a moral issue that must be addressed, because lives depend upon it-- then they would have dealt with it, damn the costs. Neil might be right about ultimate political perception, but I'm not so sure. I think once again the Dems have fallen into the "at least Republicans know what they believe in" trap. The anti-war party that won't lift a finger to actually stop a war does not exactly stir the masses, or its own base.

Posted by: Jeff in Texas | May 27, 2007 10:53:17 AM

Neil is the posterchild for the Dems. Like them, in all of his writings his top priority is political advantage.

Jeff in Texas is correct. If they really wanted to stop the war, they have the ability. Political advantage and posturing is more important than anything.

Posted by: Fred Jones | May 27, 2007 12:08:40 PM

Cdn't agree more. And that's why I want Reid, Pelosi et al to be saying at every opportunity something along the lines of: "Well, the President's "win" shows that he still has enough rubber-stamp Republican supporters in Congress to defy the will of the American people and continue with a disastrous policy that will kill more Americans and Iraqis, continue to inflame world opinion against our country for its betrayal of our ideals, and worsen, for generations to come, a clash of civilizations that wise diplomacy could have forestalled . . . " etc etc etc.

Posted by: helmling | May 27, 2007 12:09:26 PM

Neil, I imagine we are both for withdrawal. But these dreamy dialogues won't do as a political strategy:

"There's a simple answer for the Democrats who get accused of flip-flopping. "I wanted to set a timeline for withdrawal, but Bush vetoed and this was the only option left." If your Republican opponent is saying, "so why didn't you cut the funding anyway?" he's pretty close to arguing with himself. It's really not a line he can press."

Anybody can make up a killer dialogue in which leaves your opponent all tongue tied. And then reality bursts in. There was killer dialogue all over the place in 2004, showing up that imaginary Republican interlocutor like nobody's business. Kerry was a war hero! Bush was a deserter! He voted with the information he had - and the president lied! Wow, it was quite a beat up scene. Unfortunately, it only unrolled in Dem faithful heads.

Not being a faithful Dem, I think the Republican could say, and will say, you are right. That is why we suggested benchmarks - through Senator Warner. On the other hand, you can't micromanage the war. And the Democrats agreed.

Then the Dem can cleverly point out that the benchmarks - which the Dems voted for - don't do a thing, since they aren't mandatory. Uh, right.

The Dems just reiterated the mistake they made in 2002 by voting for the war, and I don't think your imaginary dialogue is going to spin that fact. Maybe it will make it easy for hardcore Dems to swallow Hillary C., who has said that she envisions keeping troops - who knows how many - in Iraq, and who voted against the supplemental as window dressing. Anybody who opposes the war should, however, see this for what it is. This war is not going to be stopped unless an anti-war movement outside of the Democratic party can exert the kind of pressure that the system can't bear. It is easy to see, now, at least four more years of war, no matter who is elected president in 2008, and if you oppose the war, don't waste your time or money on Democratic presidential candidates.

Posted by: roger | May 27, 2007 12:29:59 PM

If your Republican opponent is saying, "so why didn't you cut the funding anyway?" he's pretty close to arguing with himself. It's really not a line he can press.

Well, he wouldn't really be arguing that the war shouldn't have been funded - he'll be essentially saying: "If you're so dead-set against the war, why did you vote to continue funding it?" The point won't be that the Democrats should have de-funded, it will be that they either don't have the courage of their convictions, or that they just don't have any convictions.

The danger is ending up with another situation like 2004, where people saw Bush as decisive and Kerry as weak and voted accordingly, policy preferences notwithstanding.

Posted by: Jason | May 27, 2007 12:33:19 PM

This whole conversation again is delusional. The Democrats lost this the minute they voted for this bill. It's really that simple. There are something in life that aren't about arguing your way out of making the hard choice of sticking up for what you claim you stand for. This was one of those moments.

This isn't about political spin, the base, or any of other red herrings that I've read along this thread. They are red herrings because ulimately they are besides the point of what this moment was about. More people are paying attention to the Iraq War or the economy than any other situation. Indeed more than who is running for office or who is in office. Some of them probably don't know Nancy Pelosi by name.

This is about 70 to 80 percent of the population against this. Now all they know is that we are on the other side with the 30 percent. It will never become this inside the political junkie view of thing where you get to argue nuance. This was never about nuance. That you don't get that scares the hell out of me- because you seem like a proxy for the Democrats in Congress.

This was a teaching moment in which the Democrats failed tp teach the American public about what it means to be Democratic. Something aren't about "issue" or spin or politics. They are about defining who are. Some of you- such as Sanpete in which all debates are in his head- never see this point. I can't believe I am going to say this- but I actually agree with Fred along this thred.

I have to honestly ask do any of you who are expecting the best case scenarios of arguing "I voted for it, but I was against it" to work - have you seriously talked to any so called low information voters? All they saw when the Democrats voted for this bill was weakness. That's what this is about. Let me repeat that. All they saw was weakness. Thinking you are going to come back later to change this perception is wrong because the die is cast. They cast it with this decision. Everything from this point on will be about trying to spin and explain rather than simple to understand defining moments like this building confrontation would have been. I once again point out that with 70 percent of the population behind Democrats- essentially it is one they could have won, and won while winning the political battle for the hearts and minds of the Americans in a small but significant teaching moment about what our brand is.

What are you left with now? What is our brand now? Politics as usual. That's why we lost the minute they signed this bill. We could do for a little less spin, and little more common sense every now and again in this. And common sense wise- all I can say is good luck spinning this because we as Democrats are going to need it.

Posted by: akaison | May 27, 2007 12:52:38 PM

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