Iraq Can Lead To A Lasting Political Realignment

Barack Obama has been criticized often by me for lacking sufficient commitment to a politics of contrast. My view was well explained by Paul Krugman in his recent column On Partisanship:

Barack Obama recently lamented the fact that “politics has become so bitter and partisan” — which it certainly has. But he then went on to say that partisanship is why “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that’s what we have to change first.” Um, no. If history is any guide, what we need are political leaders willing to tackle the big problems despite bitter partisan opposition. . . . Or to put it another way: what we need now is another F.D.R., not another Dwight Eisenhower. . . .

Thus it is very encouraging to see Obama take a strong contrasting view on Iraq. And not just for the contrast, but because Iraq CAN be the key to a lasting realignment in favor of the Democrats.

At MYDD, Jonathan Singer highlighted one of the most politcally obtuse statements a shrewd politician has made:

According to an article today in The Politico by Ben Smith, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer believes that the 2008 elections will not center on the issue of Iraq. To be specific, Schumer told Smith, "I think Iraq will not be as strong an issue in the 2008 elections," and that he believes that "the surge will fail and the president will have no choice but to begin removing troops."

What a remarkably dumb statement. Schumer is saying that because "the surge will fail," Iraq will not be the central issue of the 2008 election. Well, one supposes that Democrats are capable of fumbling the issue utterly and that could be so, but one hopes not. Because Iraq is, in addition to being the most catastrophic blunder the Nation has suffered in recent memory, it also creates a potential permanent political realignment in favor of the Democratic Party. In other words, the Iraq Debacle can be a political earthquake along the lines that the Depression was in the 1930s, though not of the same magnitude.

Singer points to the supporting evidence:

. . . [I]t's instructive to take a look at how public sentiments currently stand on American involvement in Iraq, not only in terms of sheer numbers, with somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of the country disapproving of the war, but also in terms of what these numbes mean. Over at the Mystery Pollster blog on Pollster.com, Mark Blumenthal writes the following:
You rarely see media pollsters cite correlation coefficients in their reports. On the other hand, you rarely see a correlation as strong as the one ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer cites in his tour de force summary of public attitudes on the State of the Union:
The root of Bush's problems can be summed up in three words: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. It drives his unpopularity. Among people who oppose the war, a mere 10 percent approve of Bush's job performance; among war supporters, three-quarters approve. The correlation between attitudes on the war and on Bush is a near-perfect .98.

And Bush=the GOP and each and every GOP Presidential contender, most notably John McCain, have embraced Iraq. And they will continue to embrace Iraq into 2008. Consider what the Republicans are doing today:

The Bush administration’s allies in the Senate began a major effort on Tuesday to prevent a potentially embarrassing rejection of the president’s plan to push 20,000 more troops into Iraq. With the Senate expected to reach votes on possible resolutions sometime next week, the signs of the new campaign seeped out after a weekly closed-door lunch in which Republican senators engaged in what participants described as a heated debate over how to approach the issue.

The new effort by President Bush’s allies, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is aimed at blocking two nonbinding resolutions directly critical of the White House that had appeared to be gaining broad support among Democrats and even some Republicans.

. . . As an alternative to that measure and another broadly backed by Democrats, Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, along with Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut, are trying to enlist support for a resolution that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government and describe the troop increase as a final chance for the United States to restore security in Baghdad. The senators have been joined in their effort by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.

Thus Singer is correct when he writes:

It would be difficult to illustrate more clearly, beyond Langer's numbers cited by Blumenthal, that Iraq is the schism within the electorate today. No other issue -- not abortion rights, not taxes, and certainly not immigration -- creates as deep a cleavage among American voters as does the war in Iraq. Given these numbers, it's difficult to envision Iraq not being the issue come November 2008. Public sentiments do change over time. But in the absence of some radical change on the ground -- either all of the sectarian violence suddenly disappearing or, say, the President pulling up all stakes in the country -- Americans aren't going to simply stop caring about Iraq any time in the next two years.

Or the next ten years frankly. Because we will be paying the price of the Iraq Debacle for decades. In 2005, I wrote a piece titled Finalize The Blame Now, where I argued that Democrats needed to hang Iraq on the GOP. In 2006, Democrats clung to the strategy, despite Karl Rove's bluster in the summer of 2006 that he welcomed a referendum on Iraq. And indeed, I believe the blame has been finalized.

You will hear carping about "what's your plan" and all that but that is just meaningless noise now politically. Barack Obama has laid out an important political marker. As I have argued, substantively, I do not think it is a solution - Russ Feingold is proposing the only solution - but it is right politically. John Edwards is basically in the same place. And I think Hillary Clinton will have to follow.

If we still lived in a world of smokefilled political backrooms, and I was someone in that room, I would propose that Jim Webb be our Presidential candidate in 2008. He would be the most politically beneficial to the Party as a whole at this time. Webb would be the Dem politician who could best exploit this potential political realignment. But of course that is not how it works. But we may be achieving the best possible political program - our Presidential candidates will run against the GOP's Iraq Debacle.

Now, if we can just get Obama to hold a strong partisan tone - adopt the Politics of Contrast Senator, and we can stride with great confidence into 2008 knowing that we may achieve the permanent political realignment we all dream of - Obama, Edwards or even Hillary, can then be our FDR.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Obama? (none / 0) (#1)
    by fafnir on Wed Jan 31, 2007 at 10:00:33 AM EST
    Obama calling for withdrawal by March 2008? I can't get excited about waiting more than a whole freakin year to withdraw. Obama is not serious. He should join Feingold who is calling to end funding for the occupation in six months!

    Yes (none / 0) (#2)
    by Edger on Wed Jan 31, 2007 at 10:34:30 AM EST
    hold a strong partisan tone - adopt the Politics of Contrast

    Now is not the time for "making nice" with the bushlicking right/GOP or for "civilly" granting them their wish that their snivelling and whining and crying that they hold "points of view as valid as any others" should be legitimized.

    Herd them off the cliff into the garbage compactors of history, and write it large in the history books and teach it in the schools so that it will never be forgotten how utterly corrupt and evil and wrong and dangerous they were.

    Let them become "The" example of the kind of mindset that needs to be guarded and fought against by civil people. At least they'll be useful in the only way they can be.

    mccain (none / 0) (#3)
    by MinorRipper on Wed Jan 31, 2007 at 01:15:40 PM EST
    McCain has got big issues, among them not really looking all that well and his reputation for having periodic meltdowns and a white hot temper.  He seems to me to be the Republican equivalent of the Bob Dole candidacy in 1996: an old, flawed, weak candidate who happens to be the next in line and was loyal the last time around.  Not sure if you've seen this swift-boat type attack video on McCain that was recently released or not, I've got it up on my blog:

    McCain not well? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Edger on Wed Jan 31, 2007 at 01:36:41 PM EST
    His "health" issues seem to be affecting him in unusual ways too. He appears to be having trouble remembering what he says or means from one day to the next....

    Good to see any Democrat say the correct thing (none / 0) (#5)
    by koshembos on Wed Jan 31, 2007 at 04:59:57 PM EST
    It's great that Obama awakened from a bipartisan comma. Only Murtha and Feingold are openly saying what most Americans believe in. Most of the other Democrats are Lieberman-light.

    If it is up to Bush we will stay in Iraq fighting "the enemy" without knowing even who "the enemy" is.  Two years is a long time and despite "the world according to Iraq" we live in now, we may have quite a few changes. Iran, Glaciers melting, North Korea can all change the picture.

    I slightly disagree on "finalized" the blame. The Democrats have to say "we lost the war in Iraq; now is just the retreat and the realization." Anything else will be almost finalized. Retreating always emphasizing minimizing casualties; not so for Bush.

    Obama and Schumer (none / 0) (#6)
    by Dick Mulliken on Fri Feb 02, 2007 at 09:09:50 AM EST
    I'll surmise that what Obama is after is a restoration of civility and comity in the conduct of Congressional affairs and national discourse. This is not the same as going for wishy-washy compromises. However, I doubt that the right would let this happen.  The right has a  powerful stake in maintaining polarization and nastiness in the media and in Congressional affairs.
        On to Schumer.  He is my senator.  I've admired him since his days in Canarsie. But he astounds me. What planet does he imagine Joe and Elaine live on? Can anyone out there come up with a theory of what is motivating this man?