Iraq Supplemental: Is The Problem Cowardice? No, Poor Thinking
Jon Alter, writing about the Dems' Iraq Supplemental disaster, says:
It isn't easy to make the case for capitulation and gamesmanship when human lives are at stake, but I'm going to try. That's because many Americans—especially on the left—don't understand why Democrats in Congress had no choice but to proceed the way they have this week on the war in Iraq.
I'm going to concentrate only on the politics of the situation here, let's leave the human lives at stake aside. Ahhhhhh. Just writing that sentence tells us what is wrong with this thinking. The POLITICS won't let us leave that aside. For this is the essential Democratic problem, they are viewed as standing for nothing. For having no principles. As Ruy Texeira and John Halpin put it:
The thesis of this report is straightforward. Progressives need to fight for what they believe in -- and put the common good at the center of a new progressive vision -- as an essential strategy for political growth and majority building. This is no longer a wishful sentiment by out-of-power activists, but a political and electoral imperative for all concerned progressives. . . . [T]he underlying problem driving progressives' on-going woes nationally [is] a majority of Americans do not believe progressives or Democrats stand for anything.
Alter's thinking is a reflection of this.
In writing about Bob Shrum's book, Matt Yglesias demonstrates that this is a problem that infects all Beltway Democratic circles:
[O]n the most important moral and political issue of the day, they [Kerry, Gephardt and Edwards] all broke the wrong way, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Shrum concedes that he urged his clients to do this, going so far as to say that he prevailed upon Kerry and Edwards to opportunistically endorse a war they knew was wrong. Most astoundingly, he clearly regards this claim as something that will be helpful to the politicians in question, a misjudgment that would seem to speak volumes about the difficulty his clients have had in winning presidential elections.
. . . He, Shrum, fails to grapple with his own admission that the war vote was a mistake, for if voting in favor of the Iraq resolution was a political and substantive error in a race against “a wartime president” then it was surely a very big mistake. . . . [I]n retrospect what’s shocking about the miscalculation on the war vote is less its simplistic nature—the war authorizing resolution was high-profile and popular, so Shrum advised his clients to vote for it. But neither Kerry nor Edwards was in a tough 2002 reelection battle. It didn’t matter whether or not the resolution was popular. A politician who took a stand against it would have two years to wait for events to vindicate his view. As, indeed, the skepticism about the war that Shrum attributes to Kerry and Edwards was vindicated by election day 2004. Which might have done them some good had they actually made the right call. The view that good policy is good politics sounds sappy and naive, but on this kind of issue it’s true—the first thing you need to ask yourself when trying to decide whether or not backing some invasion will be politically savvy is what you think will happen if the invasion actually takes place.One could imagine situations where merits and political imperatives pull in opposite directions, but as a general matter substantive insight into foreign policy will be more useful—even from a crassly political point of view—than will the latest polling numbers. Nominally, Shrum agrees with this premise, observing that “if the party doesn’t stand for something more than a set of poll-tested programs and a carefully engineered set of tactics to win office then we are likely to lose unless the Republicans hand us victory on a platter of indisputable failure or perceived economic crisis.” . . .
Alter's advice is to wait for the inevitable failure in Iraq:
The whole “support the troops” meme has become a terrible problem for Democrats. Even though, as Glenn Greenwald has argued in Salon, cutting off funding doesn't mean soldiers will have their guns and bullets and armor taken away in the middle of a battle, Americans have been convinced that it does. They want to end the war and support the troops at the same time—i.e., send back the food and still eat. This is not a figment of some spineless Democrat's imagination but the reality of what he or she will face back in the district over Memorial Day. Democrats who vote to cut funding not only risk getting thrown in the briar patch by Republican hit men in Washington; they also might not be able to satisfy their otherwise antiwar constituents at home.
This begs two questions. If the not funding option is "abandoning the troops" is an immutable belief of the American People, and I have seen NOTHING that proves this point (the only polling on the matter is simply grossly inaccurate in describing the not funding option), then why go down this road in the first place knowing Capitulation would be at the end of the road? Alter and just about everyone else in Democratic circles was thrilled with the original House Iraq Supplemental strategy. If they all knew this would be the inevitable end, why were they so happy? This did nothing good for Democrats at all. Given the central image problem Democrats have, that they are spineless (and it is not just the progressive base that thinks this), how could this strategy have been thought to make any sense? It NEVER made sense. Neither politically nor substantively.
Which brings me to my second point; Alter writes:
The second problem is that even if Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to adopt the Chinese-water-torture approach, they don't have the votes for it in the Senate. Not gonna happen now. Pass-veto, pass-veto sounds good for Edwards on the stump but, sadly, bears no relation to reality on the ground in Washington. And the one thing we've learned from Bush's fiasco in Iraq is that we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be.
If Democrats do not have the votes to overcome Bush's veto or even pass a bill, then why in God's name would they pursue a strategy that is dependent on garnering enough votes to override a Bush veto? I have written ad nauseum that the strategy to follow, and it may not work, requires pursuit of tactics that do no require veto proof majorities, or even simply majorities in both houses of Congress. You have read it here many times:
This is a preemptive post, because I am positive that the naysayer will trot out the same critiques about the NOT funding the Debacle approach that was used when Feingold first proposed his Not Funding plan in January. To wit, we don't have the votes, McConnell will filibuster, Bush will veto. My response remains:
I ask for three things: First, announce NOW that the Democratic Congress will NOT fund the Iraq Debacle after a date certain. You pick the date. Whatever works politically. If October 2007 is the date Dems can agree to, then let it be then. If March 2008, then let that be the date; Second, spend the year reminding the President and the American People every day that Democrats will not fund the war past the date certain; Third, do NOT fund the Iraq Debacle PAST the date certain.
Some argue we will never have the votes for this. That McConnell will filibuster, that Bush will veto. To them I say I KNOW. But filbustering and vetoing does not fund the Iraq Debacle. Let me repeat, to end the war in Iraq, the Democratic Congress does not have to pass a single bill; they need only NOT pass bills that fund the Iraq Debacle.
But but but, defund the whole government? Defund the whole military? What if Bush does not pull out the troops? First, no, not defund the government, defund the Iraq Debacle. If the Republicans choose to shut down government in order to force the continuation of the Iraq Debacle, do not give in. Fight the political fight. We'll win. Second, defund the military? See answer to number one. Third, well, if you tell the American People what is coming for a year, and that Bush is on notice, that it will be Bush abandoning the troops in Iraq, we can win that political battle too.
This approach is perfectly consistent with the so called "short leash" plan, where the Debacle will be funded in 3 month intervals. But it is only consistent if BOTH are done. The intention to NOT fund the war after March 31, 2008 must be made the Dem position now.
The short leash must be pulled to a stop on March 31, 2008.
Say it now so you can end it then. If you do not say it now, then you can't end it on March 31, 2008.This approach has the following virtues: (1) you are funding the troops in the field; (2) you are giving the Surge a chance to work; (3) you are laying out a plan the American People support; and most importantly, (4) you can end the Debacle and bring our troops home.
Alter would counter that:
®easonable people can disagree over tactics. Sen. Russ Feingold argues that by not voting to cut off funding, Democrats are becoming complicit, and taking co-ownership of the war. Feingold's far-sightedness on the war (he was much more prescient about its folly than I was) deserves great respect. But on this narrow political point, he is mistaken. Democrats who vote to cut off funding can be more easily blamed for the war's failures, especially in swing districts. That's why the leadership is letting members vote their consciences, rather than try to enforce a party line vote that would not prevail in the end, anyway. Pelosi's position is the right one—she's voting against the bill but not trying to make others do the same.
First, why does Alter misstate the Reid/Feingold framework. NOT funding after March 31, 2008 is NOT cutting off funding now. Is this simple fact so difficult to understand? CNN made the same mistake in its poll but I expect better from Jonathan Alter. Second, to go back to my purely political critique, why go through the whole Iraq Supplemental charade? Alter says reasonable minds can disagree on tactics, but I don't accept that ANY reasonable mind can now think that the Democratic tactics on the Iraq Supplemental made sense on any level. Reasonable minds can and must see that those tactics were a failure, an abject failure that only hurt Democrats.
My friend David Sirota and I privately discussed the issue of House procedural rules and whether the Democratic leadership should have allowed a vote on the, in essence, GOP/Blue Dog proposal that has now become law. We discussed the procedure called a motion to discharge, whereby, a majority of the House can force a bill to the floor.
It seems to me that if, as Alter says, Democrats in "swing districts" can not stand up to end the Iraq Debacle by setting a date certain for not funding the war, then they should own the problem, and not saddle the entire Democratic Party with their problem. Let these wavering Democrats, the Webbs, Testers, McCaskills, et al, deal with their political problems by voting with the Republicans and for the Iraq Debacle if they must. To damage the Democratic Party as a whole for the sake of their imagined fears (I think they are being utterly foolish on this issue as Democrats have been forever, see ironically, Jon Alter on this issue), but if that is theur judgment, then let them live with it, don't pin it on the entire Democratic Party.
But that puts these Dems in a tough spot doesn't it? They don't want to support Bush's Iraq Debacle on their own, they want the cover of the Democratic Party's anti-Iraq Debacle message. Well, time for that is now past. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been forced to swallow too much on Iraq strategy. They represent districts too. They represent Americans too.
If silly Dems believe swing districts will punish
Democrats for ending the Iraq Debacle, then let them vote for the Iraq Debacle. But let them live with their choices and not force them upon the entire Democratic Party.
Because, whether Alter and other "pundits" and politicians, like it or not, the progressive base of the Democratic Party will punish the Party in 2008. I certainly will urge them not to. but calling them idiot liberals, Naderites and other such names will not change the fact that Democrats will be punished for not trying to end the Iraq Debacle.
Come September, if Democrats do not stick to their guns on Iraq, I predict a serious and important rift in the progressive base, one with serious political consequences in 2008.
Alter and other supporters of the Capitulation Bill best deal with THAT reality.
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