A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

April 25, 2007

The Democrat’s Dilemma

Michael Barone writes:

End the war. Fund the troops.

You can sum up the argument between George W. Bush and the Democratic majorities in Congress in just six words. Both the House and the Senate have now passed supplemental appropriations that in different ways call for a beginning of an end to our military involvement in Iraq. George W. Bush threatens to veto them and any supplemental that places limits on military operations. It’s clear that the Democrats don’t have the votes to override a veto, or anything close. The Senate version, passed 51 to 47, sets a goal of withdrawing most of the troops from Iraq by next March. The House version, passed 218 to 212, sets a date by which all troops must be gone: September 2008.

The House and Senate must reconcile the two versions, and then the leadership must get the common version through both houses. That may not be easy. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska says he’s reluctant to vote for a version with a timetable. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly conceded that the conference committee will “take the Senate language on goals.” But that will be a hard sell in the House. The 71-member Progressive Caucus headed by Lynne Woolsey and Barbara Lee (who cast the sole vote against military action in Afghanistan) in February called for withdrawal in six months. Pelosi and the majority leader twisted arms and ladled out enough pork (relief for spinach farmers, etc.) to get most of its members in line in March on a bill with a deadline. Now, they’ll have to work to get them to vote for a bill without one.

That’s the problem when you load up a bill that all knew was a game of political chicken with the Administration that it’s going to be even more difficult to wratchet up support from the part of the Congress that represent the majority and base of the Democrat’s anti-Iraq stance. The hard left didn’t want to go this route, and wanted to defund, and it will be tough for them to ever go along with “more moderating” forces in the Democratic caucas.

The alternative is to get Republican votes. But only two of them voted for the March bill, and few are likely to support anything but a “clean bill,” with no deadlines, goals, or benchmarks. But that would enrage many Democrats. The CodePink group and other antiwar organizations have already been staging demonstrations in Pelosi’s office. They’d get really angry if a Democratic House passes a “clean bill.”

The Democrats will face the same problem when George W. Bush vetoes their bill. They would like to end the war, but they dare not end funding to the troops. They can hope that the sympathetic mainstream media will put the blame on Bush. But they can’t help remembering that the last time an opposition Congress refused to meet a president’s demand to fund the government, it was the speaker — Newt Gingrich — not the president — Bill Clinton — who plummeted in the polls.

The Democrats may be finding that their “constituents” and in many ways it is the new base of the DNC are not easy to deal with. Why is that so, because they are in essence more left than the GOP’s base is hard right. While the GOP has its share of extremes on the hard right, there is softening among many Evangelicals on some “core Conservative” issues, such as Global warming and undue influences of corporatism. Also, the shift in the GOP base is becoming more of a coalition of similar interests rather than harsh ideology. Many would consider this blog to be Conservative, however, many Conservatives would call this blog liberal. The GOP “Conservativism” is more a hegemony, rather than a full set ideology. No Goldwater Conservative would be in favor of NCLB or as it was framed The Patriot Act, yet many Conservatives are in support of these two distinctly “Big Government” and anti-libertarian (which was a feature of Goldwater Conservativisim). Within Conservativism you find an unusual coalition of HAWKS, Federalists, Social Conservatives (Anti-libertarianism), Economic Tax Coalition Conservatives, and Small Government Conservatives. In reality there are very few Rockefeller Republicans left in the GOP anymore, as most in the Party will be able to state with some degree of truth that they are true “Conservatives” in one aspect of the philosophy, but the very nature of the Libertarian strands found in traditional Conservativism runs very much against the strengthening of the Federal government.

Good Cop

Conceding this point earlier this month was Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin as well as one of the most visible Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama. Levin has called for a bill setting political goals for the Iraqi government. Whether Bush and congressional Republicans would accept that is unclear. It could be argued that it would enable Bush to play the good cop with the Iraqis, with the Democratic Congress as the bad cop. Or it could be portrayed as micromanaging by 535 commanders in chief.

We see here a division in the Democratic Party — its politicians and its voters — that we have seen ever since military action started to be considered in 2002. Then, most House Democrats voted against the Iraq war resolution, most Senate Democrats for it. The lineup today is not necessarily the same: Levin, who voted against the war resolution, insists the troops must be funded; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who voted for the war resolution and said last November that, of course, the troops will be funded now, says he’s for Sen. Russ Feingold’s March 2008 deadline.

What the Democrats are doing at this time is not in the interests of the country – or at least that is the position of the Administration, but at the very least their political flexing of muscles may in the long term by disastrous for their party. The hard left with regard to war policy also is typically on the hard left on all other issues such as increased government spending on social programs, ending NCLB policies, radical shift of social policies with regards to hot button issues such as same sex marriage, and policies which many parts of the mainstream Democrats and those few “Blue Dogs” who ran rather well in traditionally GOP regions, may cause for the Democrats to be victims of their own success, which in reality was a reflection of the failure of the Adminstration to “keep” the nation in the loop and on their side with regard to Iraq and frame the war effectively as part of its efforts in the War on Terror. Also, the failure of the Administration, to make progress with the Democrats in areas where there was closer alignment to the Democrats in Congress, rather than the GOP, particularly with immigration reform, was a tremendous failure to allow for moderating factors to make some in the Democratic Caucas, and there are many reasonable people in that caucas, to feel that the Administration could work with the oppostion party. There is still opportunity for the Administration to perhaps give in some areas, particularly immigration in exchange for a few of the those Democrats who are in regions where the hard left positions of their base threaten their own political necks. In essence, the Democrats are finding out its one thing to win an election, but governance is an entirely different thing.

What’s curious is that congressional Democrats don’t seem much interested in what’s actually happening in Iraq. The commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, returns to Washington this week, but last week Pelosi’s office said “scheduling conflicts” prevented him from briefing House members. Two days later, the members-only meeting was scheduled, but the episode brings to mind the fact that Pelosi and other top House Democrats skipped a Pentagon videoconference with Petraeus on March 8. How long this fight will go on is unclear. Some Democrats predict that it will go on for months. But their dilemma remains the same. They want to be seen as acting to end the war. But they dare not be seen as not funding the troops.

The real problem that some Democrats may find is that their leadership is possibly serving them badly. By making their disdain of the Administration so clear, and by a refusal to even meet with Petraeus, they show their hand clearly. The question is the nation so weary of war, in effect are Americans the paper tigers that Bin Laden alluded to, that no amount of mental energy can see the potential catastrophic results of accession to the enemy in Iraq, which by and large since the surge have been the agents of Al Qaeda.

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