Thursday, May 24, 2007

What part of “majority” don’t you understand?

After weeks of standing tall and standing fast, the Democratic leadership seems on the verge of, once again, standing for nothing. Claiming that they don’t have the votes to override a Bush veto, the likes of Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Steny Hoyer have agreed to strip the Iraq war supplemental spending bill of any real restrictions on the president’s usurped power to continue to make mayhem in the Middle East.

Rather than building on a strategy that has unified most Democrats and allied Congress with the sentiments of three-quarters of American voters, while effectively driving a wedge between Republicans and those same voters, rather than ratcheting up the pressure that effectively planted a ticking time-bomb within the Republican caucus, causing those members that hope for a political future to privately, or sometimes openly, question their dead-ender president, rather than blaze a new way forward while just maybe saving a few lives in Iraq as well, Democrats, in their infinite wisdom, have chosen the comfort of concession, the tough talk without the tough action, the tried and true road back to mediocrity and minority.

Rather than strengthening the new narrative that had an out-of-touch president as the last man on earth that thought things were going well in Iraq, and Republicans slowly mustering their own circular firing squad as they nervously eye the electoral calendar, a vote on another blank check for George Bush will split the Democrats. When the supplemental comes to a vote, those members of the majority that still have a spine and a conscience—some predict 120 of them in the House—will vote against their leaders’ “compromise.” In the Senate, I expect a dozen or more Democrats will break with Reid, lining up with Senator Russ Feingold, who expressed his outrage this way:

Under the President’s Iraq policies, our military has been over-burdened, our national security has been jeopardized, and thousands of Americans have been killed or injured. Despite these realities, and the support of a majority of Americans for ending the President’s open-ended mission in Iraq, congressional leaders now propose a supplemental appropriations bill that does nothing to end this disastrous war. I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history. There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action. Congress should have stood strong, acknowledged the will of the American people, and insisted on a bill requiring a real change of course in Iraq.

The length of time before the establishment media reverts to the “divided Democrats” meme will be measured in minutes, if not seconds.

And therein lies the other defeat for Democrats. Beyond losing the battle to end the battle in Iraq, beyond losing the trust of the progressives that worked so hard last year to return the party to majority status, beyond losing additional lives and limbs while they fecklessly wait for the next meaningless milestone or pretend deadline to see them in September, the Democrats, by backing down this week, have lost control of the narrative, and so, have lost control of their brand story.

As Drew Weston wrote—and I blogged about—last week, how the Democrats square off with the White House sends a meta-message about how they will handle confrontations across the board:

The willingness of Democratic leaders such as Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi to stare down the president has done far more to reassure the American people that Democrats know how to deal with aggression than all the efforts over the last five years to show that they, too, "support our troops."

It had done more, anyway. Now, with Reid saying we just can’t override Bush’s veto, goshdarnit, and Pelosi helping to negotiate a bill that she then announces she cannot support, the party is back to sympathizing with losers. Reid, who likes to remind us from time to time of his prizefighting days, should know better. You can’t win this one on points. History is not written by loveable losers, and there is no short-end money for the thousands upon thousands of Americans and Iraqis who will have their lives permanently altered over the next 120 days.

Reid and his Democrats could have been contenders, but, instead, they have bought themselves a one-way ticket back to Palookaville. Once again Democrats will be forced to argue that they really, really do “support our troops,” instead of being allowed to talk about how Bush’s rope-a-dope is killing our fighting men and women and the very civil and military structures that truly safeguard our country.

Of course, the idea that refusing to throw more good money after bad and refusing to sacrifice more soldiers and marines to the disappearing dream of a permanent Republican majority is somehow anti-troop is absurd on its face. The thought that de-funding Bush’s war will somehow strand Americans on a sand dune somewhere in the “triangle of death” with no bullets and no ticket home is so ridiculous it shouldn’t require a response. Yet, this is the story that Democrats are about to let Republicans and their media mediators tell: We can’t have a stand off with the White House, because we support our troops. Refusing to approve the blank check supplemental, so the story will go—has to go—is tantamount to leaving Americans in Iraq to fend for themselves.

Nothing, of course, is further from reality—I mean real reality—wars have been de-funded before, and the result hasn’t been “run for your lives!” The result has been a reasoned and reasonable redeployment, and would be this time, as well. The generals in the field know it, the Pentagon knows it, even the White House knows it (albeit they keep it to themselves), but if the American people are to know it—know it in a way that frames the debate moving forward—then the Democrats have to embrace it.

Instead, it seems, we will continue to be held hostage by the Republican myth machine, with our Democratic leaders exhibiting what might be the first recorded instance of Stockholm Syndrome by proxy.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, the Democrats have, if only for a few more hours, the cheers of an adoring nation. . . or, if not adoring, strongly supportive. Three quarters of Americans—what we call a vast majority—think this occupation is going horribly wrong. A majority support a drawdown of American troops. A majority support a real timeline with an end certain. A majority trust the Democratic Congress more than the President to manage this mess. A majority of independents, a majority of suburban voters, a two-thirds majority of voters in Republican districts all want to see Congress send Bush a bill with restrictions or deadlines. No matter how you slice it, a majority of Americans are against this war, and a majority of Americans want you, the Democrats in Congress, to bring it to an end.

Do that—or, at least continue to try to do that—and you, the Democrats who represent us in Congress, will be thought of as strong. Even if Bush vetoes and threatens to veto again, Americans will have your back because they will believe that you have theirs. Continue to fight, and you will be winners. Capitulate, and you will be losers.

How hard is that to understand?

Action alert: The vote on this compromising compromise could come as early as today. Please call your Representative—especially if he or she supported the McGovern amendment—and call your two Senators—especially if they had voted for the Feingold-Reid resolution last week—and tell them to stand strong and vote “no” on this version of the supplemental spending bill.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)

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