Friday, May 25, 2007

E.J. Dionne Advises Liberals To Take the Long View

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E.J. Dionne, Jr. advises liberals who are furious over the Democrats' capitulation to Pres. Bush on Iraq war funding to take the long view:

... The decision to drop withdrawal timelines from the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill is not a decisive defeat. It is a temporary setback in a much longer struggle for minds and votes that the administration's critics are actually winning.

The progressives' anger is not hard to fathom. Bush's botched war has been immensely harmful to our country. Polls show that most Americans want out. Democrats won the 2006 midterm election in significant part because of the public's exhaustion with the war and with the Bush presidency. According to the Real Clear Politics Web site, the president's disapproval rating across a series of polls averages 61 percent. Opponents of the war feel the wind at their backs. Why, they ask, did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cave in?
Pelosi's case is that the war's congressional opponents have already helped move the debate by passing antiwar measures and by prying Republicans loose from the president's policy. "It is just a matter of time," she says, before Republicans can "no longer stay with the president."
As a tactical matter, it could have been useful for the Democrats to move another bill containing timelines to Bush's desk for a second veto, simply to underscore the president's unwillingness to seek bipartisan accord on a change in policy. But these are the brute facts: Democrats narrowly control the House but don't have an effective majority in the Senate since Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) votes with the Republicans on the war and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is still too ill to vote.

Democrats, in short, have enough power to complicate the president's life, but not enough to impose their will. Moreover, there is genuine disagreement even among Bush's Democratic critics over what the pace of withdrawal should be and how to minimize the damage of this war to the country's long-term interests. That is neither shocking nor appalling, but, yes, it complicates things. So does the fact that the minority wields enormous power in the Senate.

What was true in January thus remains true today: The president will be forced to change his policy only when enough Republicans tell him he has to. Facing this is no fun; it's just necessary.

Dionne misses the point. Antiwar activists know that Democrats don't have enough votes to override a presidential veto. The point is that what the president wants -- a blank check for endless war with no accountability -- is something this country cannot afford anymore, in every sense of the word "afford." The financial cost, the human cost, and the cost to global and national security is too high. When a policy is harmful, dangerous, and deeply immoral, you don't sign on to it simply because the other side opposes you.

I can see Juan Cole's point that the public's overall mood may be less important to Congress than the political temperature in their own districts and states. It's true that those of us who think Democrats in Congress have nothing to fear from a populace that is overwhelmingly in favor of ending U.S. involvement in Iraq "don't have to run against a well-heeled opponent with lots of money for television spots with which to rip off our faces in only a year."

But that's a lot different from claiming, as Dionne does, that Democrats who voted yes on funding the war with no timeline were acting out of some kind of principled strategy to come back in September with a stronger antiwar bill.

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