The Party of Cut and Run?
By David Frum
Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2005
National Post (Canada)
Publication Date: November 22, 2005
At last, a little reality. On Thursday, Democratic congressman John P. Murtha delivered a dramatic, tearful denunciation of the Iraq war. The speech carried special force because Murtha is one of the more hawkish members of the Democratic caucus: a Vietnam vet, a former Marine, a past chairman of the House Armed Services committee.
Murtha announced that he would soon introduce a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The proposed resolution was lengthy, wordy and argumentative. It contained eight "whereas" clauses before ending with a euphemistic demand for "redeployment" of troops out of Iraq.
The Republicans maneuvered quickly and introduced a stripped-down version of Murtha's resolution. No "whereas" clauses, no long preliminary arguments, no euphemisms, just a clear, plain text: "Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."
Democrats exploded in outrage.
The Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, called the resolution a "disgrace." The number two Democrat, Steny Hoyer, called it a "shabby, petty political maneuver." Veteran Democratic lawmaker David Obey sputtered "How dare you? How dare you?"
Why were they so angry? It has been the Democrats' strategy ever since last year's election to shun any discussion of the future course of the Iraq war. They will angrily criticize the management of the war. They never tire of arguing and rearguing the original decision to go to war. But when asked what should be done now, they respond--in the words of Democratic national committee chairman Howard Dean: "Right now it's not our job to give out specifics."
Ah. And when will it be their job? "When the time is right," says Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic congressional campaign committee.
So you can see why Democrats would mightily resent being pinned down before Dean's and Emanuel's magic hour arrives. Faced with a clear choice, they retreated from their own wild words. The House voted 403 to three against immediate withdrawal, with John Murtha himself joining the majority against withdrawal.
But here's what I don't get.
Democrats know they have a problem on national security. They know that Americans do not trust them on defense issues. They remember losing the presidency in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988 very largely because Americans perceived them too dovish. After 9/11, Democrats vowed not to repeat their past mistakes--which is one reason that so many of them voted for war with Iraq in October, 2002. (Of the 50 Democratic senators in office at the time, 29 voted for war, including both John Kerry and John Edwards. Eighty-one Democrats voted for war in the House, including then-House leader Richard Gephardt.)
The puzzle for me, then, is this: Knowing all that, why can't any leading Democrat resist the temptation to wobble?
Why, in the hours after Rep. Murtha's speech on Thursday, didn't some ambitious Democrat--Evan Bayh, say, or Hillary Clinton--publicly repudiate the idea of withdrawal? Go to the floor of the House or Senate, attack the mismanagement of the Bush administration, blah, blah, blah, but then add: "We Democrats are not the party of cut and run. We are not the party of the white flag. We are the party of Harry Truman and John Kennedy, not George McGovern and Michael Moore. George Bush is losing the war in Iraq. We Democrats are determined to win."
Why can't a Democrat say that? What is in the water that they drink that even a tough nut like John Murtha reacts to a frustrating military situation by saying he's had enough and it's time to quit?
The public opinion numbers on Iraq are bad right now. The latest CNN-Gallup poll reports that 63% of Americans disapprove of George Bush's handling of it. The same poll finds that 54% now regard the war as a "mistake." Those are tempting numbers to an opportunistic politician. But they are also dangerous numbers. Calling for a bug-out may raise Democratic numbers in the overnight polls. But it will not serve them in the 2006 and 2008 elections, any more than it did in 1972 or 1968. The American voter may allow himself to grumble and falter--but that same voter will not forgive grumbling and faltering in a would-be leader.
Right now, the talk of Washington is how cleverly Hillary Clinton has positioned herself slightly to the right of left-of-centre by eschewing the anti-war talk of a Howard Dean. The other major candidates are attempting their own variants of this maneuver. But a maneuver that looks like a maneuver is no maneuver at all. If Democrats want to be seen as tough on defense, they must actually be tough on defense. Toughness is tested and proven in times of adversity. And once again the Democrats are flunking.
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.
...perhaps we should not be viewing this as party politics. perhaps we should look at the situation in the field and how it will affect the US. ....and maybe forget about how it will affect the elections.