W. wonders why the Dems haven't done more against the Iraq War:
When the Democrats took over both houses of congress, I thought that they'd pull the plug on the war pretty quickly. After all, they're against the war. So last spring, when they decided to defer the question until September, I was a little surprised at their caution, but thought that it was a reasonable approach. However, now that September has come and gone, with the plug still unpulled, I am wondering - what is it with the Democrats? Are they against the war, but only in a theoretical, abstract sense? Or are they not really against the war? They control congress, they've got the mainstream media, and their adversary is a lame duck president who has the lowest approval rating since Jimmy Carter! Are the Democrats unable to lead?Much that you mention is correct, and very disheartening. I quibble with the idea that opposition to the Vietnam War was closely tied to anti-Americanism – maybe on some college campuses, but not in most other places, and certainly not George McGovern (a bomber pilot in WWII, after all). But whatever….
Actually, although the war is supposedly "unpopular", I am struck by how low-key and tepid the opposition is today. Now, Vietnam was an Unpopular War. S***, some war protesters back then killed people! People sewed American flags to the ass of their pants! There were riots! There was a massacre at Kent State! What do we have today? Cindy Sheehan buys a piece of land near Bush's ranch so she can set up signs. Somebody gets hassled for wearing an anti-war T-shirt. Big F***ing Deal.
There was an interview with a local Unitarian war protester in our newspaper. She noted that people seem to feel "disconnected" with the war. I think that is true. There is no draft, so nobody is forced to go unless they volunteer for the armed forces first. I was thinking the other day: if I didn't read/watch the news, how would the war affect my life? Actually, it happens that one of my close friends at work has a son in Iraq, who volunteered for a combat assignment. I do worry about him. Whenever my friend misses a day at work, I wonder if he has received bad news. I do not know how he can handle the stress. However, if it were not for that, I wouldn't even know there was a war on based on everyday direct experience. I checked Aiken County statistics from 2003-2006:
The level of effort that is being put into this war is really very small; not enough to force people to commit themselves to a position. So the Democrats, although against the war, aren't actually willing to spend much political capital to get us out. Cindy Sheehan understands that now. Furthermore, the Democrats learned a lesson from George McGovern -- opposition to an unpopular war, if too obviously allied with anti-Americanism, will lose an election.
- Aiken County traffic fatalities: 140
- Aiken County homicides: 22
- Aiken County deaths in Iraq/Afghanistan: 2
I’m heartened that some Democrats who are obviously reliant on military spending are also willing to work against the Iraq War (Jim Webb of Virginia, for example), but there aren’t enough legislators like him in Congress. We need leaders, but find ourselves surrounded by drones instead.
The dirty little secret (which was just as true during the Vietnam War and part of the reason why that war lasted so long and why this one likely will too) is that while Democratic legislators might be personally opposed to the war, they are quite dependent on the spending in their districts generated by military contracts. From their point-of-view, the problem isn’t the War in Iraq, per se, but to continue the war spending without the distraction of getting people killed. Digby had a recent post on this:
At first, the Global War on Terror looked like a perfect vehicle for their political needs, because Al Qaeda and related groups, while very scary, were not actually that powerful, but since then, the War in Iraq has degraded into a standard, bloody occupation, and the political downside is now larger.
Also problematic is that while Democrats are nominally in control of Congress, their majorities are extraordinarily narrow. So caution is the rule of the day, and extraordinary cynicism too. It’s no wonder Cindy Sheehan told the Democrats to shove it. Any feeling human being would too.
The recent vote in Congress to condemn MoveOn.org for the “General Betray Us” ad was a good example of how Democratic legislators actually feel about the war in Iraq. Half of the Democrats voted to condemn MoveOn.org, including California’s Dianne Feinstein, a nominal liberal, but whose husband is a major defense contractor. This was an extraordinarily stupid vote for the Democrats, because it has alienated the anti-war portion of the party from the legislators (I’ve stopped making any more contributions to the DNC and related organizations, for example, and I’m not alone). To the Democrats in Congress, however, MoveOn.org is an equivalent to the Christian Coalition for the Republicans – the help, not the boss – to be seen, not heard.
So, the Democrats in Congress will move against the War in Iraq if, and only if, it is in their best interest to do so, and not a moment sooner. Since they are likely to benefit from anti-war discontent (if any) they are likely to remain frozen in cement until well AFTER the 2008 election, and maybe not then either.
[Update] W. responds:
The Republican Party is the same way on abortion. The Party likes to give the impression that it is pro-life, but they're not really interested in expending political capital to change anything. Even Reagan was guilty of that. I first realized it when, in the late 90's, with both houses of Congress held by Republicans, they announced that they had "only" 65 votes to for a pro-life bill, not enough to override a veto, so rather than pass the law and put the ball in Clinton's court, they did nothing. And of course from 2001 through 2006, the Republicans had both houses of Congress, AND the Presidency, but I didn't notice much pro-life legislation during those years. Did you?Correct.
The established parties have tended to use volatile issues like abortion, or the environment, as fundraising vehicles, and sources for campaign energy, and not to treat them too seriously.
The trouble is, for the Democrats, the Iraq War is not a matter of lifestyle or morality, but a core issue of state. Kick MoveOn.Org too hard, and the entire left wing of the party could defect. After all, the purpose of the Democratic Party is to address core issues of state, and if it no longer does so effectively, then why support it?
Something similar is at work with the Republicans too, regarding immigration issues. The business wing stands for the status quo. The nativist wing wants better enforcement of citizenship issues. These are core issues of state, not lifestyle or morality issues.
So, the entire superstructure of the current two-party system could become endangered. There are statistical approaches that show that two parties will almost always result from the kind of political system we have (over the years, conservative columnist Mickey Kaus at Slate Magazine has blogged about why that is so). But the parties do not need to be Republicans and Democrats. Other possibilities can be invented (let’s bring back the Whigs!)
Of course, maybe calling these matters core issues of state is an exaggeration. Bush’s refusal to call a draft for the Iraq War suggests that, despite rhetoric, it is a lifestyle matter to him, not a core issue. But it will be interesting to see how, or if, these quarrels get addressed in the coming year.