Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Democrats Have Lost Their Cool

William Kristol argues in this week's Time that the new Democratic majority's hipness has worn off. Kristol suggests that party members were caught off guard by President Bush's backbone on Iraq:

When last seen before election day 2006, the Democratic Party seemed the very soul of moderation. And they stayed the course for the next two months. House Democrats refused to replace their No. 2, the moderate Steny Hoyer, with the antiwar Jack Murtha. Speaker Nancy Pelosi emphasized her maternal and grandmaternal qualities as she shepherded through the House a modest and popular agenda of ethics reform, a minimum-wage hike and cheaper drugs for seniors. The Democratic presidential flavor of the month in the shopping season before Christmas was the fresh-faced, not-too-partisan Barack Obama.

But in the past few weeks, the Democrats have gone wild. The mushy domestic agenda is quickly disappearing beneath a tide of antiwar agitation in Congress. Joe Biden is leading the way, seeking to have as one of the first acts of the new Democratic Senate a nonbinding resolution condemning a troop increase in Iraq. Others want action, not just words. On the presidential side of the party, Hillary Clinton has gone at breakneck speed from being a mild critic of the war to calling for a legislated troop cap and threatening to cut off funds for the Iraqi army. Obama and John Edwards are cheerfully one-upping her by demanding a firm schedule for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. What happened?

In part, an accelerated presidential race, with its own dynamic. In part, the fact of congressional majority status, which has its own dynamic too. But in largest part, Bush. He crossed up the Democrats. They expected him to stay the Rumsfeld-Abizaid-Casey course in Iraq. Or, they thought, he might accede to the Iraq Study Group, admit errors and lead us to gradual defeat. Neither would have required Democrats to do anything much except lament the lamentable situation into which Bush had got us. Instead, Bush replaced Rumsfeld, rejected the Iraq Study Group's slow-motion-withdrawal option and chose to try a new strategy for victory, backed by a troop surge. The Democrats were genuinely shocked that Bush wouldn't behave as if the war was lost....

Then last Sunday Clinton, under pressure from antiwar activists in Iowa, reacted indignantly to matter-of-fact statements by Bush that the broader war on terrorism--and the war in Iraq--wouldn't be resolved by the time his successor took office. Clinton took offense: "I think it's the height of irresponsibility, and I really resent it. This was his decision to go to war; he went with an ill-conceived plan and incompetently executed strategy, and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office." This was an odd statement. After all, we presumably should get out of Iraq on whatever schedule we can responsibly do so, not so that the next President won't be bothered in her first few months in office with something messy and unpleasant. But her statement was a sign of Democratic frustration overtaking Democratic good sense. Why the frustration? Do Democrats worry that Bush's new strategy might actually work? Or, even if it doesn't, that Republicans might not be penalized politically for supporting one last try for victory? In any case, it would be ironic if the anger of Democrats at Bush and his war, unleashed by his recent attempt to win it, undoes their moderate image of 2006 and hurts their chance to succeed Bush in November 2008.
Clinton's moves last week have likely ended her six year effort to appear as a Democratic moderate in the Senate. I've previously mentioned how I was impressed by her knowledge on Iraq, as well as her reserve on the question of a precipitous withdrawal. But after this week's display of pandering to the base, I'm not so sure.

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