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8/19/2005

The Democratic Party and the specter of 1968

Pat Buchanan makes a good point (I know, I know):
Cindy Sheehan may be George Bush’s problem today, but she and her movement pose a far greater problem for the Democratic Party tomorrow.

...in a slow news month, Sheehan has helped turn the focus of national debate back to the war at a moment of vulnerability for the President. According to Newsweek, support for Bush’s handling of the war has fallen below 40%, to 34%, with 61% now disapproving of his leadership. Put bluntly, the bottom is falling out of support for Bush as Commander-in-Chief. September could see the coalescing of an antiwar movement on the campuses and in public protests.

Why is this not good news for the Democratic Party?

Here’s why. Cindy Sheehan clearly has the courage of the liberal Democrats’ convictions. In their hearts, many of them never believed in this war in Iraq, though their leaders voted for it.

But now that Cindy Sheehan has put a face on the antiwar movement and given it a voice, liberal activists will demand to know where Hillary, Biden, Edwards, Kerry and Warner are, and why they are standing with Bush in support of the war and not standing beside Cindy Sheehan.

Why is no leader in the Democratic Party giving voice to the antiwar cause with the perseverance and passion of Cindy Sheehan? Why are they all hiding in the tall grass, or making statements about how they support the war and the troops, but just disagree with how Bush has managed it. If polls are to be believed, half the nation now agrees with Cindy Sheehan.

She is temporarily filling a vacuum in American politics that been unfilled since the Iowa caucuses, 18 months ago, when the wheels came off a Dean campaign most pundits thought would take him to the nomination.

The problem for the Democrats is this: All their potential nominees -- Hillary, Biden, Kerry, Edwards, Warner -- supported the war in 2002. All support the war today. One day soon, a national Democrat, a Gene McCarthy, is going to break publicly with the DLC crowd and the party establishment on the Hill, stand up and say, “Enough! It’s time to bring the troops home.”

When that happens, the antiwar movement and its new leader will split the Democratic Party right down the middle between “Stay-the-course!” hawks and “Bring-the-boys-home!” doves, just as it did during Vietnam. And if memory serves, Vietnam eventually did far more damage to the Democratic Party than it ever did to the Party of Nixon, Reagan and Bush.
He's right, of course; a deeply divided party is bad, bad news.

Ezra Klein makes a similar point-
The doves hate the hawks, the repentant hawks are cowed by the doves, the unrepentant ones are flirting with the neocons, the neocons are off in lala land, and this has really become more like a clique dealing with drama than a foreign policy discussion ... doesn't this look a bit too much like the circumstances that gave rise to McGovern (and thus, Nixon?)?
- and calls for the left-of-center blogosphere, punditocracy, intelligentsia, whatever to start hashing out what the Democratic position on Iraq ought to be. Presently, he's soliciting answers from the "stay the course" folks:
I want to hear those who think we should stay articulate what we're staying for, what the expended lives and treasure will gain, what conditions will prove the war a success.
That's a good thing; this is a conversation that needs to be had. However, it should be had with two conditions in mind:

1. Immediate withdrawal should be the default position. That is, if the case for 'staying the course' cannot be convincingly made, then the Democrats should advocate ending the war now. In the absence of a compelling reason to be in Iraq, the US shouldn't be there. In other words, the burden of proof ought to be on those who would keep US troops there, not the other way around.

2. It must, at all times, be kept in mind that George W. Bush will be president for the next three and a half years. So just because someone can think of a plan that might make a 'success' of Iraq, that doesn't mean there's any chance in hell it would actually be implemented. BushCo is in charge of this operation, remember. If there does exist a 'plan for success' that the Bush administration refuses to implement, then the Democratic position ought to be: "Either implement plan X, or withdraw now." But it doesn't simply follow from the fact that there are conceivable scenarios under which Iraq could be turned into a 'success' that the US ought to remain there.


...I thought of another thing that should always be remembered when talking about the Iraq occupation. Namely: the US has no 'right' to be in Iraq at all. The US invasion of Iraq was criminal, and the continued occupation is acceptable only on the condition that the Iraqi people want US troops there, regardless of what we might think would be best for them. It is their country, and it is - or ought to be - their decision.

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