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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Calling Dem Bridge Builders: Time to Lead

Kevin Drum’s “It’s all about-face for the Democrats” in today’s LA Times is a good read for Democrats who are seeking a semblance of party unity on Iraq policy for the ’06 and ’08 elections. While it’s unlikely that Dem doves and DLCers will cuddle up anytime soon, Drum argues that it should be possible to avoid the circular firing squad that so often undergirds GOP victories. But he warns:

Needless to say, an internecine war between its hawks and doves is the last thing the beleaguered Democratic Party needs. You can be sure that Karl Rove would do his best to hammer such a wedge straight through the heart of the party come election time. So both Democratic factions would be well-advised to do some serious thinking before their disagreements get out of hand.

Drum is clearly right, and it’s time for the grown-ups to build the bridges we need to win back congress and the white house. Drum urges Dem liberals to help lead the way:

For their part, members of the antiwar left have an easy role: They should continue to push establishment Democrats to support withdrawal from Iraq, but they should also make it clear that no one will be punished for doing so, regardless of their past support for the war. However angry they are, doves can best serve their cause by not demanding tortured explanations and tearful apologies. A change in position should be enough.

Yes, and both sides could give the snarky insults to each other a rest for a while. Drum believes that the situation in Iraq is rapidly approaching the point where our current policy is indefensible even to moderates and thinking conservatives, and Dem leaders who supported the occupation are going to need room to change:

The hawks have a much harder job. They’re the ones who need to publicly change their position, an act that carries the risk of being tarred forever with the dreaded label that killed Kerry’s presidential campaign: “flip-flopper.” Besides, mainstream Democratic politicians and their advisors genuinely think immediate withdrawal is a bad idea that likely would plunge Iraq into a savage civil war.
…For any Democrat who has been on the record for the last two years as supporting the war in Iraq, advocating withdrawal will take guts. But being the first liberal hawk to seriously propose such a solution would also carry some rewards: The antiwar left would finally have someone to rally around, and the Bush administration would finally have some serious competition.

If Drum is right about this— and it is hard to find even a shred of evidence that Iraq is not becomming another quagmire — it’s going to be tough for Dem candidates who support continued, indefinite occupation. Drum goes on to make a strong case for a “phased withdrawall” from Iraq, with a “hard end-date two years from now.” Agree or not, his argument is well-stated and his points deserve thoughtful consideration.