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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Parsing Small Words On Iraq: Who Benefits?

As you probably know, the U.S. Senate reared up on its hind legs yesterday and passed a resolution demanding that the Bush administration cut out the happy talk, explain its exit strategy for Iraq, link troop withdrawals to specific benchmarks of progress towards Iraqi self-sufficiency, report regularly to Congress, and generally, stop B.S.-ing the American and the Iraqi people.The vote on that resolution was 79-19, with 41 Republican Senators going over the side.Even more remarkably, this resolution, drafted by Republican Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, was largely a carbon-copy of Sen. Carl Levin’s Democratic resolution, which went down 58-40 earlier in the day. The supposed Big Difference was Levin’s language urging the administration to come up with “estimated dates” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, contingent on everything going on as planned, etc., etc. Check out this colloquoy on the Senate floor between Levin and Warner, and tell me if you think it’s a Big Difference at all. Warner basically agrees Levin’s language doesn’t require any sort of fixed “timetable” or “deadline” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, but worries it might be misunderstood as such. We’re into angels-dancing-on-a-pin country here.But upon this parsing of really small words, the Bushies have staked their entire, and even for them, unusually mendacious, spin operation. The Senate rejected a “timetable,” they crow. The resolution endorsed our policies! If you read the Warner resolution, and understand what it means, that’s a completely crazy reading of what happened, which is that a large majority of Republican Senators suddenly but clearly repudiated the administration line on Iraq, for the very first time. The fact that the Senate also recently passed, for the second time, and this time on a voice vote, the McCain Amendment rejecting the Cheney Torture doctrine, which the White House has indicated is so important that it might generate Bush’s first-ever legislative veto, is another major straw in the wind.The Bushies aren’t the only people exaggerating the difference between the Levin and Warner resolutions on Iraq: some Democratic voices, whom I will not name out of collegiality, are fretting that the Republican defection to a “benchmarked withdrawal” position means our guys must get more rigid and fervent about a timetable and deadline for withdrawal to maintain the requisite partisan differentiation.Ironically, these are among the same folks who have been arguing for a while that the secret of the GOP Machine is its ability to maintain Republican unity while battening on Democratic disunity. On Iraq, we are currently witnessing massive Republican disunity and relatively clear Democratic unity. What, if anything, is wrong with this picture politically?More broadly, let’s look at what’s happening to Bush and to the Republican coalition. After the conservative uprising against Harriet Miers, the White House decided that it had to have “base” support in these troubled times. Hence, Bush substituted Alito for Miers; began supporting right-wing budget proposals in Congress; and most recently, went Nixonian on Iraq, attacking its critics as allies of al Qaeda.The jury’s still out on Alito, but the conservative budget offensive has been derailed by Republicans, and now the “stay the course” offensive on Iraq has been derailed by Republicans as well. Meanwhile, the ethics problems of the GOP and its friends are just beginning. The whole Rove/Neocon/Norquist/Theocrat/Plutocrat alliance that elected George W. Bush is in shambles. Republican office-holders are running for the hills, and for heretofore unimaginable cooperation with the hated partisan enemy.This is a very good thing for Democrats. And while partisan differentiation is always important, we shouldn’t be worried about that to the exclusion of taking every opportunity to let Republicans fall out like thieves, and re-establish ourselves clearly as the party that can best govern the country. I mean, really, if the 2006 elections turn into a referendum on which candidates can most thorougly separate themselves from George W. Bush’s policies, does anyone really doubt the Donkey will prevail? I sure don’t. Let the Republicans fight, and let’s don’t go out of our way to take positions that make it easier for them to pretend they are united.

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