Now that the Senate’s had its debate on Iraq policy, the GOP spinmeisters are working overtime to draw attention to Democratic divisions. It’s true there’s a difference of opinion between the 13 senators who voted for the Kerry-Feingold fixed deadline resolution and the rest of the Caucus. But in the end, all but six Senate Dems voted for the Levin resolution calling for a beginning of troop withdrawals by the end of this year and demanding some sort of public strategy for the Iraq endgame.I have to strongly disagree with my colleague The Moose, who characterized the Levin resolution as “withdrawal lite.” Last year a majority of senators from both parties voted for a resolution calling 2006 “a year of transition” for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which means some troop withdrawals. The administration’s own position is that we should all look forward to troop withdrawals as soon as is possible; the Bushies simply want to keep their plans a secret until that first photo op of soldiers and marines coming home, probably right before the November elections. And this is not just a matter of focusing exclusively on U.S. needs: it’s clear Iraqis overwhelmingly want a tangible indication that the build-up of Iraqi security forces, which will soon meet its original targets, will produce a reduction in the U.S. military presence, if not a full withdrawal.The idea that the Levin resolution represents some sort of party-wide tilt to the antiwar cause strikes me as simply wrong. Nobody can accuse, say, Sen. Hillary Clinton of being unwilling to upset a large number of Democratic activists by remaining committed to the possibility of a successful conclusion to the horribly botched Iraq occupation. Yet she was a cosponsor of the Levin resolution and spoke forcefully for it in the Senate (as did DLC Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Carper).It’s certainly true that the Levin resolution is worded in an ambiguous way, leaving open the timetable for withdrawal depending on conditions in Iraq. But the situation on the ground in Iraq is ambiguous as well. Our military leadership is clearly ambiguous about our future role in Iraq. For all its happy-talk, the administration is ambiguous about the political stability of Iraq. And the American people–a majority of whom favor a decisive shift towards Iraqi responsibility for Iraq’s security, even as they oppose a quick withdrawal–are about as ambiguous as you can get.In the end, the Levin resolution reflected a simple call for a change of course and a strategy for moving towards the goal we all share: an end to this war. A large majority of Senate Democrats supported it. And I am personally convinced Republicans will rue the day when they decided to draw even greater public attention to the Bush administration’s record in Iraq, and the GOP’s united support for its incompetent leadership. They’re just not as crafty as they think they are.
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By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.