Over Before It Started
I'm pretty down with Matthew Yglesias on this one:
The only showdown that mattered happened months ago. Democrats passed a war appropriation that funded the phased withdrawal of troops. Bush vetoed that appropriation and said he would only sign an appropriation that funded open-ended war. Bush sought to portray a congressional refusal to appropriate money for an open-ended military involvement in Iraq as some kind of plot to leave the troops starving and without bullets in Iraq. The press largely bought into this frame, which was re-enforced by the fact that many leading Democrats immediately decided to buy into as well. The party then decided not to try to fight to reframe the issue but, instead, to accept it. Given that framing of the question, the only thing to do was surrender and give Bush his money. And given that precedent, the only thing to do is to keep on surrendering any time Bush rhetorically holds the troops' well-being hostage to his preference for perpetual war.
That was a blunder -- a decision that condemned hundreds of Americans to die in Iraq -- and one that appears to have resulted from a total failure of the leadership to do any advance planning about their legislative tactics. All of September 2007 has been a meaningless sideshow. People find it comforting, I guess, to try to convince themselves that MoveOn is the reason our troops will be engaged in at least 18 more months of futile combat in Iraq, but it's just not true -- legislative defeat in September was inevitable, and the war is still very unpopular and still a very promising issue for 2008.
It's important to note that MoveOn is just as much a scapegoat for ineffectual Democrats as it is for Republicans. However, Ygs starts his piece with this obligatory "Of course I agree it was a dumb move to call him Betray Us," in this de rigeur 30 lashes with a wet noodle that all deeply serious liberals must endure if they want to make any point about that ad. I much prefer Rick Perlstein's take, arguing that sometimes you have to step on a few toes to get noticed.
The word among the supposedly right-thinking people in Washington is that, of course the Bush Administration is wrong on this, and on the merits, MoveOn is right—but that they shouldn't be so shrill about it. They shouldn't have used such blunt words. They're loud. They're rude. And this won't do. So maybe it's even OK to vote for this anti-MoveOn resolution—love the sinner, hate the sin!—to get our side back on the respectable path. They "hurt the anti-war movement's cause" more than they help it.
I thought of this as I read a review in the Texas Observer about a new book on Maritn Luther King. The reviewer reminds us of all the Americans who believed King was right on the merits, but shouldn't be so shrill about it. Shouldn't have used such blunt words. He was loud. He was rude. He who "hurt the Negro cause" more than he helped it—in fact, Gallup did polls on this very question, and learned that "even liberal whites," as the book's author points out, "interpreted nonviolent protest as a prelude to violence, rather than its politically efficient alternative":
In June 1963, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that King headed was in the midst of the Birmingham campaign that brought images of Bull Connor’s police dogs into Americans’ living rooms, 60 percent of all Americans thought the public demonstrations with which King was by then synonymous “hurt the Negro’s cause” more than they helped it. By May 1964, that percentage had risen to 74 percent. By October 1966, following the SCLC’s nonviolent direct actions in Selma and Chicago, it reached 85 percent.
"You're right, but you're too rude" is the response of a party well down the path to surrender to evil. Let's start using proper words: what Petraeus did, what President Bush ordered Petraeus to do, was evil. A Democrat—and, yes, a Republican—who votes to censure MoveOn will be no better than one who voted to censure Martin Luther King. What we're up to here is a crusade to save the country from mountebanks and blackguards. It's not a schoolhouse sing. Only strong words will work. Only strong words are effective.
Absolutely. And there's a case to be made that MoveOn is smelling like a rose on this one. They've expanded the betrayal theme to cover George Bush and Rudy Giuliani, they raised their profile immeasurably and probably made a passel of money of the controversy. Plus, the constant theme through the media reinforces this question of betrayal, with MoveOn on the same side as the American people in believing that the war is a terrible mistake and we have to leave now. The problem, of course, is that Democrats, particularly those in the establishment who are little more than palace courtiers, don't want their power taken away by the rabble and have a lot of pressure to throw MoveOn under the bus, as they did yesterday. Given the Democrats' ineffectiveness of late, and their somewhat self-serving performance at the Petraeus hearings, this probably helps MoveOn even MORE, but it doesn't get the war stopped.
When you have an establishment that is relentlessly hawkish and protective of the status quo, anything outside the bounds of that will be criticized. But it's a shadow play. And while these establishment figures protect their own little fiefdom, they are setting themselves up for a slaughter in 2008. And that means any incumbent.