[Marxism] Shit hitting the fan for the Democratic Party
M. Junaid Alam
alam1 at lefthook.org
Mon Aug 22 00:29:34 MDT 2005
*washingtonpost.com* <http://www.washingtonpost.com/>*Democrats Split
Over Position on Iraq War*
Activists More Vocal As Leaders Decline To Challenge Bush
By Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 22, 2005; A01
Democrats say a long-standing rift in the party over the Iraq war has
grown increasingly raw in recent days, as stay-the-course elected
leaders who voted for the war three years ago confront rising impatience
from activists and strategists who want to challenge President Bush
aggressively to withdraw troops.
Amid rising casualties and falling public support for the war, Democrats
of all stripes have grown more vocal this summer in criticizing Bush's
handling of the war. A growing chorus of Democrats, however, has said
this criticism should be harnessed to a consistent message and
alternative policy -- something most Democratic lawmakers have refused
The wariness, congressional aides and outside strategists said in
interviews last week, reflects a belief among some in the opposition
that proposals to force troop drawdowns or otherwise limit Bush's
options would be perceived by many voters as defeatist. Some operatives
fear such moves would exacerbate the party's traditional vulnerability
on national security issues.
The internal schism has become all the more evident in recent weeks even
as Americans have soured on Bush and the war in poll after poll. Senate
Democrats, according to aides, convened a private meeting in late June
to develop a cohesive stance on the war and debated every option -- only
to break up with no consensus.
The rejuvenation of the antiwar movement in recent days after the mother
of a soldier killed in Iraq set up camp near Bush's Texas ranch has
exposed the rift even further.
Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) broke with his party leadership last week
to become the first senator to call for all troops to be withdrawn from
Iraq by a specific deadline. Feingold proposed Dec. 31, 2006. In
delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address yesterday, former senator
Max Cleland (Ga.), a war hero who lost three limbs in Vietnam, declared
that "it's time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out."
Although critical of Bush, the party's establishment figures --
including Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Sen. Joseph R.
Biden Jr. (Del.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) -- all reject
the Feingold approach, reasoning that success in Iraq at this point is
too important for the country.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who rose to public
prominence on an antiwar presidential campaign, said on television a
week ago that it was the responsibility of the president, not the
opposition, to come up with a plan for Iraq.
"Clearly Democrats are not united in what is the critique of what we're
doing there and what is the answer to what we do next," said Steve
Elmendorf, a senior party strategist whose former boss, then-House
Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), voted in 2002 to authorize
the invasion of Iraq. "The difficulty of coming to a unified position is
that for a lot of people who voted for it, they have to decide whether
they can admit that they were misled."
The internal disarray, according to many Democrats, reflects more than a
near-term tactical debate. Some say it reveals a fundamental identity
crisis in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world for a party that struggled to
move beyond the antiwar legacy of the 1960s and 1970s to reinvent itself
as tougher on national security in the 1990s.
But historic fault lines in the party run deep. Along with high gasoline
prices, the war has fed public discontent that is expressing itself as
members of Congress tour their home districts during the August recess.
Democratic officeholders watched carefully last week as peace
demonstrators -- inspired by grieving mother-turned-activist Cindy
Sheehan outside Bush's ranch near Crawford, Tex. -- staged more than
1,000 candlelight vigils across the country.
They also took note of the strong showing of Democrat Paul Hackett, an
Iraq veteran turned war critic who nearly snatched away a Republican
House seat in a special election in Ohio this month. House Democratic
leaders now are recruiting other Iraq veterans to run in next year's
"It is time to stand up and begin questioning the president's
leadership," said Steve Jarding, a Democratic consultant who ran the
2001 state campaign of Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, now a potential
presidential candidate. "I think the Democrats need to do that. . . .
The American public is ready to say, 'Enough is enough.' "
Feingold said, "We have to go on the offensive to show the American
people that we're not afraid to disagree." He said that he believes an
immediate withdrawal does not make military sense but that the public
needs reassurance that the Iraq operation is moving purposefully toward
completion. "We need to talk in Congress about this more openly and
freely," Feingold said. "There's a rudderless quality that is making
The potency of antiwar sentiment within the party's base could be seen
in the enthusiasm expressed for Feingold among liberal Internet bloggers
in the days after he made his withdrawal proposal. Unscientific Internet
polls showed support rising for a Feingold presidential run in 2008.
Liberal bloggers have lambasted the party leadership for missed
opportunities. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a
confirmation hearing for Bush confidante Karen Hughes, tapped as the
next undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, not a single Democrat
showed up to grill her on administration policy.
"Excuse me, but do you ENJOY being in the minority?" complained an entry
that day on Think Progress, the blog for the Center for American
Progress, a think tank run by former Clinton White House chief of staff
John D. Podesta. While publicly quiet, Podesta has been one of many
influential voices behind the scenes calling for a louder, more frequent
drumbeat on the war, along with members of a national security group
that advises congressional Democrats.
Turning Iraq into a sharply partisan issue, however, carries deep risks
for Democrats and the country, others warn. "Credit the Democrats for
not trying to pour more gasoline on the fire, even if they're not
particularly unified in their message," said Michael McCurry, a former
Clinton White House press secretary. "Democrats could jump all over them
and try to pin Bush down on it, but I'm not sure it would do anything
but make things worse. The smartest thing for Democrats to do is be
And some argue that Democrats do not need to craft an alternative
policy, deeming it better simply to let Bush struggle on his own. "The
need for a coherent alternative mattered more when the benefit of the
doubt went to the commander in chief," said Jeremy Rosner of Greenberg
Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic polling firm. "Now he's getting to
a dicey range of public opinion."
Still, the Democratic discord has provided solace for Bush advisers at a
difficult time. Although Bush's approval ratings have sunk, the
Democrats have gained no ground at his expense. In a Washington Post-ABC
News poll in June, just 42 percent of Americans approved of
congressional Democrats, a figure even lower than Bush's.
Republican strategists chortle at the Democrats' inability to fashion a
coherent message on the war. The Republican National Committee on Friday
released a series of contrasting Democratic statements on troop
withdrawals. "Instead of attacking our president's resolve," RNC
spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said in a statement, "Democrats might want to
focus on the debate within their own party."
One problem for Democrats is that even when they do speak up about Iraq,
they draw little attention. In late June, congressional Democrats and
Republicans spent three evenings on the House floor reading the names of
the 1,719 soldiers who had died in the war to that point. In July,
Democrats wrote a stern letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
demanding more details about White House plans for Iraq and released a
comprehensive study of administration failures to meet reporting
requirements on the war.
It was all drowned out by the president's Supreme Court nomination, the
London bombings and other news. "Many of us are talking about the war,
talking about the costs," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who is leading the effort
to recruit Iraq veterans to run next year.
Some Democrats suspect the Iraq debate will escalate once Congress
reconvenes after Labor Day. Senate Democrats said they would push to
revive the Defense Department authorization bill, shelved by Republican
leaders before the break in anticipation of a blizzard of Democratic
amendments, many addressing the Iraq war.
"The American people are much farther ahead in their thinking about the
war than the White House or the Republican Congress," said Sen. Edward
M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). "They understand we can't continue down this same
failed course in Iraq."
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