Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why I remain pessimistic about Democrats' chances

I had this argument with my father on Wednesday, when I told him that at best I would give the Democrats a 2:1 shot to retake the House. (If you've been following my amateur bookmaking on this, this is actually a slight bump up in optimism from my previous 5:2 mark, which was in turn a bump from 3:1.) He said this was just because I had a pathological fear of Karl Rove. I said no, it's because of the Democrats themselves. (Although this is strictly speaking not 100% true. I do have a certain fear of Republican machinery, not Karl Rove per se but their truly awe-inspiring voter-identification and -mobilization infrastructure. Democrats aim to turn out Democratic-leaning neighborhoods; Republicans turn out individual Republican voters in those Democratic neighborhoods.)

Anyway, two items over the last week have helped convince me that Democrats just don't know what the hell they're doing. First, the much-telegraphed gambit to amend some bill or other with a "vote of no confidence" in Donald Rumsfeld. Matthew Yglesias took this apart pretty nicely.

It would be one thing if Rumsfeld were in office, then made some missteps, and then Bush fired him. Presidents sometimes hire people they wind up regretting. But Rumsfeld's been in office for almost six years. And Bush has gotten rid of many members of his national security team. Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and Richard Haas were all ditched. A lot of your prominent "liberal" national security experts -- Richard Clarke, Rand Beers, Flynt Leverett -- used to work in the Bush administration (see also Anthony Zinni). Rumsfeld is around because Rumsfeld's policies are Bush's policies. Dumping him would, at this point, be a meaningless cosmetic change.

Of course Matt Taibbi did it even more neatly, in an article I've already quoted.

[W]hat Rumsfeld actually represents to the Democrats is a means of attacking the Republicans on the Iraq issue without having to explain their own vote in support of the invasion.
A typical comment will be one like Chuck Schumer's of last week: "There are growing doubts about how competently he's conducted the war." (How do you competently invade the wrong country?) And so the Democrats once again will make an effort to sound antiwar out of one side of their mouths, and pro-war out the other side; they will then close their eyes and hope that they pick up 16 seats before anyone notices. If that ain't leadership, what is?

An even more annoying example came in Congressional Democrats' reactions to the President's speech last weekend. For some reason all the coverage of that speech focused on Bush's plan to transfer Al Qaeda prisoners from secret CIA detention facilities (whose existence he had previously denied) to Guantanamo to face military tribunals, rather than the amazing part where he actually bragged about torture (which he had also previously denied). In fact, Eric Umansky pointed out in this week's On the Media (transcript not yet online but mp3 here) that the bill Bush sent to Congress would actually legalize abusive practices and indemnify CIA torturers against prosecution for past acts. (While we're on the subject, Umansky has a very good review of the media's failure to follow up on the administration's torture policies--arguably the most evil of all their bad policies--in the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.)

Anyway, Democrats' reaction to this bill were summed up in an article in the Times:

The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terrorism suspects before military tribunals met stiff resistance Thursday from key Republicans and top military lawyers who said some provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny or do enough to repair the nation’s tarnished reputation internationally.

Democrats, meanwhile, said they were inclined to go along with Senate Republicans drafting an alternative to the White House plan, one that would allow defendants more rights.
Democrats have essentially said they would back Senators Warner, Graham and McCain, leaving the Republicans to lead the fight against the administration, and allowing the Democrats to avoid political fallout from challenging the administration while maintaining their criticism of the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq.

“I think you’re looking for a fight that doesn’t exist,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, told reporters.

First, this is verrrrrrry risky. Has Arlen Specter not caved on enough of these issues to have taught Senate Democrats the danger of trusting "moderate" Republicans? Andrew Sullivan writes:

Next week, I'm informed via troubled White House sources, will see the full unveiling of Karl Rove's fall election strategy. He's intending to line up 9/11 families to accuse McCain, Warner and Graham of delaying justice for the perpetrators of that atrocity, because they want to uphold the ancient judicial traditions of the U.S. military and abide by the Constitution. He will use the families as an argument for legalizing torture, setting up kangaroo courts for military prisoners, and giving war crime impunity for his own aides and cronies.

If you think this won't whip McCain, Warner, and Graham right back into line, you haven't paying any goddamn attention for the last four years or so. How much did McCain complain when the President announced, via signing statement, that he planned to ignore McCain's torture ban? That's right.

Second, Democrats should welcome this fight. They should welcome any fight. By allowing Republicans to fight the Bush administration for them they show themselves to be PUSSIES while allowing Congressional Republicans (the ones actually up for election this fall) to show themselves strong and independent of Bush.

I actually think that if the Democrats do manage to pick up 16 seats by accident, they'll be a lot more aggressive than they're showing now. We won't be listening to mealymouth Senate fucks like Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer but hardnosed House veterans like Henry Waxman and John Dingell. (The idea of Henry Waxman with subpoena power obviously scares the crap out of the White House.)

But Democrats are running this campaign--this campaign they are supposedly trying to nationalize--by picking only symbolic fights to stand in for issues people actually care about. Obviously they think Americans are idiots easily distracted by cheap symbology. I can sympathize with that, because after the last election it's hard not to have noticed that Americans are either idiots or unprincipled, selfish children. Unfortunately, in addition to not standing up for important principles themselves, the Dems currently in the spotlight don't seem to be a whole lot smarter than the national average. So I'm going to spell this out as simply as possible:

When you pander to people and insult their intelligence, at least try to hide it.


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