Democratic leaders must look themselves in the mirror every morning and say to themselves, "I have no power.""
That's Matt Yglesias, five months ago, on the Social Security debate. I thought it was a pretty funny image -- imagine Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid building that into their morning routines. I also thought it was right. To put it more accurately, but in a way that would make Pelosi's morning routine a little longer, the only power that Democrats have is to ambush dramatic new Republican legislation like Social Security Privatization that we can successfully rally public opinion against. Dramatic improvements in policy are beyond us.
Now Matt's talking about how to get our Iraq policy in order, and I'm confused. Did we somehow get power? If so, it must have been a lot of power, because it's hard for me to see how Democrats can reshape something that's as much an executive matter as Iraq policy. Is Matt envisioning a future in which Democrats retake the House or Senate in 2006? Is he imagining that the moderate Republicans will come around and actually vote our way? (I don't think he thinks that.)
If we have power, making constructive suggestions about a withdrawal tied to events in Iraqi politics (elections, progress on the Constitution) might be a good idea. Everyone should be puzzling over Brad Plumer's post against withdrawal and figuring out whether he's right. If we don't have power, though, our energies should be devoted to finding politically sellable positions that will help us win some seats in 2006 while leaving us in position to clean up the mess in 2008 if it still exists. Taking the longer view, we should be trying to make this debacle the symbol of Republican foreign policy for a generation. When you can't actually change things, you have to settle for making Americans aware that Republicans make idiotic decisions which strengthen terrorism while killing lots of good people.