Sunday, July 16, 2006

We Don't Mind Hedgers. Just Give Us Partisans!

Says Terence Samuel, with an eye on 2008:

defeating Lieberman will transform the war as a campaign issue. It will move from being an “effectiveness and competence” issue that the President and Republicans must defend and explain to serving as a political litmus test for Democrats.

Suppose Lieberman's position had consistently been "I was right to vote for the war, because I had a reasonable expectation that Bush would do it right, but he turned out to be a total moron who can't be trusted to operate a toaster, let alone rebuild a country, and he totally botched everything." Then he'd have Yglesias and Rosenfeld to argue with, and some grumbling war opponents to placate, but I don't think he'd have Ned Lamont to run against. The widespread criticism of Lieberman isn't that he indulges in the incompetence dodge, it's that he spends his time making other Democrats look like unpatriotic extremists when he should be attacking Republicans. Any strident criticism of Bush will make the partisan base happy, just as any interference with Democrats who are steadfastly bashing Republicans will infuriate them. Hit Bush hard on effectiveness and competence, and the base will cheer.

To address another of Samuel's concerns, we have some solid antiwar positions to choose from among our 2008 candidates. He mentions Feingold, who was right all along. So was Gore, if he's running. Warner has the opportunity to retroactively declare himself into whatever position he wants -- he seems to be playing median voter games and aiming for the center of the American populace. (I'm guessing he'll overshoot to the right -- by 2008, we'll have seen two more years of blood and fire from mismanaging a near-impossible problem, which will create even more antiwar sentiment among everyone.) Edwards admits that he made a mistake and has a clear explanation of what it was -- like everyone else, he got tricked by Bush's WMD deceptions. Hillary, Biden, and Bayh are stuck with suboptimal positions, especially as far as the liberal wing of the party is concerned, but most voters will probably be looking at the future rather than the past. It's hard for me to see how the Lieberman situation changes the game significantly.

Whether the Iraq War represented fundamentally flawed strategy or merely incompetent execution is an important substantive question, since it bears on the foreign policy that our candidates might pursue if they attained power. But many in the base are fairly pragmatic hyper-partisans at heart, and I'm not convinced that the particular position you punch from matters to them. They just want to you to slug some Republicans, the harder the better. And don't you dare mess with a Democrat who's doing some good hitting.

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