Ever since the run-up to 2004, I've been urging Democrats to stop thinking they can win by running on domestic issues, and to go after the Republicans on their supposed strength -- foreign policy and national security. It's not the economy, stupid. It's the war in Iraq and the fact that our wartime president's perverted security priorities have, in truth, left us all far less secure.
This was true even when all the economic numbers were looking bad for Bush. And it's doubly true now that some of the latest economic news is breaking the president's way.
He was positively giddy during his Rose Garden appearance this morning as he touted 215,000 new jobs in November, 4.5 million new jobs in the last two and a half years, and 4.3 percent third-quarter growth. "That's in spite of the fact that we had hurricanes and high gasoline prices," he gushed, as if he almost couldn't believe it himself.
Then came a very telling moment. After spinning the upbeat economic numbers for the press, the president headed off, ignoring a shouted question about Iraq.
And that's the bottom line for the White House: They might be able to spin the new economic numbers, but they can't spin the war -- including the news this morning that 10 Marines on foot patrol were killed by a roadside bomb near Fallujah (news the president knew about last night but didn’t mention this morning [via Holden]).
That's why now, more than ever, the Democrats need to make 2006 a referendum on the war. Their message needs to be bold and unambiguous. And unified.
Fortunately, they already have a template for success: follow Jack Murtha. He should be their clear leader on Iraq.
Not only is Murtha unassailable (see how fast the GOP's attempted Swift Boating of him ran aground), according to a source close to the Pentagon: "He is speaking in coordination with military commanders on the ground, the same people he has spent his entire political career looking out for. This was their way of sending a message to the White House that this war is killing them -- that they've done what they can do but can't keep doing it because it's hurting the armed forces."
Bush speaks the fantasy of Iraqi battalions "taking the lead in the fight" (including a specific claim shot down by an embedded reporter). Murtha speaks the reality he's hearing from the top Pentagon brass. "They told me none of the Iraqi [troops] were up to where they should be," he said on Hardball. Fantasy vs Reality. He's also willing to say what U.S. military leaders are finally starting to admit: "We've become the enemy... I'm convinced terrorism will be reduced if we redeploy our troops."
Follow Jack Murtha. After sticking her finger in the wind for two weeks, Nancy Pelosi decided this week that she will. Good for her. The rest of the party should do the same.
Follow Jack Murtha -- and ignore the dangerous pablum being dished out by the likes of Joe Lieberman who, having just returned from his fourth trip to Iraq in the last 18 months, cited the "progress" being made there and characterized the war as being "between 27 million Iraqis and 10,000 terrorists." Forgetting something, aren't you, Joe? The 160,000 U.S. troops -- which the majority of Iraqis continue to see as "occupying forces." Listen to Murtha: "We've become the enemy." The fuel for the insurgents' fire.
Democrats should, at all costs, avoid following Hillary Clinton and her have-it-both-ways rhetoric. "I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end," she wrote in an email to supporters this week. "Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately." Talk about covering all your bases -- and standing for nothing.
The party must also aggressively reject the afraid-of-their-own-shadow bleating of DLC anachronisms like Marshall Whitman who described Bush's stay-the-course bullheadedness as "expressing resolve" and Murtha's position as "offering surrender" and "manna from heaven" for Republicans.
So, once and for all, Democrats need to fight the battle between the DLC hawks who lack the imagination to see that you can simultaneously be strong on national security and against the war in Iraq and those George Washington Democrats who take to heart the Father of Our Country's admonition about avoiding foreign entanglements.
Follow Jack Murtha.