Circus contortionists never cease to amaze, because the moment you think they can't twist their bodies any further, they somehow do something even more absurd, like tying a full slip-knot with one leg. The same can be said of Washington politicians these days when it comes to Iraq: the moment you think they can't obscure their positions any further, they go right ahead and wow the crowd with ever more hideous poses.
Nowhere is this more apparent than among top congressional Democrats. As we saw earlier this week, just months after the public delivered a strong anti-war mandate to Washington, top House Democrats are demanding that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) take a "go slow" approach to Iraq - Washingtonese for a "do nothing" approach. Now yesterday, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-MBNA) led a group of Democrats on his committee in voting down a bill that would have forced President Bush to get congressional authorization for an Iraq escalation. Ignoring basic historical precedent as laid out by Rick Perlstein in Salon, Biden instead championed a toothless, non-binding resolution.
But it gets worse - much worse. At the very same time this is happening, Senate Democrats are somehow trying to pretend they have absolutely no power to do anything and, in one high-profile case, they are basically claiming they aren't even part of the government.
As I noted before, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is actually asking the public to sign a petition demanding President Bush back off his escalation plan. The petition, of course, says nothing about the fact that Democrats, now in the majority, could themselves stop the escalation by using any number of Congress's constitutional powers. Put another way, the petition is asking the public to demand President Bush do something that the petition sponsors themselves could do.
Then, today, there is Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the senator who - despite every effort to make us forget - voted for the war and continues to this day to oppose efforts to end the war and bring our troops home. The New York Times reports that she said offered up the classic pass-the-buck self-fulfilling prophecy that "we're not likely to stop this escalation." Still, she said, congressional lawmakers like her "are going to do everything we can to send a message to our government and the Iraqi government that they had better change."
Let's repeat that to comprehend it's true absurdity: U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, who serves as a senior member of the majority party that controls both Houses of our government's Congress, said that all she can do is "send a message to our government" that "they had better change."
This is triangulation on a bad acid trip. Whereas old-style Bill Clinton triangulation meant sucking face with Republicans and Big Money interests in order to isolate Democrats, the new strung out, acid trip-style triangulation by Hillary Clinton means Senators actually pretending that they, as majority party lawmakers, aren't really part of "our government." Seriously - is she planning on having her staff "send a message to our government" in a self-addressed stamped envelope? I mean, I understand that she's very, very busy now running for president, and can't be bothered with details like, oh, massive U.S. troop casualties in a war she pushed. But did this woman and her professional political entourage forget that about 3 months ago, she asked New York voters to re-elect her to serve as a U.S. Senator in "our government" rather than as some innocent bystander sending "messages" to something she's supposedly not a part of?
All of this is happening as the vast majority of Americans and, courageous lawmakers like Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) and state legislators from all over the country are saying it's time for Congress to use something more than polite senatorial "non-binding" requests to stop a war that is killing more and more people, further destabilizing an already unstable region, and severely damaging U.S. national security.
It begs questions I asked a few days ago: in the face of such inaction, distortion and dishonesty, isn't it time we finally face up to the fact that there is a powerful faction of Democrats on Capitol Hill who support the Iraq War, support the escalation and support President Bush? And further, because Democrats now have real power in the majority, isn't it time that the progressive movement spend some real resources not just chasing cheap media-grabbing headlines by going after our partisan foes like John McCain (R-AZ), but also doing the less glamorous, more serious, might-get-you-kicked-off-the-D.C.-Christmas-party-list work of taking on those in the Democratic Party who clearly are helping President Bush continue this war?
Is this too much to ask? My pessimistic side says it might be - there remains serious resistance within quarters of the progressive movement to actually going after Democrats, no matter how many troops die, no matter how much those specific Democrats may undermine their own party, no matter how much these specific Democrats lay waste to the progressive agenda. That resistance seems to have as much to do with cocktail party chumminess as it does with the cold, hard cash that comes with political consulting fees, campaign jobs, and insider careeerism.
Then again, we are in historically uncharted waters. The convergence of an unpopular war and new political technologies that are giving citizens back more of their voice really provides a chance to break into some truly new politics (and I'm not referring to the hackneyed "post-partisanism" that the media now reflexively ascribes to any newpolitician that hasn't been in D.C. for the last quarter century and yet who, upon being elected to federal office, instantly knows to utter only nebulous, substance-free platitudes). There is a huge amount of organizing going on right now, whether through the Progressive States Network's 50-State Anti-Escalation Campaign, this Saturday's march on Washington or through scores of other efforts. We can make a difference, I am sure of it - but only if we are willing to take on our opponents - ALL of them.