Pro-War Caucus Running the Democratic Party Ditches the Masks

07/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recent actions by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and House Democratic leadership reveal that the rationale under which the party solicits funds--electing more Democrats and defeating Republican incumbents--has taken a back seat to a radical, pro-war agenda.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's latest ad shows that Democrats now seek to wrap themselves in the flag and stake out the "support the troops" high ground, jettisoning the contrary arguments they employed during the last several cycles, opting instead for "the prophesying of smooth patriotism" in ads targeting seven Republican congressmen. Here's a sample:

Around here, we recognize Independence Day with parades ... and picnics ... maybe a few fireworks. But July Fourth is about more than that.

It's about remembering those who fought for our freedoms. And those still fighting today.

Congressman Lee Terry used to understand that.

When George Bush asked, Congressman Terry voted to fully fund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, last year he said, quote, "We must give our military every resource it needs."

Seems like Congressman Terry is playing politics now ...

Last month Congressman Terry voted AGAINST funding for those same troops.

It's true: vote No. 348 - you can look it up.

Worse, when it was pointed out that one of the targets of this ad, Rep. Joe Wilson, has four sons in the military, the DCCC decided to pour even more gas on the fire:

DCCC's spox Ryan Rudominer hits back: "Congressman Wilson, of all people, should be supporting funding for our men and women in uniform."

The preceding represents an escalation of pro-war rhetoric from the House Democrats which began in earnest during the war funding supplemental vote. During the lead-up to the vote, Democrats decided to play turnabout with the Republicans by adopting exactly the same rhetoric with which pro-war Republicans used to bludgeon Democrats. For example, here's a recent quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"The Republicans are saying they are not going to vote for the bill, the funding of the troops. They're not going to support the troops."

"Anytime there was a Democrat [who] raised concern on some of these supplementals, he was tarred as being anti-troop...It seems like they're putting the interest of the Republican Party and the ability for them to develop a campaign narrative ahead of the interest of the troops," he said.

But nothing unveils the fangs of the radical pro-war spirit spreading through the top echelons of the Democratic Party than the heavy hand with which they deal with their own anti-war members. Recall that before the vote in question, the White House and House leaders threatened to ostracize and de-fund vulnerable Democratic members unless they voted to fund the war:

The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won't get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday.

"We're not going to help you. You'll never hear from us again," Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen. She wouldn't say who is issuing the threats, and the White House didn't immediately return a call.

The combined political pressure of the House leadership and the White House Legislative Affairs Office was sufficient to cajole several Democrats who relied on anti-war backing to get elected and who had signed anti-war pledges (some of whom still have the temerity to maintain war-cost running totals on the front pages of their campaign websites) to stab their constituents in the back. At the same time, the White House reportedly cut deals with pro-war Republicans to soft-peddle challenges to their reelection next year in exchange for war funding votes (h/t Jeremy Scahill).

The war funds vote and the ads cut in its aftermath reveal three alarming uses to which DCCC money is being put:

  1. Leverage to coerce vulnerable, anti-war Democrats into voting against their principles and those of their constituents;
  2. Threats against vulnerable, pro-war Republicans that can be withdrawn in exchange for support for war funds; and
  3. Political adverstisements that assail Republicans (even decidedly pro-war Republicans) with rhetoric that positions Democrats favorably (in their minds, at least) in a pro-troop/anti-troop binary.

Combined, these three uses indicate that funds solicited from donors on the premise that they will be used to elect more Democrats and defeat more Republican incumbents are actually being used to ensure the election and incumbency of House members who will vote to support war funding.

As a prior Democratic donor and highly active volunteer, I am absolutely disgusted. I know I'm not alone.

This revelation is particularly vile considering the context of the last few weeks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the last two months, an airstrike in Afghanistan and a drone strike in Pakistan have killed very large numbers of civilians. The first, the May 4 bombing of Bala Baluk, was a "clear war crime" in that the civilians killed by a combined three-and-a-half tons of ordinance had not been confirmed as militants before they were bombed to death. The second, the June 23 drone attack on a funeral in South Waziristan, killed about 35 non-combatants, including 10 very young children, by dropping a bomb with a 200-ft. kill radius on their gathering. To date, no one has been punished for either atrocity, although both incidents blantantly violate the obligation of combatants to discriminate between parties to the conflict and civilians. Instead, President Obama mastered doublespeak:

We simply want to make sure that our common enemies, which are extremists who would kill innocent civilians, that that kind of activity is stopped, and we believe that it has to be stopped whether it's in the United States or in Pakistan or anywhere in the world.

This high-church dispensation of moral certainty parallels the one-way blame game we learned to endure during the Bush years: We are only defending ourselves; we're the good guys, they're the ones who kill innocent civilians; pay no attention to the one-ton bombs falling on your friends and families. At home, you either support any appropriations bill that contains continued, no-strings funding for continued hostilities or you hate the troops and want them to be killed by terrorists.

In the name of stopping the activities of extremists, we're expanding our own civilian-killing extremist version of the self-defense doctrine, which has become so mutant that it now justifies dropping quarter-ton bombs with a 200-foot kill radius on groups of people likely to include civilians in countries with which we are not officially at war. Obama's January 23 order to initiate a Predator strike in Pakistan signaled his backing for this Terminator-esque turn in American policy, the first piece of a multi-front escalation of military force in Afghanistan and Pakistan, now conflated, terrifyingly, as "AfPak." Incredibly, despite five policy reviews in six months, the President who ran on a platform of finishing the fight in Afghanistan presides over a military campaign now wandering into neighboring countries, adrift in the exhibition of qualities for which he once decried the policies of President Bush: "undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."

At moments like this, we desperately need a Congress and a congressional leadership team with the spine to check the listlessness and violence of the executive's actions overseas. The actions of House leadership and their political campaign operation down the street have revealed that we have no such thing. Rather, what the war funding vote and its aftermath revealed is the further infiltration and dominance of the official structures the Democratic Party by a radical pro-war caucus, perfectly willing to sell out their constituents and their donors in the name of out-of-control militarism and continued, highly profitable mass murder overseas. This radical caucus running the party in the House flexed its muscles just this past week, teaming with Republicans to defeat legislative language to require an exit strategy from Afghanistan, despite the fact that the majority of rank-and-file Democrats supported it and despite its similarity to the exit strategy for which Democrats agitated for Iraq under President Bush. Until we force changes, expect more of the same on future votes.

I encourage every anti-war DCCC donor to close your checkbooks and put your debit cards away until we see a party worth another penny. Right now, the Democratic party isn't. In fact, I'd like my money back.