It's been a head-scratching spectacle this week to watch Democrats in the Senate debate war resolutions that would press the administration to begin bringing troops home, and then be depicted in the press as the likely losers in the unfolding political battle. Losers because Democrats are "divided" (New York Times), "struggling for consensus" (Washington Post), and "squabbling among themselves" (Knight Ridder), as opposed to Republicans who appear unified behind Bush's 'stay the course' Iraq policy. (Democrats weak and confused, Republicans strong and resolute. Does the press ever got tired of that manufactured storyline?)
What's so odd is despite the fact poll after poll shows Americans, completely fed up with the Iraq failure, agree with the Democratic initiative to start bringing the troops home, it's Republicans who are being portrayed by clubby Beltway insiders as having the winning hand. Hell, the smart boys over at ABC's The Note, all but announced Democrats had just thrown the 2006 elections thanks to their botched handling of the Iraq war debate. i.e. They were, "on the precipice of making Iraq a 2006 political winner for the Republican Party."
That's certainly the GOP spin. (And really, is there any place better to read undiluted GOP spin passed off as analysis than in the cozy confines of The Note?) Apparently if Karl Rove signs off on a political strategy (hit the Dems hard over Iraq), the press assumes it's a work of genius and shows little interest in dwelling on the pertinent questions, such as isn't there an obvious risk Republicans run in making the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, and specifically the notion that U.S. troops should pretty much stay there indefinitely, the centerpiece for their 2006 campaign? That angle has received a fraction of the attention the press has showered on whether Democrats will pay the price for Iraq.
In other words, Republicans in the White House hatched the war and were strongly supported by Republicans in the House and Senate and other key government posts. Now three years later after the war has produced disastrous consequences both home and abroad, the press is pre-occupied with how the botched battle plan might negatively impact Democrats? Is there any precedent for that kind of political coverage, or did I miss all the articles and columns from the early `90s speculating on how the Clintons' health care reform failure might hurt Republicans at the ballot box?
As Media Matters noted this week, the relevant polling data has often been left out of reports on the Iraq debate, most likely because it obliterates the phony narrative that it's the Democrats who are caught in a box. (Even today when the Times finally addressed the GOP's confident, few-found embrace of an unpopular war, the paper carefully avoided including any specific polling results about Iraq.) In fact, Media Matters reported, "A CNN poll conducted June 14-15 found that 53 percent of respondents favored a timetable for withdrawal, while 41 percent opposed such a measure. Similarly, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted June 9-12 showed that 57 percent of respondents supported reducing troop levels now, compared with 35 percent who favored maintaining the current deployment."
And here's another one that goes straight to the heart of the political debate unfolding inside the nation's capitol--the NBC/WSJ survey specifically asked people if a candidate "Favors pulling all American troops out of Iraq within the next twelve months," would that make voters more likely or less likely to support that candidate. By a margin of 54-32, Americans said they were more likely to vote for a candidate (i.e. a Democrat) who wants to pull troops out of Iraq by next summer.
I realize that after six years as serving as Bush's lapdogs, the D.C. press corps often robotically assumes that Republicans can, and will, run circles around Democrats on every major issue. But it would be nice when Democrats actually have the clear majority of Americans on their side that journalists could at least acknowledge that simple fact.
UPDATE: And here's Media Matters dissecting a CNN report from yesterday deteailing how the Republicans were sitting pretty ("having a field day") watching Democrats debate resolutions to establish a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops. The fact that a majority of Americans support the Democratic plan--as measured by a CNN poll--went unmentioned by CNN's reporter.
UPDATE II: Credit the Las Vegas Sun for at least putting an honest headline on its news story today about the Iraq debate.