It's Time to Stop Pussyfooting Around

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET

How can it be bad for the Democrats if the Iraq War is the central issue of the 2006 campaign? Talk about a silver platter.

I am on vacation. Up here in the mountains, where my information intake is limited by a dial-up connection and by the TV being used to play Super Smash Bros. Melee instead of to watch Keith Olberman, it all seems pretty clear.

What issue is there that could win other than the War? Were you blown away by the "Together, America Can Do Better" plan? I can name more planks in Newt's Contract With America than in the new Democratic manifesto. Energy independence and affordable health care will not grab voters. The War has and will. Every day the chaos grows. All of it, one hundred percent, is the fault of the Bush Administration and its enablers in Congress. As my octogenarian mother just told me over the phone, "it's time for the Democrats to stop pussyfooting around."

Democrats have already lost two elections circumlocuting about the War and pushing health care and the unfairness of the Bush tax cuts. The country cannot afford a Republican hat trick.

Of course there are a few problems. Under any plan, this will not be a walkover.

The Demos need a position other than being angry and upset at our country's predicament. I, for one, think Hillary Clinton got it right by calling for Rumsfeld's firing. The Democrats are falling into a trap by being pressed on the mechanics of disengagement. What we need first is new leadership that is not invested in this failed policy.

Obviously, Bush is not going to fire himself or Cheney, or Rumsfeld for that matter, but that is fine. We are trying to win an election here and calling for Rummy's head is the kind of clear point that cuts through the fog. If Bush won't do the deed, send Democrats to Congress to keep up the drum beat and keep up the pressure.

There is a lot of fog to cut through. As a benefit of being outside of Berkeley last night, I had an unusual cultural experience. I met a real Republican. A bright, kind educated man, but he has swallowed way too much Fox News Kool-Aid. He thinks the Democrats would have done nothing effective after 9/11. He thinks Al Qaeda was in Iraq in a meaningful way before we attacked and "we had to do something." He and I were separated by concerned family members before I could ask him, but I bet he is part of the 50% of Americans who believe that WMDs were found in Iraq.

This man will vote Republican no matter what, but I refuse to believe that the real facts cannot penetrate an electorate in which 60% "oppose" the War. If they cannot, my faith in democracy in America is badly shaken.

The hand wringing over the Lamont victory is difficult to understand. I generally agree with Slate's Jacob Weisberg more than I agree with other Slate writers who I know better personally, but to proclaim that the Lamont victory "will have a huge and lasting negative impact on the Democratic party" is just nonsense. Weisberg's centerpiece argument is that there is a "growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad." Huh? Weisberg, the editor of an Internet publication that uses links as freely as punctuation, offers no links and gives no examples to support this assertion, although he spends several paragraphs on an excursion into the Viet Nam era, as do most critics of anti-war Democrats.

It cannot be bad for the Democrats to make the war the center piece of the election, given that your local Republican legislator not only voted for it, but probably has not renounced his or her vote. Lets go out onto the web and check the usual suspects. I'm guessing David Broder is wringing his hands, but no, he simply says that Lamont "has to balance his calls for an early withdrawal from Iraq with other positions that demonstrate that he and his party understand the need for a robust military and a commitment to oppose terrorism." Agreed.

While I am at the Post page, I see that Charles Krauthammer prophesizes the Democrats' demise, but that is because Krauthammer appears to think the Iraq War worked so well that we should invade Iran.

At the New Republic Online (registration required), Thomas B. Edsall says that liberal elites have hi-jacked the Democratic Party and points out that although voters are dissatisfied with the GOP approach to terrorism, they still trust the Republicans more than the Democrats on that issue. Edsall draws the conclusion that full-throated war opponents are bad for the Democrats. Presumably, the present specter of hand lotion bombs supports this argument, but again, has waffling on the issue worked in the past? No. So why not clearly oppose the Bush War and articulate how terrorism can be fought. Like through intelligence, cooperation with other nations and fighting terrorists, not secular governments. I keep trying to remember why Bush threw the "wrong war, wrong time, wrong place" quote in Kerry's face, instead of Kerry proclaiming that obvious truth to Bush, but the lesson must be that clarity counts.

It also is fashionable to decry the partisanship inherent in the rejection of Lieberman. The Republicans have been viciously partisan for years. Joe Lieberman is Neville Chamberlain; Ned Lamont is not. A good read on this point is Jeffrey Toobin's book, Too Close to Call
The Thirty-Six-Day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election ,
on how the take no prisoners Republicans cleaned the clocks of the gentlemanly Demos in the 2000 Florida recount.

And then there is Martin Peretz's supremely condescending piece in the Wall Street Journal, which throws in a bit of French and some random historical references, but basically misses the main point, which is that conciliation was working with Sadaam. He was cooperating with the U.N. and we knew it. So there was no need for a war, even over WMDs.

None of this criticism makes any sense. It is a fig leaf for the real reason the elites are panicked: they are losing control. They cite Viet Nam and the McGovern nomination, but if you want an analogy, how about the 1958 election in California, which is best known for GOP Senator William Knowland wanting to run for Governor and forcing GOP Governor Goodwin Knight to run for Knowland's Senate seat. They both lost because the Democratic election effort was taken over from the official party machinery by the volunteer California Democratic Councill, sort of a door-hanger version of Netroots. Suddenly Jesse Unruh could not call all the shots and suddenly all but one statewide office was held by a Democrat.

This is what scares the DLC and Bill Clinton. A few weeks ago, through no fault of my own, I found myself at a banquet table with a Democratic officeholder from another state who heads a well oiled political machine. He opposes the Iraq war according to Wikipedia, although I spent an hour vainly trying to find actual evidence on that point. The politician remarked that Lieberman is a good Democrat and friend of Israel. Trying to be polite but also trying to be true to my views, I offered that it was too bad that he had to be such a sycophant of President Bush. The man exploded in a barrage of accusatory non-sequitors that could only have meant that his hegemony was being challenged. He apologized later and he was getting ready to give a speech, so I can cut him a break, but the reaction was telling . . . and only encourages me that a little grass roots power is a good thing.

The bottom line is that we have tried their way, and absent a charismatic presence like Clinton, their way does not work.