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The more I think about this the more stunned I am. Back in 2002 I wrote somewhere else (can't find it unfortunately) that there was no margin in any of the presidential contenders voting for the Iraq resolution. I understood they were leary of doing it after the first Gulf War went so well and they all had egg on their faces for opposing it --- some of them had been unable to run in 1992 because of it. I got it.
But nonetheless it seemed obvious to me that by 2004, if the war was going well, they were unlikely to unseat Bush anyway and if it was going badly, they would have to do pirouettes on the head of a pin trying to explain why they voted for it, particularly when there were millions who knew it was wrong on the merits from the beginning.
Sure enough, we were forced to watch the extremely unpleasant spectacle John Kerry doing his clumsy pas de deux a thousand times trying to explain to the robotic press corps that he gave "authorization" to the president, but didn't actually vote for war --- and then later how he was for supplemental funding before he was against it. (Yes, I knew this was a "nuanced" position, but it disasterously played into every negative Democratic stereotype.)
Damned if we might be seeing the same thing unfold all over again. I accept that the supplemental funding bill will pass as is. And I accept that there will be some faithless Dems who will cross over and give Bush his "bipartisan" cover. Bush is determined to continue with this debacle and that still scares pols from conservative districts and states. (I won't even go into the marshamallows who call themselves Republican "moderates" in more liberal districts, but I'm looking forward to helping the Dems defeat them.) But I never in a million years thought that we would re-run 2004 again, and the prospect of having to watch our candidates do verbal gymnastics explaining why they didn't vote for the one thing that could have ended the war --- de-funding --- is almost incomprehensible. Every single day the Republicans are on television trash talking the Dems, saying, "if you are so against this war why won't you use the power o' the purse!" Here we have an opportunity for the presidential candidates to take a free shot and shut down this line of argument right now --- and they aren't jumping at the chance.
I criticized Hillary earlier, but it isn't just her. Obama also said he needed to "read the legislation" first. Biden said he's voting for it. I don't know about Richardson --- his web-site says nothing specifically about it although he is in favor of "de-authorizing" the war. To their credit, Dodd said he wouldn't, Kucinich certainly won't and Edwards gave a speech today challenging the very concept of the GWOT and said he wouldn't vote for it if he were in the Senate. It's our two front-runners who inexplicably need to think about it.
This seems like a no-brainer to me. In fact, it's so obvious that I foolishly assumed it had been part of the calculation in making the deal -- the silver lining was that it would allow the presidential candidates to come out clearly and decisively against the war without actually having to fight about it all summer. Maybe I don't understand politics. But I would swear that this war and the president who insists on escalating it are extremely unpopular and that anyone who wants to lead the nation would be looking for ways to win a majority of votes. Silly me.
Update: Joan Walsh also makes a good point. It's one thing to not have the votes and say you have to cut your losses. It's quite another blow smoke up our asses about what a great victory this is. Citizens may not be political junkies who follow every procedural vote, but they know very well when somebody loses a stand-off. Walsh writes:
Americans have already "spoken out" on the war. They oppose it. They elected Democrats to end it. Now the Associated Press reports Reid's boast that the compromise legislation would be the first war-funding bill sent to Bush since the U.S. invasion of Iraq "where he won't get a blank check." The president is absolutely getting a blank check, Harry, and Democrats should be honest about it. As proposed, the benchmarks are toothless; they have no consequences, and Republicans are making sure Bush can waive them and continue spending when -- note that I didn't say "if" -- Nouri al-Maliki's government fails to meet them.
If you think Reid's happy talk was bad, you should have seen Rahm on the Newshour tonight. He was once a ballet dancer and he did a very nice Grand Jeté on the tip of a ball point pen, but it still wasn't very convincing. They really shouldn't try to spin this. If they have to lose, they could at least do it with some dignity.