BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, there's growing frustration among Democrats finding themselves boxed in when it comes to the war in Iraq and unable to change U.S. policy despite their majority in the House and Senate.
Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's watching all of this for us -- how frustrated, Dana, are the Democrats?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very, Wolf.
The frustration among the Democrats really is palpable. In fact, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said that he tried so hard to find Republican votes on Iraq, he even called GOP Senator Larry Craig. And Democrats are also discouraged because their like-minded anti-war group knocked them right off message. [what message was that? --- ed]
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BASH (voice-over): On the Senate floor, the war debate turned from Iraq policy to raw politics.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: General Petraeus or MoveOn.org -- which one are we going to believe?
BASH: Republicans forced through a measure condemning this controversial ad -- "General Betray Us" -- from the anti-war group MoveOn.org. Democrats accused Republicans of hypocrisy and trying to change the subject.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We're going to be pretty busy in the United States Senate if we turn into the ad police.
BASH: But Democrats privately admit the ad hurt them and may have contributed to the quandary they still find themselves in. After nine months in power, Democrats still cannot find enough Republicans to change Iraq strategy.
SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: The counter-productiveness of MoveOn.org had the effect of freezing all of my colleagues.
Imagine that. One ad in the NY Times and these Republicans decided that they couldn't vote to end the war. I'd say that's quite a statement about their morals and principles.
As Yglesias points out here, the entire Village is infuriated at MoveOn, beside themselves at how this group of lazy, stupid, amateur interlopers ruined everything. You see, if MoveOn hadn't run that ad at least a dozen Republicans would have been able to vote against the war and Johnny would be marching home again, right now! Except, of course, that's nonsense.
The Eunuch caucus never planned to vote with the Democrats and the Democrats know it. Those Republicans who have the slightest tinge of integrity are all leaving politics. (And there aren't that many.)
There is a much grander strategy at work, with MoveOn being the Michael Moore sideshow of the moment for both sides to kick around like a beach ball in the grandstands:
BASH: Republican Gordon Smith supports the Democrats' troop withdrawal deadline, but he is lashing out at Democratic leaders for ending negotiations with Republicans looking for common ground on Iraq.
SMITH: I knew of a lot of senators whose said are you going to give me something that I can vote for this time?
And I was working to that end. But that effort -- the plug was pulled on that by the Democratic Senate leadership.
BASH: But the Senate Democratic leader insists he could not convince Republicans to support Democrats' withdrawal time line and says he won't compromise just for compromise sake.
"Our principle is that we need to change the course the war in Iraq, not to have an amendment that we say will pass," said Senator Harry Reid.
Here's the dirt in simple language: The Democrats know that Ze Party will never let these vulnerable senators off the reservation. They will not vote for anything that will actually end the war, or even create the slightest glimpse of daylight between them and Bush. Rove's minion, Ari Fleischer has been very clear about what is expected: they must stick with Bush or suffer the consequences. They are committed whether they like it or not. They may say they want a "compromise" but I would bet you a hundred bucks that there is no such deal that could ever get their votes. (Look at what happened with the vaunted elder statesman, John Warner, on the Webb Amendment --- and he isn't even running again.)
Reid and the leadership know this, too. And, frankly, they are more than happy to let the Republicans cling to their loathesome 29% president as they all go over the cliff together. Sadly, they think they are helping them by fanning the flames of this phony MoveOn puppet show so that the wavering wingnuts will definitely cling to the codpiece. It's a very, very cynical strategy.
That's why they're talking about a possible 60 votes next year. They figure these Republicans are tying themselves so closely to Bush they will not have time to untangle the knots before the election.
But, let's not forget in all this cynical strategery (aside from the inconvenient fact that real people are dying) the Democrats still need to convince the American people that they can be trusted with the reins of power. Pretending to be weak and powerless --- or helping the Republicans smear their own allies --- doesn't exactly get them there. As Robert Borosage wrote today:
We've seen this before. This is a patented right-wing ploy. They grab on to a random event, inflate it into a national scandal, intimidate the media, and chuckle as Democrats fall for it. The Republican attack squad in 2004 turned a butchered joke by Sen. John Kerry into a measure of Democratic hatred of the military, and the entire Democratic establishment turned on Kerry. They've libeled Moveon for years because one of thousands of participants in a 30-second ad campaign contest submitted an entry comparing Bush to Hitler. Now, they get 22 Democrats in the Senate and the supposedly independent Republican moderates to line up and waste time passing a resolution condemning Moveon for its newspaper ad. They do this only to prove one thing - that Democrats are too spineless to stand up even for their allies. That they will cut and run at the first sign of fire.
Yes. And it's one of the reasons why so many people viscerally loathe Democrats. They allow themselves to be mau-maued over and over and over again, and whether they do it for some purpose or just because they get out-maneuvered, it has helped create the image of cowardice that is far, far more dangerous for them than being affiliated with a an aggressive, in-your-face activist group. It plays right into the Republicans hands for the timorous Dems to scurry like scared little creatures every time a GOPer says boo. So they say "boo" a lot.
This has killed Democrats for years and, not incidentally, paved the way for this ridiculous war in the first place with the Bush administration's non-stop assault on dissent from very beginning. It's always something with these people:
In a press conference Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., defended fellow Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., who criticized the Bush defense budget and conduct of the war on terrorism. Asked whether he thought the success of the war had been overstated, Daschle replied:
"I don't think the success has been overstated. But the continued success I think is still somewhat in doubt. Whether we continue to succeed depends on whether we get the right answers to the questions Senator Byrd was posing yesterday. ... I will say that at this point, given the information we've been provided, I don't think it would do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date. I think it has been successful. I've said that on many, many occasions. But I think the jury's still out about future success, as I've said."
He also suggested Thursday that it was necessary for the United States to find Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders for the war on terrorism to be considered a success.
Daschle's comments are noteworthy--Democratic criticism of the conduct of the war has been extremely mild to date. But the points he made are well within the bounds of legitimate debate.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., however, fired back almost immediately by attacking Daschle's right to criticize the Bush administration's prosecution of the war. "How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field," Lott stated. "He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united." Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called Daschle's remarks "thoughtless and ill-timed." Meanwhile, Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va., head of the Republican House Campaign Committee, claimed Daschle's "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country."
That fainting couch is threadbare and its springs are sprung by now. But they're still hauling it out and the Democrats are still falling all over themselves apologizing for saying things that are perfectly right and perfectly obvious. It's hard to believe, after all that's happened, that they are still getting away with this crap.
I actually suspect the Dems have convinced themselves that they are being very clever by fanning the MoveOn flap and pushing the Republicans further over the cliff with Bush. But what's really happened is that the larger narrative --- the "Democrats are a bunch of lily-livered wussies" narrative --- has been advanced once again.
I guess we'll have to see if Bush's massive unpopularity can trump the voters' instinctive loathing of chickenshits in the next election. What an inspiring political moment this is.
And once again, the Democrats obscenely shat upon their most loyal, energetic, true believing activists, who work for very little (if anything) and devote their lives to progressive politics. Nice. (Did you notice all the Republicans dutifully burying their noses in the backsides of the NRA psychopaths today? Just a little illustration of how differently the two parties feel about their most ardent supporters.)
Charles Piece puts it best:
22 Democratic senators form[ed] a eunuch chorus -- resolutely got pissed off at a newspaper ad. This last, while infinitely more trivial, will be infinitely more significant, for a number of reasons:
1) It manages to put the Democratic majority in the Senate on record as whacking around some of the party's most dedicated activists and most enthusiastic donors.
2) It gives a win to a rodeo clown like John (Box Turtle) Cornyn.
3) It gives the elite political press another chapter in the story it's been chewing on for the past 20 years -- that the Democrats are nervous about their left-wing base, which will enable the cats 'n kittens to ignore the fact that the Republican base, which has been driving the crazy train since the turn of the century, holds positions embraced in many cases by a whopping one-third of the population. (Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were down in Florida this week, for pity's sake, proudly pandering to the lunatic dead-enders in the Terri Schiavo case as though that wasn't one of the biggest political fiascos of the past 20 years.) It prevents them from being forced to write about gutted civil liberties and exhausted soldiers, neither of which most of the elite political press give a rat's ass about.
4) It was utterly unnecessary. First of all, it's pointless to respond every time someone flings poo out of the conservative monkeyhouse. It's what happens in a monkeyhouse. You duck and walk away to go watch the penguins. Secondly, it has been argued that the MoveOn ad was a "tactical" mistake. In what way? What tactical advantage did the Republicans gain from it? Every damn poll since General Petraeus set all the dogs and ponies to dancing shows that nothing he said moved the needle an inch in terms of support for the war. The country, you should pardon the expression, had MOVED ON. Certainly, Republican poo-flinging wasn't going to change that. The country hates the war, hates this president, and isn't particularly fond of his party. It hates the Democratic Congress because that Congress doesn't hate the war, the president, and his party enough. The "controversy" existed only in the minds of useless political hucksters. Now, though, with the assistance of damned near half their caucus, the Democrats have managed to make a tactical blunder out of this affair a week later, cheesing off valuable friends, being laughed at by what is a despised minority party everywhere except Washington, D.C., and currying favor with a political elite that will never, EVER, give it any kind of credit for its abject self-abasement. It is an altogether remarkable feat.
What kind of strategy is that? I get forcing the Republicans to embrace Bush, but why in the world did they think they get any points for helping him destroy MoveOn --- and from whom? If they'd have fought this back, or even abstained with a clever wink and a nod, they could have shown the nation (not to mention their own supporters) that they understood that the country and the Democrats are aligned on this war and that the Republicans are no longer in the drivers seat. Instead, it now looks like they're supporting Bush and Petraeus.
(But then again, maybe they do... It surely seems true that they loathe the Democratic base as much as the Republicans do.)
Regardless of their motives, they just showed the entire country that the Republicans can still --- after all that's happened, after sliding in the polls to less than 30% approval --- turn Democratic party leaders into quivering bowls of jelly by simply heading for the fainting couch for the 4,336th time.
All I can say is that this latest one has resulted in my rapidly losing interest in defending them against these same wingnuts. It's a two way street, you know?
At the end of that segment I posted earlier, Jack Cafferty said what I think might be the perception of the average person to this ridiculous posturing and tired political theatre:
Let's go back to Jack.
He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: It really is pretty disgusting what goes on down there sometimes, isn't it?
Update: Michael Kinsley has written a good piece today on the Vapor Pageant. As I wrote yesterday, everyone knows exactly what this is, Democrats, Republicans, media and the public. Nobody believes a word of it. And yet it goes on, like some sort of S&M spectacle for which the only purpose is to allow these politicians to act out their respective psychological needs to punish and be punished. It's bizarre.
Update II: Meteor Blades asks the Dems a question.
I'm guessing the answer is "nothing."