To continue its resurgence in 2008 and beyond, the
party of Franklin Roosevelt not only must distinguish
itself from the current version of the party of
Herbert Hoover, it also must distinguish the new fare
Democrats are prepared to offer the country from that
which they offered it in the not-so-distant past. To
hold onto recent Congressional gains and retake the
Presidency, Democratic candidates must be able to say
to voters those now familiar words, "Please listen
carefully as our menu has changed." And Democrats
must offer this new fare simultaneously to their
traditional base and to the pragmatists who comprise
the reemerging center of American politics.
No issue demands new fare from Democrats more than
Iraq. It brings into sharpest contrast what the Party
has been and what it must become. If the way Iraq
played out in the 2006 midterms proved anything, it
was that, when necessary, voters can tell the
difference between political calculation and personal conviction. Nineties-style triangulation meets its match in the Iraq debate. Voters want candidates who come straight at them with reality-based positions and solutions. Democrats must demonstrate they get this.
Iraq provides the most obvious platform for doing so.
Voters understand intuitively that, in 2003, it was
political calculation that drove nearly every Democrat
who ever harbored presidential ambitions to pretend to
favor going to war with Iraq. When it became clear
their support for the war would dim their presidential
chances, the same Democrats chose a second, equally
inauthentic tack, pretending President Bush had duped
them into favoring war. Not only hasn't all this
make-believe made believers of the voting public as a
whole, it has underscored how dramatically out of step
these "pretenders" are with their own Democratic base.
The "Zero Tolerance Democrats"
A core of Democratic voters, larger than any pundits
have recognized or any pollsters have quantified,
already have eliminated from consideration any
presidential candidate who voted to authorize the Iraq
war. Maybe for the first time, a significant portion
of Democratic voters will choose - or, more
accurately, disqualify - presidential candidates based
on a single Congressional vote. Call them the "zero
Opposed to the war from the start, their attitude
toward the pretenders is punitive and practical: why
would the Democratic Party tolerate or desire another
nominee bedeviled by an unforgivable political sin,
combining betrayal of principle with failure of nerve, compounded by carefully calculated acts of feckless reaffirmation? To the zero tolerance Democrats, the only thing worse than a Democratic nominee who originally voted to authorize the war and later voted to fund it "before [he] voted against" funding it would be one who originally voted to authorize the war and thereafter invariably voted to fund it. (Anyone who underestimates the effect such errant voting will have on Democratic voters' moods in 2008 probably also couldn't understand how Cubs fans felt seeing one of their own, a certain Senator from New York, pretending to be a Yankees
There's something else to remember about the zero
tolerance Democrats: as conditions in Iraq worsen,
their numbers will swell and the intensity of their
resentment toward the pretenders will grow.
The "Resigned Pragmatists"
Beyond the zero tolerance Democrats lies another,
larger bloc of 2008 voters whose pragmatic attitudes
toward the Iraq war also will place them well in front
of most presidential candidates. Call them the
"resigned pragmatists." While the zero tolerance
Democrats may decide the next Democratic presidential
nominee, the resigned pragmatists almost certainly
will decide the next President.
This group consists of a majority of the Democratic
and Independent voters who supported the Iraq invasion
and a majority who opposed it. For a time, these
formerly contraposed factions coalesced around an idea
that seemed reasonable and went like this: "No matter
how we got there, we're there now and can't afford to
But now, like the zero tolerance Democrats, the
resigned pragmatists recognize what candidates still
driven by political calculation cannot admit - that
continuing to subject American troops to death or
serious injury in Iraq, and to spend $8 billion per
month for the privilege, cannot be justified by the
results we are achieving there. With the Iraqi civil
war at least a year old, the resigned pragmatists are incredulous that our troops still are in harm's way.
Paying all due respect to our troops, they recognize
that American blood is not uniquely suited to being
spilled in the streets and sands of Iraq. Faced with
growing costs, human and material, and diminishing
returns, the resigned pragmatists will join the zero
tolerance Democrats in demanding nothing less than
withdrawal from Iraq.
There is a subtle difference, however, in the resigned pragmatists' approach to this withdrawal: they would prefer it be accompanied by tangible proof that our four-year efforts there have not been in vain. Though they are resigned to our troops leaving Iraq, they are not resigned to our troops leaving in disgrace, like the last helicopter lifting off the rooftop of our Saigon embassy. Though they understand we must leave, they maintain a sliver of optimism that all will not be lost in Iraq after we leave. Having witnessed so many acts of political calculation surrounding Iraq the past four years, these pragmatists recognize President Bush's "surge" as the proverbial pimple on the elephant's behind. If, on the other hand, a real surge - say, to 500,000 troops - could somehow stabilize Iraq, many resigned pragmatists could be talked into spending the "withdrawal dividend" to outsource the whole damn war. (It's shocking the GOP didn't think of it first in these terms.) Surely somewhere in Dubai, someone's already run the numbers and figured out how to make it work with $8 billion a month. Why not call this ersatz force the "Donald Rumsfeld Brigade"? After all, with $8 billion to spend every month, you ought to be able to go to war with the army you want, not the army you have.
Paul De Marco (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an attorney from Cincinnati,