One need not be a linguist like George Lakoff to know that it's hard to win a debate on the other guy's assumptions. Or worse, the other guy's lies. For years Team Bush has sought to shroud their devastating and deepening Iraq occupation in the myth of troop protection. When they doled out contracts to Halliburton and Blackwater, it was about "funding the troops." Even as VA health services were threatened, it was about "funding the troops." Every yearly extension of the Iraq occupation is about "funding the troops." As Democratic leaders in Congress moved to hoist the white flag of surrender this week - giving Bush/Cheney billions more for Iraq without any timeline for withdrawal - we heard Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeatedly assuring the media that before Memorial Day, "We will have legislation to fund the troops!" The shared pretense of the White House and Democratic leaders is that funding the Iraq occupation is somehow a program on behalf of the troops. Like a subsidy for family farmers. Instead of challenging this misleading rhetoric by saying "The only way to support the troops is by ending an unwinnable occupation and fully funding a safe withdrawal," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid proclaims, "We will never abandon our troops in a time of war." Along with the utterly confused: "No one wants us to succeed in Iraq more than the Democrats." What Democrats need to be saying, repeatedly, is that it's Bush/Cheney who abandoned several thousand U.S. troops to avoidable deaths in a disastrous occupation, and tens of thousands to horrible injuries. And that they're willing to abandon still more troops to unnecessary death and injury. Democrats also need to talk about polls that consistently show most U.S. troops in Iraq support withdrawal, as do most Iraqis. As Military Families Speak Out says: "Funding the war is not supporting our troops. The way to support our troops is to bring them home now and take care of them when they get here." Yet Democratic leaders are helping Bush/Cheney win the linguistic argument by pledging they won't "abandon the troops." The image Republicans want to plant in our head is that of a U.S. solider abandoned, unarmed on an Iraqi mean street. And that's exactly the image Democratic rhetoric keeps reinforcing. They're on the "Don't Think of an Elephant!" defensive. I'm well aware that recent Congressional proposals to withdraw combat troops did not win a majority (receiving 171 votes in the House and 29 in the Senate) - let alone the 2/3 needed to override a Bush veto. But one reason for their defeats is that Democrats are fighting the Iraq debate on enemy terrain. Another reason is that dozens of Democrats in Congress, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, seem bent on endless war. With such Democrats, don't bother challenging their rhetoric. Better to challenge them in next year's primaries.
Jeff Cohen http://www.jeffcohen.org/ is consultant for Progressive Democrats of America http://pdamerica.org/, former TV pundit/producer, and author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media."