There is a Washington gambit where you trick people into accusing you of doing something bad, in order to distract attention from the fact that you are doing something far more sinister.
For example, if you look closely at some of the "deals" that members of Congress have made in which they swapped their votes for various trade agreements, you realize that to call the arrangement a "deal" is to praise it with faint damnation.
You look afterwards, and in turns out that the tomato growers in Congressman X's district were not protected at all. "Congressman X got snookered," you think. Then you look closer and you realize that Congressman X has made pretty much the same "deal" on the last three trade votes. He expressed concern about the tomato growers in his district, he got a letter from the Administration promising him that tomato growers in his district would not get slaughtered, he announced the "deal" with great fanfare, he voted for the trade agreement, tomato growers in his district got slaughtered.No knowledgeable and honest person examining that letter would have thought it meant anything. So, in fact, anyone who denounces this Congressman for "selling" his vote for a "deal" that "protected" tomato growers in his district is actually doing this guy's bidding. That's what he wants his constituents to think, that he protected them. He doesn't want them to realize the simpler truth: he supports the disastrous trade policy, even though it is hammering his constituents. That someone outside his district thinks he protected a parochial interest at the expense of the general interest won't cost him any sleep.
As Samuel Johnson is reported to have said, "Sir: your wife, under the pretense of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods."
A similar dynamic seems to be at work on the Iraq votes. A hue and cry is throughout the land, denouncing the "Democrats" for being wimps, for not standing up to the President. Democrats are supposedly afraid to cut funding for the war, because they are afraid of being accused of not supporting the troops. Is this really what's going on? Or is that just the story?
Consider: in order not be accused, supposedly, of not supporting the troops, the congressional leadership agreed to give every dollar the President asked for, and more, even though this would fund the war well beyond September 30, the end of the fiscal year, and allow the President to escalate the war significantly: the San Fransisco Chronicle reports that there is a "second surge" underway that could double U.S. combat troops in Iraq by Christmas. They tried to take the question of the money "off the table," and instead tried to establish a timetable for withdrawal.
This strategy could well have been successful - if they had stuck to it. Why didn't they stick to it? Votes to override had nothing to do with it. They didn't have 51 votes in the Senate that were willing to stick to it. This was underscored by subsequent developments. Murtha proposed, and the House agreed, to fund the war, without conditions, for 2-3 months. But 51 votes in the Senate wouldn't go along with that. That's where the real problem is.
Right now, there are not 51 votes in the Senate for insisting on any meaningful restriction on the President.
Reid and Pelosi want to maintain the story that they are in charge of something called "Democrats." They want to deflect the blame onto "Republicans." They don't want to acknowledge that the "Republicans" who are the problem are part of the "Democratic" caucus. They prefer to be denounced as wimps than to acknowledge that they can't compel "Democrats" to conform to the will of Democratic voters.
Consider an extreme case: Joe Lieberman. If it hadn't been for Ned Lamont's primary challenge, Joe Lieberman would still be a "Democrat" (and the Los Angeles Times still identifies him as such.) Moreover, he is part of the "Democratic" 51-seat majority in the Senate.
Is Joe Lieberman afraid to vote to cut funding, or support a timetable for withdrawal, or support any other meaningful restriction on the President, because he is afraid of being accused of not supporting the troops? Hardly. Joe Lieberman supports the war, and is willing to keep fighting it to the last drop of someone else's blood and to the last dollar of the taxpayers. Joe Lieberman supports the Empire. To say that he supports President Bush understates the case. The day President Bush announces that he is withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, Joe Lieberman will denounce him as a traitor.
The good news is that the truth will be exposed. When Congress votes on the supplemental, we'll see who is for the war and who is really against it. If Members of Congress who vote for the supplemental suffer a sufficient political backlash, the next vote will be different.
Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy.