On Afghanistan, the DNC Does Not Speak for Me

My friend David told me once that growing up in the South he had the
experience of people saying to him, "Jews are greedy," before
"correcting" themselves by "reassuring" him that: "Of course, we don't
mean you, David. We know you're not like that." To which my
friend David said he would respond, "Well, if 'Jews' are greedy, then
I must be greedy, because I'm Jewish. So in the future,
instead of saying, 'Jews are greedy,' you should just say, 'Dave is
greedy,' because when you say it about 'Jews,' you say it about me."

I was reminded of this because when Democratic National Committee
spokesman Brad Woodhouse accused
Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele of "betting against
our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan" after Steele
criticized the Afghanistan war, Woodhouse wasn't just attacking
Michael Steele; Woodhouse was attacking me and every American who is
against the war.

That would be wrong, even if there were only five of us. But, in fact,
there are many of us, and Brad Woodhouse has wronged us all.

In June, the Washington Postreported
that 53 percent of Americans say that the war in Afghanistan is not
worth its costs; 41 percent feel that way strongly. Two-thirds of
Democrats, 53 percent of independents, and 35 percent of Republicans
say the war is not worth its costs.

Just before Brad Woodhouse made his statement attacking Michael
Steele, three-fifths
of the Democrats
in the House, including
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the two Congressional Vice Chairs of the
DNC, Representative Mike Honda and Representative Debbie Wasserman
Schultz, voted for an amendment introduced by Representative Jim
McGovern, Representative David Obey, and Representative Walter Jones
that would have required President Obama to establish a timetable for
U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In his attack on Steele, Woodhouse seemed to be encouraging
Republicans to enforce
"party discipline"
on Steele to support the war: "The likes of
John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the
Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight
against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job." Enforcing
Republican Party discipline on Republicans to support the war in
Afghanistan is not in the interest of the majority of Americans and
the super-majority of Democrats who oppose the war. If a third,
instead of 5%, of the Republicans in the House had supported the
McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment, reflecting the third of Republicans in
the country at large who do not support the war, the
McGovern-Obey-Jones amendment requiring a timetable for withdrawal
would have passed the House. With his attack on Steele, Woodhouse made
it less likely that House Republicans will join House Democrats in
trying to end the war sooner rather than later.

There is an extremely relevant recent precedent for this dynamic,
which should give pause to every Democrat who wants to redirect
resources from the Pentagon killing machine to creating and saving
domestic jobs. In early October 2006, Republican Senator Bill Frist -
then Majority Leader - while traveling in Afghanistan, said that
Taliban fighters were too numerous and too popular to be defeated.
"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government,"
Senator Frist said. Democrats accused Frist of trying to "cut and run"
in Afghanistan, APreported
at the time
. "Senator Frist now suggests that the best way forward
in Afghanistan is to coddle the Taliban by welcoming Taliban members
into a coalition government, as if 9/11 had never happened,"
then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

What was accomplished with this know-nothing partisan attack? Folks
who might have thought Senator Frist's statement was an opening for
sanity instead ducked for cover. Four years, many American and Afghan
dead, and many billions of U.S. tax dollars flushed down the toilet
later, Frist's statement is a commonplace, disputed by no-one who
plausibly pretends to know anything, even U.S. government officials.
As George Bernard Shaw might have noted, we've already conceded our
willingness to make a deal with the Taliban. Now we're just haggling
about the price. What needless death and suffering for Americans and
Afghans might we have avoided if Senator Frist's obvious insight four
years ago had not been shut down with a know-nothing partisan attack?

Imagine if Michael Steele were now caught on tape expressing his
support for abortion rights and freedom from discrimination for gays
and lesbians serving in the military. If Brad Woodhouse put out a
statement denouncing Steele and demanding that Republicans compel
Steele to adhere to Republican discipline, would Woodhouse not catch
hell from Democratic supporters of abortion rights and the civil
rights of gays and lesbians? If you care about issues, it's
not in your interest for someone to "police the boundaries" of the
other side. Red rover, red rover. Let another Republican refusenik
come over.

Woodhouse is entitled to his views, but as a spokesman of the
Democratic National Committee, he is not entitled to take actions that
run counter to the interests of the overwhelming majority of
Democrats, if the DNC wishes to be perceived as institution that
represents Democrats and is entitled to their support.

In saying that Steele was "betting against our troops and rooting for
failure in Afghanistan," Woodhouse engaged in a tactic that Democrats
have justly and bitterly complained about when Republicans used it
against them. By engaging in this sort of attack, Woodhouse helps to
foster a climate in which critics of this war or any other can be
marginalized with attacks on their patriotism. This is unacceptable
whether done by Republicans or Democrats. As E.J. Dionne wrote
in the Washington Post
, Steele "had a right to offer his
opinion without being accused of undermining our troops or 'rooting
for failure.'"

Brad Woodhouse and the DNC owe all of us an apology, but I would
settle for a commitment not to engage in this sort of behavior in the
future. Democratic activists who care about issues have choices about
where to donate their dollars. If the DNC insists on continuing to
advocate for the Afghanistan war, against the interests of a
super-majority of Democrats, that ought to have consequences.