The Lonely Centrist

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Friday, August 11, 2006

On Terror and Politics: I think I get it

The Centerman has made no bones about his desire to have a realistic Democratic alternative to the Republican Party. Does anyone see it coming?

As I understand the New York Times and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, it is improper for the Bush administration, Republicans, or really anyone, ever to suggest that the policies favored by many Democrats would be ineffective in the war on terror, or send a wrong message to our enemies, or undermine the nation's defense effort or morale. Democrats, however, are allowed to say anything they want about Mr. Bush and supporters of the war: he "lied" to take us into war (not merely was mistaken) is merely the standard charge. He is routinely accused of breaking the law, of violating the constitution, of intentionally dividing the country for political gain, of fighting the war for the benefit of Halliburton, etc. etc. Anything can be said about the president and the war's supporters, but they are not allowed to reply.
Even if the replies are valid.

Take, for instance, E.J. Dionne's latest. Here are a few excerpts and some commentary:

[Quoting Dick Cheney]:

"The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, [from] the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the al-Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."

The rejection of Lieberman made Cheney wonder if "the dominant view of the Democratic Party" is "the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home."

Wow! I bet the 145,000 free citizens of Connecticut who voted for Lamont will be shocked to learn that they were really sending signals of "retreat" to "al-Qaeda types.

They may well be. Of course, Cheney didn't say that. But more to the point, what is actually inaccurate about the Vice President's statement? Al-Qaeda almost certainly is banking on breaking the will of the American people to finish the fight. And is it not fair to wonder if the dominant view of the Democratic Party is the notion that someone we can just pretend this conflict is not underway? Isn't that largely Ned Lamont's position? I mean, I've not heard of Lamont suggesting anything other than pulling our soldiers home. That may be a good idea, but what then? Lamont offers nothing, nor do other Democrats calling for a quick and total pullout, such as Senator Kerry and Rep. Murtha, or Howard Dean, let alone the snarling bloggers at Daily Kos.

More Dionne:
[RNC Chairman Ken] Mehlman ... explained Ronald Reagan's defection from the Democratic Party this way: 'He saw the beginning of the end, as a party that had vowed to fight communism became a party that set itself against those who fought communism.' Ah, yes, the party of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale was nothing but a bunch of anti-anti-communists.

Well, E.J., you tell me: It's strong rhetoric, to be sure, though probably not as strong as "Bush lied;" -- Yet it's kind of right, isn't it? By the end of the Carter era, through Mondale's 1984 campaign and the rest of the 1980s, the Democrats were largely defeatist. They opposed the operation ousting the Communist government of Grenada; they opposed U.S. support for the democratic government of El Salvador in its fight with communists; they opposed U.S. support for contra fighters and civilian democratic movements in Sandinista Nicaragua; they supported a unilateral nuclear freeze and/or disarmament; and they were relentlessly critical of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's foreign policy right up to the moment the Berlin Wall fell. At each stage they sought to use these issues to defeat Republicans at the polls. It was this policy that pushed many of us to the politic right.

From there it was an easy leap to saying a Democratic Party -- cleverly renamed the "Defeat-ocrat Party" by the RNC chairman -- "that once stood for strength now stands for retreat and defeat." Translation: Anyone who dares question our botched approach is in favor of surrender.

Well, that's E.J.'s translation. I'll just focus on Mehlman's comment - isn't it largely correct? E.J. makes no effort to persuade us it is not. Rather, he is simply outraged that anyone should suggest it. In other words, Democrats can say anything about Bush, but anything Bush or Republicans say in reply is unfairly "politicizing the war."

Well, that's ridiculous.

Iraq has not gone well. We never much liked it here. And it is perhaps unfair to blame those who opposed the war for events that followed. But from this perch, it seems that one reason the anti-war arguments lost out in March of 2003 is that the opponents of the war on the left - i.e. within the Democratic Party (and of course many Democrats - a majority - supported the war) were so ridiculously irresponsible, silly, and driven by Bush hatred that good arguments against the war were not made. From the left we heard only silly arguments, such as "no blood for oil," (like we couldn't have just lifted the oil embargo) or Bush merely "wants revenge for his father," or even exchange rates! The average, relatively non-political centrist voter heard this nonsense, and figured there wasn't much case to be made against the war. A few conservative cranks, such as Pat Buchanan, made the argument, but buried it in conspiracy theories.

This is the cost of our lacking a responsible opposition. For over 5 years, from the day George Bush took office, the Democrats have offered little but the most extreme Bush hatred, partisanship, and obstructionism. We deserve better from an opposition party.

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