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June 21, 2006
Now Kerry Irritates Democrats, Too

For a man who wants to capture his party's nomination for President in less than two years, John Kerry has spent more than his fair share of time putting his putative allies on the spot over the Iraq War. After a number of Democrats tried fashioning a non-binding Senate resolution that would eliminate a specific timetable to avoid the charge of a cut-and-run strategy, Kerry undercut them by simply resubmitting his original proposal with a deadline only six months further out than the last:

When Senator John Kerry was their presidential nominee in 2004, Democrats fervently wished he would express himself firmly about the Iraq war.

Mr. Kerry has found his resolve. But it has not made his fellow Democrats any happier. They fear the latest evolution of Mr. Kerry's views on Iraq may now complicate their hopes of taking back a majority in Congress in 2006.

As the Senate prepared for what promises to be a sharp debate starting on Wednesday about whether to begin pulling troops from Iraq, the Democratic leadership wants its members to rally behind a proposal that calls for some troops to move out by the end of this year but does not set a fixed date for complete withdrawal. Mr. Kerry has insisted on setting a date, for American combat troops to pull out in 12 months, saying anything less is too cautious.

In drawing up a schedule for the Wednesday session, the Democratic leadership has arranged for its plan to be debated first, pushing Mr. Kerry and his proposal into the evening, too late for the nightly television news, to starve it of some attention.

The Democrats have never embraced John Kerry, even when he ran for president, and especially afterwards. Kerry has done little legislative work over his extensive tenure in the Senate; when he ran in 2004, he had only authored six bills in almost 20 years. Kerry has long preferred to operate investigations, where he can grandstand and get his picture in the papers without the tough political negotiating that takes more effort and more compromise with other members. He may be the closest Senator to a dilettante over his career, at least up to 2004.

Now that he blew an eminently winnable election against George Bush, Kerry has made himself more active in Senate politics, but the Democrats have not grown more fond of the junior Senator from Massachussetts. In fact, he seems to relish operating outside the strategems of his own caucus, ironically in pursuing yet another major flip-flop. He wants to underscore his belief that the Iraq War was a mistake by setting a firm date for withdrawal, a position he wouldn't take in the rough months in 2004 while the US built the political structures that has now led to tremendous progress in 2006. Just when the US has started to roll up the insurgent networks, now Kerry wants to hit the panic button.

All of this makes the Democrats unhappy -- but not because they support the progress being made, but because Kerry makes the rest of them look bad. Christopher Dodd is one example:

In an interview, Mr. Dodd, who is also considering a presidential run, said one danger in the November election was in making Democrats look indecisive. "If the argument comes down to, Is it one year or 18 months, I think we're going to confuse people," he said. "I'm not sure what the value is; I think it hurts us rather than helps."

The problem does not occur with one particular date, but with date-setting at all. This shows that Kerry may still have the most honest approach among the Democrats, an assertion that doesn't cover any of them with glory. The Democrats still want to leave the impression with their antiwar base that they will pull the troops out of Iraq once in power, but they also want to keep the moderates in place by watering down the "cut-and-run" strategy their rhetoric has demanded.

Perhaps that reason has the Democrats angriest with Kerry. His insistence on pursuing his own amendment highlights their hypocrisy and the sham that their latest proposal is.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 21, 2006 7:40 AM

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