March 5, 2007

The Bummer Of A Big Tent

The Democratic win in last year's midterms gave more credibility to the anti-war wing of Congressional Democrats, who spent most of 2006 trying to get reporters to show up to press conferences, and mostly unsuccessfully. With the new majority, these members of the so-called Out of Iraq Caucus have received much more attention and regularly get their message into the mainstream. However, they have begun to discover that all of the seats they won in November came from districts that don't appreciate a cut-and-run policy:

Now, with a change in power in Congress and a new military strategy to increase the number of American troops in Iraq, the members of the group — most of them liberals — are suddenly much in demand, finding themselves at the center of the debate over the war.

Yet even with a majority of Americans opposing the war, the caucus is struggling to overcome its fringe image and is becoming increasingly frustrated by what its members say is the Democratic leadership’s unwillingness to heed their calls for decisive action to the end the war.

At the same time, though the members are united in their desire to bring American military involvement in Iraq to a speedy end, they are still debating the best way to do so. In that sense, they reflect the broader struggle among Democrats in Congress, who have been unable to coalesce around a single position on how strongly to confront President Bush over the war.

House Democratic leaders this week seemed to back away slightly from a proposal by Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, to limit Mr. Bush’s latest supplemental spending request for the war. Mr. Murtha’s proposal would have required strict readiness for troops sent to Iraq, essentially limiting the president’s ability to follow through on his plan to deploy an additional 21,500.

Mr. Murtha’s conditions were favored by caucus members, though it has come under fire from Republicans who labeled it a “slow bleed” strategy. The proposed strategy has also run into opposition from conservative House Democrats, who argue that their concerns need to be taken seriously because they helped deliver the Democratic majority in the midterm elections. The Murtha proposal, they said, would leave the party vulnerable to charges of abandoning troops.

The rise of Blue Dog Democrats has complicated the plans of the defeat-minded Democrats to force an end to the war in Iraq through retreat. The real story in 2006 was the reverse of the "Reagan Democrats" in the GOP back to the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid saw this as a rejection of the war effort and planned accordingly, but John Murtha's babbling exposed it as a plan to win a political victory by starving troops in the field

That fired up the Blue Dogs, and underscored the actual dynamic of the 2006 elections. The Reagan Democrats did not abandon the Republicans because of the war; these new seats came from center-right or centrist districts. They voted Democratic because the Republicans in Congress had stopped acting like Republicans. These voters grew tired of profligate spending, bureaucratic incompetence (exemplified by the post-Katrina performance of FEMA), and the kind of corruptions both petty and grand that the GOP pledged to end in 1994.

Democrats have slowly discovered what it means to win a majority. They now have to deal with the center-right members in their caucus, having absorbed them into what had previously been a more pure group, ideologically. Blue Dogs were lower in number and almost non-existent in influence before Pelosi won her thin majority; now they hold control of Congress in their hands, and the Out of Iraq caucus finds itself almost as irrelevant as before.


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The Bummer Of A Big Tent Ed Morrissey The Democratic win in last year's midterms gave more credibility to the anti-war wing of Congressional Democrats, who spent most of 2006 trying to get reporters to show up to press conferences, [Read More]