Why Progressives Lost The Iraq Supplemental Fight
by Chris Bowers, Tue Mar 13, 2007 at 10:34:22 AM EDT
But with conservative and moderate Democrats refusing to consider a faster timetable or a cutoff of war funding, party leaders have had to steer a more centrist course on Iraq.I amazed at how three sentences can contain to many of the things that are still major problems in our national political scene. Here is an incomplete list:
They point to polls that show the public opposes cutting off funding or revoking President Bush's authority for the war but backs bringing home troops by next year. They argue that their measure can at least make Bush report to Congress any time he deploys a unit that doesn't meet training or readiness standards, or has not spent at least a year at home between tours.
- Data supporting conservative positions is foregrounded, while data supporting progressive positions is buried. The passage cites poll data showing opposition to cutting off funding or revoking Bush's authority. It does mention poll data, often taken from the same polls, that show much larger majorities in favor of binding troop readiness standards, and full withdrawal in one year or less (source). That is about the only bright spot in this passage, even if the data on the public favoring troop withdrawal is somewhat buried. Typically, writers talk about progressive positions as though the public is always against them, and following them would be political suicide (note: passage corrected after I misread the piece).
- Conservative frames employed to misrepresent progressive positions. A cutoff of war funding? What Democrat has said we should cut off war funding? Progressives have repeatedly talked about a fully funded withdrawal, and the rest of the caucus has said we won't cut off funds. Republicans have repeatedly said that is what Democrats want to do, and so that is the way what Democrats want to do is described.
- The political center is located on the right. George Bush has an approval rating on Iraq in the high 20's. People hate George Bush and hate the Iraq war. Yet somehow the "center" is assumed to be somewhere between Democrats in Congress and Bush. In reality, the center is quite clearly on the side of Democrats. However, no matter how unpopular conservative positions and politicians may be, the center is always assumed to be straddling between the conservative position and something else. Certainly, the center can never be allowed to be where progressives are.
There are many Democrats who are convinced that America is a fundamentally conservative nation, and becoming more so. Forget that the progressive position on every issue, save gay marriage, is currently more popular than the conservative position. Forget the enormous political architecture the conservative movement has created over the past thirty years, specifically designed to make fringe conservative positions mainstream. Forget even the Democratic takeover of Congress. Forget the rising progressive tide in the people powered movement. None of this means anything to many Democratic staffers and elected representatives in Washington. There are still many people with a D in front of their name that view things like the 1994 election as the norm, and 2006 as the anomaly. There are Democrats who are convinced that the media does, in fact, have a massive liberal bias. There are those Democrats who have swallowed every concept in the great backlash narrative about liberal elites. There are those Democrats who feel that the rise of the progressive movement has been an overwhelming net negative for Democrats.
Ultimately, it is a problem of political perception. There are those Democrats who view the rise of conservatism in America from 1978-2006 as both natural and permanent, rather than as constructed and reversible. In my judgment, all evidence I have seen over the past four years shows that it is, in fact, reversible and constructed. The massive public souring on Republicans, uncovering the structure and operation of the conservative movement, witnessing the rise of the progressive movement, recent election results--it can all be defeated, and we can start moving forward again. For one reason or another, there are Democrats who just don't see things that way, who would even prefer if it was not that way, or who just don't care and never look at any political calculation besides the next one. Many of those Democrats reside in the Blue Dog caucus. In talking with these people, I could quote polling, cite election results, and demonstrate activist support until I have been chocked blue, but none of that would ever matter to people like Alan Boyd, Steny Hoyer, or Ellen Tauscher. They view themselves as operating in countries with entirely different political playing fields as movementarians like I do. If there are Democrats who we cannot convince of the political reality that a conservative political environment can be reversed and should be reversed, then those are Democrats we will eventually have to go though, rather than working with. If you don't believe that progressives can win, you are probably already contributing to progressive defeat even before the struggle begins. When it came to the Iraq supplemental fight, there were quite a few Democrats who did just that. And that is why we lost.