If any more evidence were needed of the current sad state of the Democratic Party, that proof came last week. The day after successful elections in Iraq, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that, in the party’s 2006 agenda, Democrats would simply decline to take a position on the war that had made that voting possible.
In other words, through either political cowardice or political calculation, one of America’s two major parties has simply refused to take a stand on the greatest issue of our time — the war in Iraq, the front line in the war on terror. The move is an implicit admission of the divisions that roil the Democratic Party, which encompasses everyone from Sen. Joe Lieberman on the right to the MoveOn.org activists on the left — and is cynically designed to allow Democratic candidates maximum flexibility to assume the most politically popular position on the war wherever they’re running.
But the strategy, a cop-out that avoids any articulation of any principle, is also profoundly emblematic of Democratic behavior when it comes to the Iraq war. After all, there is some agreement among Democrats — as the Washington Post reported, “There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed.” But beyond that, they refuse to go.
The Democrats’ approach to the war in Iraq — and the war on terror more generally — is easily comprehensible, at least if it’s examined from a political rather than a policy viewpoint. After all, those who offer meaningful strategic advice run the risk of creating disagreement, or of being proved wrong. It’s easy, if cheap, to criticize, and they’ve done so with abandon.
Every mistake, every misstep (and in wars, there always are some) have been seized upon with seeming glee by too many of those on the left. In fact, many Americans could be forgiven for wondering whether Democrats have as much invested in our victory as they do in America’s defeat. From casualty numbers to outrages like Abu Ghraib, no occasion for righteous moral denunciation has been allowed to pass unmarked.
Genuine bipartisan counsel (with the honorable exception of Sen. Joe Lieberman) has been infinitely rarer. Think of the Democrats’ many statements, complaints and discussions on the subject. Can you recall one — just one — truly constructive suggestion? Hardly. Instead, when Democrats ranging from Sen. John Kerry to Sen. Hillary Clinton have been asked for their input, they’ve offered bromides ranging from the patent to the obvious: Train the troops faster, encourage the Iraqis to stand on their own two feet, provide straightforward information to the American people. Thanks — who ever would have thought of that?
In the war on terror generally, Sen. Russ Feingold has characterized the President’s use of “military tribunals,” alleged “torture,” and “secret prisons” as a “frightening pattern.” But he and the rest of his compatriots have been significantly less vocal about how they would propose keeping America’s enemies at bay.
Most remarkable have been the wackadoo statements emanating from Democratic Chairman Howard Dean (“The idea that we’re going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong”). Interestingly, when more sober members of his party rebuked him, their reprimands focused less on contradicting the substance of his remark than on limiting the political damage that could result therefrom. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D.-N.D.) suggested that Dean “shut up” — but notably, didn’t rebut Dean’s claim, complaining only that the troops deserved a “better” debate. Rather, Pomeroy suggested, “As our party chairman I believe he needs to focus on the nuts and bolts of winning elections." Ah, yes — Chairman Dean should be focusing on what Democrats care about most.
Ironically, the Democrats’ political calculation in declining to take a stand on Iraq may end up ultimately costing votes, rather than gaining them. For a party that stands for nothing will stand for anything. And a party that can’t formulate a coherent position on the most pressing issue of the day certainly isn’t ready to lead.
In an age of international terrorism and war, some Americans may deplore some Republican policies, but they recognize that there is at least one party that understands the gravity of the war on terror. And whether or not they agree wholeheartedly with the President, they recognize the importance of leadership, and respect him for governing in a way that seeks to shape public opinion, rather than simply following it.
In the end, leadership means maintaining some principles that are non-negotiable — especially when it comes to the safety and security of America.
This article first appeared at theOneRepublic.com.