Democratic Party Divided On Iraq

Democratic Party Divided on Iraq Supplemental

Although everyone is syaing that September is now the potential turning point in congressional support for the Iraq War, I don’t see how things will change much then. Supporters of the “surge” will be able to find some evidence of “progress” even if it is “slow.” Unless there are mass defections to the anti-war side among the Republicans, there is no prospect of the Dems overturning a Bush veto. Thursday night’s vote did not put a resolution of the Iraq quagmire off for only a few months. It put it off until a new president is inaugurated in January of 2009. Bush seems unlikely to significantly withdraw while still president, and the Dems can’t make him if the Republicans won’t turn on their own party’s leader.

Iraq will be the central issue of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The congressional vote on the spending supplemental for Iraq tells us how divided the Democratic Party is on the issue of Iraq. I’d say that the Dems voted in three classes: in accordance with the likely reaction in their congressional disctrict if in congress, in their entire state if senators, and in Iowa and New Hampshire if running for president. The major exception here was Joe Biden of Delaware, who is running on his foreign policy experience– a platform where you would not expect him to acquiesce in popular sentiment on issues he knows well.

The positions of the Washington State representatives and senators as described by the Seattle PI blog. Washington’s six Democratic representatives split down the middle, with three for and three against. But the two senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both voted for it. Cantwell in particular was elected with a very thin margin [the first time, which will have affected her view of tightwire politics]. Clearly, a lot of these Democrats feared that their Republican opponents in the next election might effectively paint them as unpatriotic, troop-hating cut-and-runners if they had voted against the funding supplemental.

Those of us not running for office think that they are being way too cautious, and that the Iraq civil war is so unpopular as a pastime that no significant part of the electorate will punish them for demanding an end to US involvement in it. But then we don’t have to run against a well-heeled opponent with lots of money for television spots with which to rip off our faces in only a year.

Of the four sitting senators who are running for president as Democrats, three voted against the measure— Hillary Clinton,Christopher Dodd and Barack Obama. Joe Biden voted for the bill because, he said, although it is flawed, it would be irresponsible to deny our troops support as long as they are there. Outside the senate, Dennis Kucinich also voted against the bill, in the House. And it was vocally opposed by John Edwards and Bill Richardson. In fact, Edwards argued against presenting the bill in this form at all.

Politicians are in some important part about getting reelected. Sometimes they will take a big risk for a matter of principle, but most of the time their principles and the interests of their constituencies overlap a fair degree (which is typically how they got elected in the first place). The Democratic senators who voted for the bill think their constituencies will not punish them for doing so, but might punish them if they had not. In the case of, e.g., Washington state, this calculation may well be correct.

But the presidential hopefuls do not have their eyes on local districts or state-wide races. They are focused on the primaries. Primaries are dominated by the most committed of the party’s base. Democratic primaries are skewed to the left of the Democratic Party, and Republican primaries are way to the right of that party.

Traditionally, doing well in the first two is key to surviving long enough to win. That means making the Democratic base in Iowa and New Hampshire happy. Hillary’s staff is already, notoriously, not happy with her place in the polls in Iowa, where voters have apparently not forgiven her for having voted for the Iraq War in the first place. A vote for the Iraq supplemental might well have sunk her in both of the first two primaries.

On the other hand, that South Carolina and Florida will come so closely on the heels of the two northern primaries this time may alter the dynamics. A more centrist or conservative Democrat who can hold on until South Carolina and Florida might get a second wind. Both Clinton and Biden must be banking on this sort of thing.

Meanwhile, the Senate select committee on intelligence will share with the public on Monday passages from secret CIA intelligence analysis warning of sectarian violence and guerrilla resistance if the US went to war in Iraq.

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