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October 09, 2007

Want to End the War? Start with how a bill becomes a law.
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I haven't written much about the state of the anti-war movement in Congress, mostly because the set of debates within the progressive community make me so frustrated I could just... vote libertarian.  Or something.

David Nather on sums up the state of the problem very nicely, far more dispassionately than I ever could, and gives props to our hosts here at National Security Network and others who have made an effort to bring everybody together under one sane tent.

In sum:  you need super-majorities of various sizes in the Senate and House to force change and override a veto.  As a matter of simple arithmetic, there aren't enough Democrats in either house to accomplish this. (Note that even taking care of sick kids is looking unlikely to gather enough votes for the overriding-the-veto part.)Billpic

Therefore, anti-war legislators have two choices:  they can get behind some proposal that would garner enough Republican votes to pass and be upheld.  Or, they can focus on expanding the Democrats' majority in 2008 and accept that the President will proceed unfettered until after that.

Nather lays it out out simply:

...the groups simply have won all the Democratic votes they’re going to get. The only place to pick up more votes, at least for the next year, is on the Republican side.

And the only means for accomplishing that, it seems, is for the anti-war groups to reach out more emphatically to Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war in search of a compromise that could win their votes while keeping almost all the Democrats in the fold. “What was always missing, and continues to elude us, is the 10 to 12 Republicans who will come over to our side and help us break the logjam,” said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, one of the sponsors of the legislation to set a timetable to withdraw troops. “If there were any missing energy” in the anti-war movement, he said, “that might be where they could apply it.”

The other option is to redirect their efforts to the 2008 election campaigns and target a group of Republicans for defeat, especially in the Senate. That approach worked well for the anti-war groups in 2006, when the voters put both houses of Congress into Democratic hands, and some in the movement have concluded that it is the only goal worth pursuing now — since Republicans aren’t changing their votes.

Actually, though, there are at least two other options.

Democrats could try to do both things -- get behind something Republicans could accept and make it clear that their colleagues who could cooperate and don't will be targeted extra-hard.  This is where most, though not all, of the party's presidential candidates seem to come down.  Then you could have a good-cop, bad-cop strategy, where the groups and members who just need to be out there railing for full withdrawal now could do it -- on the hustings -- and hold their fire inside Congress for now.   Groups and members whose approach is much more gradualist, for their part, could go out of their way not to insult or marginalize their colleagues. This would require some compromise and cooperation from both sides of the progressive movement, but it sure seems like it would be worth it.

Then there's the free-fire zone option, whereby everyone pursues his or her preferred option at the same time.  Iraq plans of every stripe come forward, apparently willy-nilly.  Progressives compete to tear each other down.  Progressive groups target incumbent Democrats in primaries.  Like, say, Cindy Sheehan running against Nancy Pelosi. The public looks at this and sees, not principle, but confusion. 

Perhaps someone more visually creative could work out a new version of Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill" to explain this again.


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1) You (and Mr. Nather) seem to be under the mistaken impression that the Republicans want to vote against the war, or need persuasion. Do you have any ideas how to accomplish this, aside from the usual rhetoric that the crazy lefties need to cool it? Are you aware that the anti-war left coalition is now the majority in this country?
I suggest re-reading the passage on "Pressure tactics" in Mr. Nather's piece. "Many Republicans were receptive, said Peter Granato, a vice chairman of the organization [vote vets], but they still voted against it after one of their most respected colleagues, Republican John W. Warner of Virginia, reversed his earlier position and opposed the idea." Gives one a lot of hope for Republican sensibility, right?
2) You say that the anti-war types need a compromise in order to get Republicans on board: short of not ending the war, what compromise will get the needed Republican votes in the House and Senate?
3) The Democrats succeeded in sending a bill to Bush in the Spring with deadlines, and he vetoed it. Why not keep doing that until the money runs out and the troops have to come home? That would also build pressure for either a compromise from the GOP (for a change), or build pressure for a full withdraw of forces.
4) Funding a war requires an active vote by Congress, it is not a passive thing which requires 2/3 majority to overturn. Every time Congress approves a bill for funding the war without ending the war, it becomes harder to change the minds of Bush or the other Republicans. It only takes 41 Senators, or a very hard-nosed Speaker of the House to prevent the passage of a bill. Why not de-fund the war by default?

Seems pretty simple to me. If we want to actually end the war, defund it and take the political licks like big boys and girls. If we want to score political points more than we want to actually end the war, then keep up the infighting and score symbolical 'victories' while never actually getting anything done.

The only thing that /doesn't/ work is wanting both and achieving neither. We're doing a great job on this approach right now.

Just targeting Republicans isn't going to work. We have to target Bushdog Democrats too. We wounded Lieberman, but we didn't finish him. Can't happen again. If you're soft on getting out of Iraq, you're going to have to suffer some pain, even if you're a Democrat.

The Democrats can't get anything done because they only have a majority, so the only solution is to ignore trouble-making progressives, and woo the Republican party? I'm sorry, but this is beyond pathetic. The Republicans are in the minorty, and were able to pass an advertisement condemning the Move-On ad. But the Democrats, who are in the majority, weren't able to get amendments condemning right-wing attack ads on liberal soldiers. Explain that one to me, if you can. And as much as I appreciate the condescending advice to watch the Schoolhouse Rock video, I've seen it before, and somehow I missed the part where they explain why the majority party is helpless in the face of the minority. Or perhaps I knew it once, but forgot over the last 6 years, when the Republican majority (which was not a super-majority), was able to pass their legislation, and confirm their right-wing justices.

It's not that complicated. If the Democrats want to end the war, and have a plan to do it, they propose that in the next funding bill. If the Republicans threaten to fillibuster, the Democrats continue with the same bill, and if Republicans fillibuster for weeks, and prevent a bill being passed, the Democrats point out that the Republicans killed the funding for the troops, and that the troops have to be brought home anyway. The fact that the Democrats haven't done this tells me that either they're political cowards, or they have neither ideas nor ideals.

I love how you see the Democratic party's main problem with ending the war as progressives, rather than Republicans. Everything you say works to convince me that the Democratic party despises progressives far more than they despise the Republican party, and that I might as well vote for the Green party next election, rather than wasting a vote on a Democrat.

With respect to Congressional Democrats reaching out to Republicans, it won't work. The few, mostly very senior Republicans least enthusiastic about Bush administration policy directions feel deeply about the primacy of the executive in foreign policy and national security affairs. The great majority of the Republicans on the Hill will back President Bush no matter what; they do not, for the most part, have views about foreign affairs independent of administration policy. Though many Congressional Republicans have thought about how best to support the President, they have not otherwise thought much about foreign and defense policy at all.

Oddly enough, this is a big part of the Democrats' problem as well. Do Congressional Democrats know what they want on Iraq? Are they prepared to take political risks on behalf of what they want? As far as the public is concerned, the answers to these questions are, respectively, "sort of" and "not really." For individual prominent Democrats, like Sen. Biden and Gov. Richardson, the answers are "pretty much" and "not really," which isn't much of an improvement. Democrats wouldn't find themselves in quite this position had they many among them with well-defined public profiles on foreign affairs, but in truth it's been well over a generation since developing such a profile paid any dividends within the party -- with the single exception that zealous supporters of Israel have always done pretty well. Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Pelosi, Reid -- all of these people are essentially foreign policy novices, and it shows.

Say what you want to about the administration's position on the war, but don't expect the Democrats' nothing to beat the Republicans' something on Iraq.

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