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D.C.'s Professional B.S. Artists Again Go Off On Iraq
By David Sirota
The Philadelphia Inquirer's top political reporter, Dick Polman, has an interesting piece today about how more Democrats are (finally) admitting they were wrong in supporting the Iraq War, and that they were misled by the Bush administration (that piece is attached). In the piece, I make the argument - much like I made earlier this week - that Democrats can hammer the administration for deliberately misleading the country about intelligence about Iraq's WMD - or lack thereof.
Yet, as usual, the inside-the-beltway strategist/pundit crowd is saying that's not possible.
For instance, we get this obligatory comment from Charlie "I've Made My Entire Career Off Of Stating the Obvious Or the Conventional" Cook: "If [Democrats] push the argument that they have been duped, fooled and victimized - well, to a lot of [independent swing] voters, they're just going to come across as weak." Cook, per the norm, doesn't back this up with any actual hard analysis or data - and conveniently ignores polls that show a majority of the American public believes the country was "intentionally misled" by the Bush administration before the war. Additionally, he takes the question and makes it into a straw man: who is saying Democrats should say they were "victimized?" No one - except for Charlie Cook in order for him to make an inane argument. People are instead arguing that Democrats should be outraged that the country was deliberately misled about the most important issue of all: war and peace. That's quite different from arguing they were "victimized."
Then we get a quote from the Democratic Leadership Council's Marshall Wittman. You remember Wittman - he's the former Christian Coalition official who now runs around pretending to be a Democratic strategist. Wittman says that Democrats cannot argue that they were deliberately misled because that is "Michael Moore territory." Apparently, though as mentioned above - polls show a majority of Americans must be in "Michael Moore territory" because a majority of Americans believe the Bush administration misled the country.
And let's be clear - the perception that we were misled is consistent with the actual facts of what happened. As Christy Harvey and I detailed in a 2004 article, the Bush administration was repeatedly warned not to make the key assertions it was making about Iraq, and instead went forward with those assertions anyway. Politically and morally, Democrats should be demanding answers to why that happened, and why the administration chose to ignore intelligence THEY KNEW debunked their claims.
Here's a good idea for Democrats in Congress - ignore D.C.'s professional B.S. artists that for too long have kept you from having a cogent, strong, and sharp message on Iraq. Your goal is not to appease these Beltway cocktail party icons - your goal is to represent the majority of Americans who want answers, and the fact is, you've lost enough elections flapping about trying to have it both ways on the issue, as these professional election losers seem to prescribe. It's time to make bold statements like some Democrats recently made, and time to take bold actions like Harry Reid recently took and demand answers to why this country was misled. The fact that you were misled should only embolden your outrage to make Iraq and the lies that surrounded it a central issue in 2006 and 2008, whether you wrongly voted for the war or not.
Earlier post about Dems needing to press the Iraq questions:
Latest Washington Post poll shows 55% of Americans believe public was misled about Iraq:
Marshall Wittman, former Christian Coalition official:
2004 article entitled "They Knew":
Some Democrats are now admitting they were wrong about their Iraq vote:
Democrats: Deceit made us back war
By Dick Polman
Inquirer Political Analyst
The Democratic party appears to have finally come up with a way to explain why so many of its elected leaders gave President Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq.
Three simple words: "We were duped."
A parade of top Democrats have contended in recent days that they would have been antiwar in 2002 had they known then what they now believe to be true: that the Bush administration manipulated the intelligence in order to build a bogus case for war. In pursuit of that theme, Senate Democrats on Tuesday successfully demanded that their GOP colleagues quit stalling and finish a long-promised investigation that could determine whether the war planners were dishonest.
Many Democrats believe it's good politics these days to say that they were lied to. This message, actually a rite of confession, is designed to help their erstwhile pro-war politicians get back in sync with the party's liberal antiwar base. That's especially important for some of the original pro-war Democrats who want to run for president in 2008. After all, liberal voters tend to dominate the Democratic primaries, and they're expecting to hear apologies.
Hence, Sen. John Kerry (who wants to try again) said in a speech on Oct. 26: "The country and the Congress were misled into war. I regret that we were not given the truth... knowing what we know now, I would not have gone to war in Iraq." Hence, Tom Daschle (the deposed Senate Democratic leader, who is weighing a campaign) said in a speech Wednesday that senators voted incorrectly because "on so many fronts, we were misled."
At least four other Democratic senators who voted to authorize war have use the dupe argument in recent days, including Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (who periodically voices White House ambitions) and Tom Harkin of Iowa (who now calls his war support "one of the biggest voting mistakes of my career"). And once having confessed, these Democrats believe they have sufficient credibility to call for the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
But not all the prominent Democrats who voted with Bush have embraced the dupe message. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton - who continues to exasperate the liberal base - hasn't renounced her vote; when asked about it the other day by NPR, she dodged: "I can't talk about this on the fly; it's too important." Sen. Evan Bayh, another presidential hopeful, hasn't renounced. Former Sen. John Edwards, another prospective candidate, hasn't renounced. Sen. Joe Biden hasn't, either.
Their reticence might stem in part from awareness of the George Romney rule of politics: Gullibility is not a character asset for a presidential candidate.
The late George Romney (father of current Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney) was the anointed front-runner of the 1968 GOP presidential race - until he tried to explain, in a radio interview during the summer of 1967, why he had renounced his previous support for the Vietnam war. The Michigan governor complained that, while visiting the hot zone, he had been duped by the brass into backing the war:
"I just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get when you go over to Vietnam. Not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there, and they did a very thorough job."
Romney plummeted in the polls, and his candidacy soon evaporated; voters didn't like the idea of electing someone who admitted he was capable of being fooled. And, as many political observers argue, that's the lesson for Democrats today.
Charlie Cook, a Washington analyst who runs the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Friday: "If Democrats want to argue that the administration misrepresented and distorted the prewar intelligence, OK, that's one thing. But if they push the argument that they have been duped, fooled and victimized - well, to a lot of [independent swing] voters, they're just going to come across as weak."
The Romney rule is also invoked by moderate Democrats who see Iraq as a noble cause. Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council, warned on his blog the other day that the Democrats "are positioning themselves as a party that is gullible, feckless, and indecisive... beware of the long-term impact on the party which already suffers from a perception of being weak on national security."
But David Sirota, a liberal antiwar activist and organizer, contends that the Romney rule is irrelevant today, because of the public's broad-based opposition to the Iraq war. (Most Americans still generally supported the Vietnam war at the time Romney committed his gaffe).
Sirota said Thursday: "Obviously, the [dupe] message needs to be played properly. But most Americans already believe that Bush misled the country" - polls support his contention - "so it makes perfect sense for Democrats to say they too were misled... . They followed tradition and gave the benefit of the doubt to a president on a national security issue, and they were lied to. That doesn't mean they were stupid. They were being patriotic.
"And rather than just apologize for being misled, Democrats need a message of outrage. Make the argument that this administration deliberately manipulated the intelligence."
That message is dismissed by critics as paranoid; Wittmann calls it "Michael Moore territory." But the Republican Senate leaders did promise, back in February 2004, that it would investigate whether the war planners had been deliberately dishonest. Asked in October 2004 (before the election) why that key question had not been resolved, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts replied: "We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out." Then, eight months ago, Roberts said the probe had been put "on the back burner."
Early last week, Senate Democrats employed a parliamentary maneuver to force a showdown over the sluggish probe; as a result, a progress report will be issued within the next several weeks. Liberal bloggers were thrilled by this rare act of boldness; in the words of Philadelphia-based billmon.org, it was a treat "watching the Democratic jellyfish rear up on its hind tentacles and sting someone."
If the GOP report concludes that the Bush team manipulated intelligence, it would buttress the Democratic message about being duped. But the party's strategy could fail anyway. There is always the possibility, as some Democrats say privately, that the report will exonerate Bush, leaving Democrats to merely complain that there must have been a whitewash.
And the dupe message may be only as good as the individual messenger. Kerry, in his Oct. 26 speech, declared that "as I said more than a year ago," he would not have voted for the war if he had known about "the Bush administration's duplicity." Yet, on Aug. 9, 2004, he said he would have still voted to authorize Bush even if he had known in advance that no mass weaponry would be found. Those statements don't necessarily contradict each other, but a fresh round of Kerry nuances may not boost his fortunes.
Clearly, gaining traction on Iraq is a Democratic imperative. Bush may be tanking in the polls, but Democrats have barely moved the needle their way. In the words of party pollster Stan Greenberg, summarizing his late-October numbers, "Democrats have not made noticeable gains on thinking long-term... knowing what they stand for, or being trusted to keep America safe."
As for the 2008 race, Charlie Cook suggests a way for Democrats to dump the dupe message entirely: "By 2008, there will be a tremendous constituency for a candidate who can argue clearly that the war was always a mistake. Forget all the senators. The answer for Democrats is to nominate a governor, somebody who never had to vote at all on the damn war."