A Democrat’s Lincoln Dilemma

Senator Carl Levin, D-Mi, has an OpEd up in the Washington Post describing the Democratic dilemma with the current war funding. He compares his problem with the similar situation that Abraham Lincoln, paragon of Republican presidents, had while in Congress and while America was at war with Mexico,

In his only term in Congress, Abraham Lincoln was an ardent opponent of the Mexican War. He introduced a series of resolutions that challenged President James Polk to show the “spot” of American soil on which Mexicans had spilled American blood, and he voted for an amendment stating that the war was “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President.”

But when the question of funding for the troops fighting that war came, Lincoln voted their supplies without hesitation.

Levin goes on to again lay the ground work for another round of timetable discussions.

By setting a policy that begins with putting into law a timetable for starting a troop reduction, rather than trying to stop funding, we offer the best chance for stabilizing a country that we invaded while also sending the message to our troops that, even though we oppose the president’s policy, we are united behind them.

Support for our approach has grown steadily. In June 2006, our measure received 39 votes. In March, it received 48 votes. In April, it received 51 votes, including those of two Republican senators. By contrast, only 29 senators so far — none of them Republican — have voted for a funding cutoff. That’s a long way from the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster or the 67 needed to override a veto.

The OpEd is the first shot in the latest round of political skirmishes over the war and funding.

It should be noted, that the last Congressional loss, strong rhetoric followed by an equally weak withdrawal, caused a continuing drop in public support for Congress. It is now, according to Charles Franklin at Political Arithmetik, lower than Bush when aggregated across every major poll; 27.9% to 29.9%.

Political Arithmetik - Congressional Approval 11/6/2007

Political Arithmetik - Presidential Approval 19/6/2007

I think the Democrats are taking the wrong tact here. I would argue Congress must actively push the media to poll the American people on the soundbite “Does the American people want us to fund the war without a timetable?” That should be the talking point, nothing else.

If the answer comes up overwhelmingly no, the strategy becomes far simpler. Present Bush with a bill including a timetable with the clear caveat that that is the last legislation. There would be no proposal to deny funding, the house leadership simply will not schedule any further legislation for funding the war. The money will dry up without a vote and the Democrats can point to Bush as the person responsible.

If the answer to the polling comes up approving unconstrained funding, then a completely different tactic is necessary. The Democrats need to rethink their basic positioning. If the American public is willing to support funding for an unlimited, unending war, the Democrats can then push the president, not to withdraw but to win. Make success the marker and not the funding. Push the Republican party to show why their policies aren’t working and why the American public should keep funding a losing battle.

If the answer is a weak no, the Democrats are on course, sailing without a real course through uncharted waters, without a destination or timetable. Bush won’t sign it, the Democrats don’t need to support it. Just give Bush the funding after a token fight for another 3 months and wait until Christmas.

I am reminded of the book March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman. Published in 1984, it highlights how governments manage to blunder into making absolutely stupid mistakes despite overwhelmingly negative signs. Tuchman uses as examples Troy, the Renaissance Popes, the British government during the American Revolution and America’s own first true folly: Vietnam. It is a book all Democratic aides should be reading. In many ways, all four tales echo today’s Washington.

In Tuchman’s account, in every case, the majority of the public, the experts and even a large number of politicians knew the path lead to ruin. They followed it anyway; despite the Lincoln dilemmas. It is time to stop the folly.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: