Get The Debate Focused Back To Iraq, Social Security, And Economic Fairness
I know that many of you are dismayed at the tentative deal between the GOP Gang of Three in the Senate and the White House over detainee treatment at the sight that the GOP has “won again” on another issue while the Democrats roll over, or weren’t a factor at all in this debate. Some bloggers want the Democrats to stand up on this issue and fight on moral grounds any attempt to weaken the import of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention protocols upon our practices. Even the Post and NYT’s editorial boards agree that the deal is pathetic, but neither of them are trying to retake Congress. You can take heart from the indication that Dick Durbin and others may still fight this bill next week when it comes up for a vote.
There is certainly a moral argument to be made here, but making that argument needs to take into account the political and communications challenges facing Democrats in the remaining days of the midterm election campaign. Sure, the White House waited until the Congress had only a month before the recess to ramp up its efforts to get what it wanted on detainee treatment and domestic surveillance. They did this in the hope that they could use Democratic delay and demands for due diligence as clubs against the party and its challengers. Reid decided that despite the moral arguments here, the Democrats could not afford politically to mount a challenge in this environment without seeing the final deal first and then determining if there are still constitutional issues with the "solution." So, in the interim he took advantage of the dissension within the GOP ranks. (Indeed, to some the agreement looks like Bush capitulated.) Furthermore, Rove’s delay in forcing the issues front and center on Capitol Hill may now cost the White House a chance to get even anything approved on the domestic surveillance front at all, as there are signs now that nothing will happen before Congress goes home. Due to GOP mismanagement, next week’s agenda may be too crowded to get action on a variety of issues now.
The moral downside to how the Democrats handled the detainee treatment debate are legitimate, but are at least equally offset by the political upsides. The GOP may have no opportunity now to bash Democrats for depriving the CIA or Bush of the tools he claims he needs to protect the country, as they had planned to do. There is no certainty that Bush will be able to bash Democrats for opposing him on the domestic surveillance issue either, since there is still significant GOP opposition to what the White House wants to ram through Congress next week. The GOP has bungled the immigration issue so badly that Bush’s mismanagement has led to a partial, security-only approach that shows how impotent he was while highlighting to Latino and Catholic voters the GOP’s true colors a month before the election. It will help GOP incumbents in Border States but by and large those incumbents weren’t in the Democratic crosshairs to begin with. Vulnerable GOP senators and representatives will now have to defend the punitive GOP approach and their failure to reform the work visa program during October in front of the employer community and Latino and Catholic voters.
Lastly, the calendar now favors Democrats the rest of the way. Once Congress has dealt with the detainee treatment issue and whatever little else they can get to between now and next Friday, they will be gone until the election, and the opportunity for the White House to create new landmines evaporates. Deprived of his detainee treatment and perhaps his domestic surveillance clubs against Democrats, once Congress adjourns Bush can only use Iraq and taxes against Democrats during the final days of the campaign. No matter how unfocused and even absent the Democratic message has been up to this point, the absence of Rovian clubs and the shrinking of the possible GOP attacks down to Iraq and taxes provides the Democrats the opportunity to quickly focus the debate back to pounding the GOP congress for rubber stamping continuing failure in Iraq, the destruction of our armed forces, and to rebut Bush’s tax arguments with calls for tax reform and fairness. Democrats can argue more favorably with this newly narrowed field of debate, and then turn the agenda to their benefit in the final 30 days by reminding voters that without a Democratic congress next year, the GOP will destroy Social Security in 2007.
Some of you will bring up Iran as a possible last minute landmine that Bush could trot out. I don’t think it will work, given the signals Iran is cleverly sending to the international community, which will deprive Bush of a bogeyman that needs immediate attention. Democrats can remind voters that any such last-minute push in 2006 is simply a replay of the last pack of lies foisted upon the country as a diversion back in 2002.
Again, I understand the feelings of many of you on the detainee treatment agreement and the Democrats’ approach. It’s just that I feel the political outcome for the Democrats in the short term as a result of how things have played out provide a counterbalancing force that benefits the party’s candidates more than making the legitimate moral arguments here. Certainly that is a disagreeable position for me to state, but until the party can pull back to parity in one or both houses of Congress, making moral but politically-lethal arguments does the party little good. That is a sad commentary on our society and current politics, but it is nonetheless accurate. We must do whatever is necessary to elect more Democrats, plain and simple, and stop making it easy for the White House and RNC.