It’s not surprising, just profoundly dispiriting: Democratic “leaders” decided not to stand up to White House bullying — thereby making the next round just that much more difficult, because everyone knows that giving in to a bully makes the bully harder, not easier, to deal with. But as today’s New York Times makes clear, Democrats are terrified of the president — so much so that betraying the American people’s wishes is a tertiary concern for them:
Congressional contortions over the Iraq spending bill could end up with most House Democrats momentarily occupying the position they were so desperate to vacate: the minority.
The decision by the Democratic majority to strip the measure of a timetable for troop withdrawal has raised the prospect that it could be approved mainly by Republicans with scattered Democrat support. The idea that many Democrats would be left on the losing side in a consequential vote has exposed a sharp divide within the party, drawn scorn from antiwar groups, confused the public and frustrated the party rank and file.
But in recounting the leadership’s thinking, senior Democrats and other officials said that by early this week they had concluded there was no alternative but to give ground to President Bush despite their view that he had mishandled the war and needed to be put under tighter Congressional rein.
Democrats said they did not relish the prospect of leaving Washington for a Memorial Day break — the second recess since the financing fight began — and leaving themselves vulnerable to White House attacks that they were again on vacation while the troops were wanting. That criticism seemed more politically threatening to them than the anger Democrats knew they would draw from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush.
Some lawmakers favored sending Mr. Bush another bill with a timetable for withdrawal and risking a second veto, the senior Democrats said. But they said they had questioned whether such a measure could pass the Senate a second time, raising the possibility that Congress would be left sitting on the bill and carrying the blame.
That would be much too scary, I understand.
Democrats said this week they would have jeopardized their fall bargaining position if they had insisted on keeping withdrawal timelines in the current supplemental spending bill (HR 2206). Persisting now would likely have resulted in another veto and would have handed Republicans talking points for the Memorial Day recess about which party supports the troops in the field.
Democrats were particularly worried about the prospect of Bush declaring at wreath-laying ceremonies that “Democrats have stopped resources for the troops,” said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala.
“The problem is that we have to provide money for the troops, and if we don’t, the Democrats will be blamed,” added Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., a war opponent. “Bush has the bully pulpit, so he will define who is responsible.”
“Obviously it’s a good move,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang. “It gives President Bush and Republicans one less thing to shoot at” during the upcoming recess week.
These are the attitudes of Democratic members and pollsters. There’s no evidence that Bush moves numbers anymore. In fact, when he talks he becomes less popular. He has no credibility, which means that his access to the bully pulpit is severely diminished. Yet Democrats are afraid of him. More than that, Democratic members think that by capitulating to him that Republicans will stop saying that Democrats won’t fund the troops. It’s crazy. It’s like they didn’t notice the 2002 election where they were like ‘we can take Iraq off the table’.
And while the news media is abuzz with talk of Democratic capitulation, I’m watching idiots like Louise Slaughter on C-Span saying that this is not a concession to Bush, and that Congress is fighting to end the war. And she really believes it. She really thinks that Democrats are fighting Bush with this bill. It’s amazing. It’s like la-la land.
Yang’s comments are particularly silly, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since he accepted Third Way’s fraudulent study as ‘useful’ when it was actually statistical malpractice. There’s actually a secret problem in Democratic politics where a lot of our pollsters actually don’t know how to do professional polling. But we’ll leave that aside.
The key take-away here is that the Democratic Party is degraded and disorganized, and it shows. It’s not just that the party is bought off, though some members are. It’s that even the ones who want to do the right thing are constantly being told by people like Yang that capitulating to the President is obviously the right move, and that their concession is not actually a concession.
On the other hand, Greg Sargent thinks that Democrats have been quite courageous overall, and that this cave-in is an anomaly:
But look, what’s done is done. And now that we’re finished popping off, it needs to be said that generally this new Dem Congressional leadership has repeatedly defied expectations with its willingness to take on the White House. Just not this time.
If there’s anything that pisses me off more than the Democrats’ gutlessness, it’s liberal activists with such incredibly low standards.
Cross-posted at Liberty Street.