Anti-war Democrats must walk a fine line as elections approach

by Beacon Staff • February 8, 2006

This was not at all unexpected.,In last week's mostly ordinary State of the Union address, President Bush emphasized the War in Iraq as central to the fight against terrorism, described the progress being made and warned against the perils of isolationism.

This was not at all unexpected.

What was more surprising and far more interesting, however, was the Democratic response to the address, delivered by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

In that address, the War in Iraq was referenced a grand total of two times.

The first time came early in the address and is simply a vague reference to the Bush administration's "poor choices and bad management."

The second and final reference comes far later in the speech, buried under more detailed remarks about Katrina, the deficit, No Child Left Behind, health care and student loan programs.

The language in the second reference is mild, with lame jabs at "inaccurate information" and body armor. No claims that the American people were lied to or misled and not a word about withdrawal.

What this means is that Democrats are finally getting the right idea about Iraq, at least politically and not a moment too soon with midterm elections less than a year away.

They've finally realized that no matter how bad things get in Iraq and no matter how pessimistic the electorate grows, Americans will not support a withdrawal without victory. They've also realized the only thing we hate more than losing is being told that we are losing.

This puts the Democrats in an awkward position. How does one strongly attack the President about the war without sounding defeatist?

At the very least, the Democrats now know what not to say.

They've learned that the John Kerry strategy of both calling the war an unnecessary distraction and calling for more troops doesn't work. It was seen as trying to have it both ways, which it was.

They've learned the Howard Dean approach of simply declaring defeat doesn't work. That was seen as a shrill overreaction to events on the ground by a politician who is no stranger to shrill overreaction.

The truth is, the antiwar left in this country has virtually no voice in Washington.

There was a glimmer of hope for the movement in mid-November of 2005 when Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) passionately called for a withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.

It opened up the debate, but the consensus is it's still too early for a complete pullout.

The fact that the military has already reduced the number of troops following the December elections quieted the calls for withdrawal as well.

Anyone who isn't convinced the antiwar movement has no real political pull should consider its unofficial spokesperson: Cindy Sheehan. Ms. Sheehan recently appeared with human rights violator and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at an anti-globalization rally, where she called the President a terrorist and said other unbelievably stupid things.

Ms. Sheehan spoke at a rally on Boston Common in October. At that event, many in attendance seemed to be perfectly reasonable Americans with honest disagreements about the war, doing their patriotic duty by dissenting.

The rest of the crowd, however, consisted of conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, anarchists and others with a genuine hatred for our country and government.

The Boston Globe accurately summed up the event: "Polls show a majority of Americans now oppose the war, but some of the demonstrators were saddened that the audience, dominated by veteran activists, did not seem to reflect the breadth of that majority."

They may not represent the breadth of the majority, but they're the ones with the microphone and the ones that Cindy Sheehan speaks for and panders to. The Democratic Party has wisely distanced themselves from this particular group of activists.

If Kaine's response to the State of the Union on behalf of the Party is any indication, they're even distancing themselves from men like Dean and Murtha.

With recent polls showing Americans growing slowly more optimistic about the war, Saddam Hussein on trial and a lengthy New York Times article detailing the violent split between al-Qaeda and the insurgency, it is certainly a step in the right direction.