Friday, March 02, 2007

Rudy wraps himself in Reagan

Rudy Giuliani’s sales pitch to Republican conservatives boils down to this: Ignore the stuff about me that makes you uncomfortable – like my past support for gun control, gay rights and abortion rights – and simply view me as the 21st century version of Ronald Reagan, a resolute optimist who will vanquish the terrorists just as the Gipper took down the communists.

This was the gist of Giuliani’s noontime talk to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual Washington gathering of activists who, thus far, have been looking largely in vain for a properly credentialed Leader to replace the lame-duck Decider. Giuliani was auditioning, in the literal sense; he had been barred from addressing CPAC just two years ago, because the organizers didn’t see him as a true conservative.

Many are still wary of him. But now that the right is feeling gloomy – what with the Democrats running Congress, Hillary and Obama looming as credible White House candidates, President Bush forever in free fall (29 percent approval in the latest national poll), and the GOP ’08 field littered with flip-flopping panderers – Giuliani doesn’t seem nearly so bad anymore. That’s what the polls say, anyway. In recent weeks he has opened a stong lead against John McCain, reportedly because a lot of white evangelical Protestants now seem willing to ignore those pesky social issues and focus on his tough-guy credentials.

Giuliani hit that theme today, inviting everybody to keep ignoring what they don’t like. At one point he declared: “Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘My 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy.’ What he meant by that is, ‘We don’t have to see eye to eye on everything….I don’t agree with myself on everything. The point of a presidential election is to figure out who you do believe the most, and what you think are the most important things for this country at this particular time. We do believe in many of the same things, I’m sure,” such as the Republican principles of promoting freedom and cutting taxes.

That was basically how he dealt with the abortion issue – by not mentioning it. (He has said elsewhere that he still supports the legal right to choose, although he does seem to be "adjusting" his stance on partial birth abortion. Now he seems to be against it, after first being for it.) Rather, his overall message is that if tolerating disagreements was good enough for Reagan, it should be good enough for the conservative grassroots.

(By the way, check out the line where he said, “I don’t agree with myself on everything.” If Hillary Clinton had said those same words, the Republicans would have instantly parsed it for a talking point, mocking her for being less resolute than John Kerry.)

Giuliani also advanced a Manhattan Miracle message. It is beyond dispute that New York City crime dropped dramatically during the Giuliani years, and that the city once thought to be ungovernable enjoyed a rebirth with him at the helm. He spent considerable time today talking about the lower homicide rate, the moving of citizens from welfare to work, and the taxes that he cut even while the budget was mired in red ink. These themes might well attract skeptical conservatives, who enjoy visiting a safe and resurgent New York City as much as anybody else.

Obviously, Giuliani’s rivals will do the work of reminding conservatives about his past left-leaning sentiments, not to mention his three marriages; they’ll note that even though Giuliani has vowed to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, he actually nominated a lot of liberal judges during his mayoral reign. But Giuliani is playing it smart, in this sense: Rather than engage these criticisms, and seek to explain or nuance them, he is simply trying to trump them. He is calculating that his image as the scourge of evil-doers will triumph over all.

His hawkish stance on the terrorist threat, as outlined in his speech today, seeks to accomplish three goals: Establish himself as heir to the Reagan tradition, thus uniting the various conservative camps; paint the Democrats as wimps who, rather than fight, would prefer to negotiate with the help of nations such as France (requisite boos from the audience); and give conservatives a way to excuse or explain away Bush’s disastrous miscalculations in Iraq.

On the first goal, he voiced Reaganesque optimism about defeating the terrorists: “We will get there the same way Ronald Reagan got there – peace through strength.” He invoked that as the closing line in his speech, just to make sure that he would be remembered as having walked in the icon’s shoes.

On the second goal, he scoffed at the Democrats for opposing Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which he sees as an essential tool to stopping the bad guys. That’s a standard Republican line, but Giuliani did something clever with it. He put the issue in real terms, invoking his days as a federal prosecutor who wiretapped Gambino family mobsters in New York: “We had to intrude into their activity, we had to breach their privacy…It requires being on offense.”

One can always argue (as many Democrats would) that there’s a big difference between a secret federal program that might invade the privacy rights of innocent people, and a narrowly-targeted wiretap regimen that targets people already known to be mobsters, but what matters here is that Giuliani’s use of his own biography might be an effective way to woo conservative primary voters.

And the last goal, regarding Iraq, merits attention. Even though conservatives remain largely supportive of Bush’s mission in Iraq, they are well aware that most Americans disagree, and Iraq could be a dead weight on ’08 GOP prospects. Giuliani’s message, however, is that Iraq is no big deal in the eyes of history, and that conservatives (and all Americans) shouldn’t feel bad about it.

He said that the Battle of the Bulge, fought during the final winter of World War II, at a heavy cost to American lives, was actually a major U.S. intelligence failure (it was thought at the time, erroneously, that the Nazis had been licked). But Giuliani pointed out that even this failure didn’t deter America from its overall mission.

Then he tied that setback to the current war on terror: “The reality is, it’s the general thrust of what we’re doing with terrorism that is enormously important, not the fact that every single thing hasn’t worked….We should not be embarrassed about ourselves. We should not have our heads down…”

That’s potentially powerful stuff for conservative voters. In the service of optimism and “the general thrust,” Giuliani is telling them that it’s OK not to feel bad about “every single thing (that) hasn’t worked,” even if one of those “things” is straining the entire American military, impacting our ability to fight al Qaeda where it is headquartered, and costing current and future American taxpayers $2 billion a week (excluding the tab for post-combat hospitalization and treatment).

All told, perhaps these themes might be enough to buoy a candidate who flunks the party’s abortion test. Indeed, with Giuliani currently topping the Republican candidate roster in the polls, here’s a question for the other party: Are there any circumstances under which the Democrats would confer frontrunner status on a candidate who opposes abortion?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

You won't catch Mitt wearing a beret atop that perfect hair

Mon dieu! I was mesmerized to see how Mitt Romney’s campaign aides have sized up their own candidate. The material, contained in a 77-slide Power Point presentation, was leaked the other day to the Boston Globe. I would link it here, but apparently this server has had a bug for more than 24 hours, and won't permit links. Anyway, predictably, Mitt’s minions are fretting about his flip-flop history and his perfect hair (both of which make him seen inauthentic), while charting ways to demolish their GOP rivals (such as John McCain, who is dismissed as “uncertain, erratic, unreliable").

But the best part is where Team Mitt suggests that the candidate run against a few well-chosen “bogeymen” – in other words, invent some enemies and bash them, as a way of attracting conservative primary voters to the Romney banner. And the bogeyman of choice is…

France. Naturellement!

Better yet, the idea (which may never get past the musing phase) is to trash France as a second-rate country, then tie Hillary to France, then trash them in tandem. As the Globe reported: “Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to ‘drag America down to Europe's standards,’ adding: ‘That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.’ The plan even envisions ‘First, not France’ bumper stickers.”

Hillary = France….Here we go again, with the Freedom Fries and the French wines being emptied into the patriotic sinks. Maybe the Romney team will leak a blind quote to the New York Times, hinting that Hillary “looks French” (as the Bush team did to John Kerry). And I don’t doubt that there is still a constituency for French-bashing. I’ll acknowledge that, at least by all-American standards, there is something a tad eccentric about a country that worships Jerry Lewis and Mickey Rourke, and cares not a whit when 70-year-old men hose down their sailboats while buck naked (a sight that fascinated my kids when they were little, during a visit to Provence).

But is France a sufficient bogeyman this time around? To me, the idea seems so four years ago. The guy who came up with the Freedom Fries label, congressman Bob Ney, has just been dispatched to jail for 30 months, courtesy of the Jack Abramoff scandal. And besides, let’s face it, the French were right about Iraq (they scoffed at the WMD pseudo-evidence, and warned that the consequences of invasion would be dire and unpredictable), while the U.S. president whom Romney declines to criticize was flat wrong.

And what’s all this stuff from Team Mitt about France and the European Union wanting to drag us down to their standards? Granted, our economy is more productive (and bigger) than theirs. But, in terms of France’s other standards, we should be so lucky. A few years back, the World Health Organization, assessing the health care in 190 countries, ranked the French health system as…number one. The United States showed up at number 37, sandwiched between Costa Rica and Slovenia. And in recent years France has outpaced America in science literary, math literacy, reading literacy, life expectancy, and healthy life expectancy.

But since these caveats might be trumped by the visceral appeal of “Hillary = France,” the Romney attack team can probably find all kinds of juicy ammo (even though Hillary's ancestors appear to have been English, not French):

For instance, her husband used to love gobbling junk food at McDonalds; there must be photos still around from 1992, showing him hoisting a French fry. And how about the fact that Hillary represents the state where the Statue of Liberty is situated, and has even said some nice things about it? Is she unaware that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from…France? Or how about the fact that she wants U.S. troops out of Iraq next year – isn’t that the same as the French surrender to the Nazis in 1940? And what about that state dinner that Bill and Hillary hosted for French president Jacques Chirac in 1996, complete with lemon-thyme lobster and roasted eggplant soup? It’s right there in her 2003 memoir, on page 338. And speaking of that memoir, why did she have it translated into French by a French publisher, and renamed Mon Histoire? And isn’t it troubling that, when she appeared on French TV in 2003, the host told her that the French people have “great admiration” for her? The same people who refused to invade Iraq?

The possibilities are endless, assuming that Romney is around long enough to dip into this baguette of tricks.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A progress (?!) report on the fight against terror

The Bush administration essentially won a second term in 2004 by contending that it would keep America safe. So how’s that pledge working out these days?

Well, let’s see: Pakistan, which is supposedly working with Bush to eradicate terrorism, has instead become a safer haven for al Qaeda. The group, “is forging stronger operational connections” with its affiliates elsewhere in the world – this, according to Bush’s own intelligence chief, Mike McConnell, who ‘fessed up yesterday in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. McConnell also testified that Osama bin Laden is personally involved in the new efforts; this is the same Osama bin Laden who was dismissed by Bush as unimportant during a White House news conference in March 2002 ("I truly am not that concerned about him").

Pakistan, let us recall, was also treated to a visit the other day from Vice President Cheney, who warned its leaders that if they didn’t clean out the bad guys, the Democratic Congress would cut off their financial aid. (Which means that Cheney, who usually assails the Democrats as weak on terrorism, has suddenly found it useful to portray the Democrats on the world stage as tough on terrorism. Therefore, why should anybody believe he is sincere when he assails them?)

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan yesterday, a suicide bomber blew himself up a mile away from Cheney, taking out 23 people (merely the latest symptom of growing violence there), and clearly demonstrating that the country is experiencing “the resurgence of the Taliban.” That’s were McConnell’s words yesterday – in stark contrast to what Bush flak Tony Snow said yesterday, when he shrugged off the bombing thusly: “I’m not sure it says anything.” No doubt the White House would also argue that its fight against terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan has not been damaged by its decision to expend most of the nation’s military resources and firepower and funds ($2 billion every week) on its war of choice in Iraq.

It’s also not a good sign for the administration (or for us, as citizens seeking safety) when even people in the conservative camp seem willing to accuse Bush of botching the war on terrorism. I spied this little item yesterday on “The Corner,” a blog sponsored by the National Review; the author is longtime contributing editor Andrew Stuttaford: “Who is losing Afghanistan? George W. Bush, that's who. His watch. His administration. His incompetence. His arrogance. His failure to learn from failure.”

Then he quoted this passage from a British newspaper story: "British officials are worried about the consequences of U.S. proposals to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppy harvest, which include spraying the crops from the air, a policy it adopted in Colombia. The fear is that tough anti-narcotic measures would alienate poor farmers who have no alternative livelihood, and drive more Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. Such a policy would further endanger British troops, military commanders say."

Stuttaford, having thus warned that Bush is hurting the troops, concludes in his own words: “As I've said time and time before, the decision by the Bush administration to prioritize the drug war ahead of the war against the Taliban is of course, madness. It's time for the Brits to take a stand, and announce that either Bush's drug warriors leave Afghanistan, or Britain's troops do. Ninety days would seem to be adequate warning.”

No doubt, if the British troops did leave Afghanistan, Dick Cheney would try to spin it as a sign of progress.

Indeed, one problem for the Bush team is that its top war-on-terror spinners don't have much credibility anymore. Which, I suppose, is why it decided the other night to tap one of its few remaining credible experts – that would be policy wonk Laura Bush – and put her on national television. (Although they did play it safe by sending her to the somnolent Larry King, who has far more snap in his suspenders than in his questioning.)

At one point, the First Lady offered her assessment of why Americans seem to be so sour about the war in Iraq. She said – big surprise – that it’s the media’s fault: “(M)any parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody.”

In reality, however, “what we see on television” merely scratches the surface. The Brookings Institution, which charts the Iraq violence on a monthly basis, using the best available government statistics, lately estimates that there are 80 car bombings every day in Iraq; that there are 185 insurgent and militia attacks each day; and that (as of January) the number of people, both soldiers and civilians, killed and wounded in bombings and other attacks are now the highest yet recorded – nearly 2000 last month alone. And the statistics don’t include all the civilians killed in sectarian reprisals, those who have been dumped on the street without their heads. Those casualties, for obvious reasons, are never shown on television at all.

Contrary to Laura Bush’s assertion, the TV coverage has actually been kind to the Bush administration. Rather than showing too much, it has actually shown too little of the realities on the ground that are undercutting America’s overall effectiveness in the war on terror.

Americans get the true picture anyway; in the latest ABC-Washington Post-ABC News poll, 52 percent say they trust the Democratic Congress to take the lead in the war on terror, while only 39 percent prefer Bush. RealClearPolitics blogger Tom Bevan puts it best: "(I)f someone had told you that, five and a half years after September 11, the Republican President who shepherded America through the worst terrorist attack in her history would be running 13 points behind Democrats in Congress on the question of who can better handle the war on terror, you probably would have thought that to be very unlikely, if not a bit nuts."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Joe Lieberman's titillation routine

Here we go again, with more breathless reporting on Joe Lieberman’s perpetual tease.

Not since Paris Hilton has there been a media figure who draws more attention for doing nothing. Barely a week passes without Lieberman flashing a little thigh (politically speaking), and hinting (in sorrow, of course) that if his Senate Democratic colleagues fail to bend to his will and support the Republican president’s demonstrably ruinous mission in Iraq, he might just decide to retaliate by partying forevermore with the GOP. And by doing so, he would presumably shift power in the closely-divided Senate over to the Republicans (which is inaccurate, although a lot of media outlets don’t seem to know this). Yet he always qualifies the defection threat by saying that he’s probably not serious – thereby clearing the decks for the next tease cycle.

And media people keep falling for his pitch. Time magazine, in its new March 5 issue, reports on Lieberman’s GOP flirtation, then calls it “a remote possibility.” The Washington website brought it up last week, quoting Lieberman as saying that Democratic efforts to restrict President Bush’s war funding might induce him, or maybe not, to join forces with the Bush enablers; as he put it, “I hope we don’t get to that point. That’s all I will say on it today. That would hurt.” (Note how he plays the sorrow card.)

And the perpetual tease, naturally, is ongoing grist for those in the conservative media who would love to see him defect – notably The Drudge Report, which gave ample attention to the Politico story, and Brit Hume on Fox News, who announced last week that “there are signs tonight that Senate Joe Lieberman might reconsider his decision to remain a Democrat” - a move, Hume erroneously added, that would “give control of the chamber back to the Republicans.”

Lieberman has been playing this game since last November, when he won re-election as an independent, having been spurned by Connecticut Democratic voters in a summer primary. What’s striking is that media people keep reporting his threat without challenging him to explain how he can possibly square his threat with the promises he made to the people of Connecticut in 2006. One day after he won re-election, he stated with Shermanesque certitude that he would remain a Democrat (“When I give my word, I stick to it”), and that it was a waste of time to speculate on whether he would ever change his mind (it’s “a closed issue”). On the other hand, the tease began four days later, when he showed up on Meet the Press and said, in response to a question as to whether he might switch to the GOP some day, “I’m not ruling it out, but I hope I don’t get to that point.”

So why is he constantly being rewarded with the media attention that he craves (a common senatorial character trait)? In part, it’s because of the flawed perception that he can shift power in the chamber merely by shifting his party allegiance. said that Lieberman’s “extraordinary move…would flip control of the Senate.” Even CongressDaily, a respected non-partisan report, said the other day that Lieberman switch “would swing the Senate back to GOP control.” Yet the truth is actually far more complicated.

When the Senate organized itself last month, in the wake of the Democratic takeover, it enacted rules (which the Republicans did not contest) that basically give the Democrats control of the chamber and its committee chairmanships until January 2009 - even if the GOP somehow winds up with more seats in the interim. It’s true that the Senate went Democratic back in 2001 when Vermont’s Jim Jeffords left the GOP, but the organizing rules at the time were different. Those rules contained a “kick-out clause,” which decreed that Senate power would shift if the minority party became the majority. Yet there is no such “kick-out clause” in effect today, because the Republicans last month didn’t insist on one. If Lieberman did switch sides, the Republicans could still argue that they deserved to take control, but in all likelihood a lengthy parliamentary fight would ensue, with the Democrats defending the rules as enacted, and blocking the GOP via filibuster.

Hey, I told you that the reality was complicated. And that’s just one reason why Lieberman’s ongoing act is probably a crock. Here are a few more:

Iraq aside, he is a bad fit for the Republicans. Over the past two months, he reportedly has voted with the Democrats 90 percent of the time, a statistic that roughly mirrors his generally posture over the years. He stuck with the Senate Democrats, for instance, during passage of the minimum-wage hike – twice providing the margin of victory as Republicans sought to amend the hike. He even proposed a new tax (a “war on terror tax”), and, as we know, a tax-hiker in the GOP is about as likely as Jack Bauer keynoting an ACLU convention.

So if Lieberman actually acted on his tease, he would feel more isolated than ever. His convictions on domestic issues (“I’ll die a Democrat,” he declared last summer) would be out of sync with those of his colleagues – while his ex-colleagues would be liberated from their current impulse to indulge him.

And, more importantly, this would be a lousy time to sign on with the GOP. Lieberman, who is an instinctive political animal beneath his public sanctimony, surely understands that 2008 looms as a bad year for the Republicans. There is every indication that the Democrats could add new Senate seats, largely because swing voters are increasingly fed up with the war that Lieberman continues to promote ("we've got a totally new plan for how to succeed in Iraq"). Indeed, of the seven Senate seats thought to be most competitive next year, five (in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oregon) are currently held by Republicans.

The last thing that Lieberman would want is to be relegated to six long years of minority status. Remember, this is a guy who today would be a heartbeat away from the presidency, if not for hanging chads, a butterfly ballot, and a 5-4 Supreme Court. A guy like that sees himself as a player. Which is why his ongoing play for attention should be treated with the skepticism it deserves.


I wrote yesterday about the latest symptoms of Democratic incoherence and inertia on the Iraq issue. Well, this is exactly what I was talking about: splits between Senate liberals and moderates, and no debate over Iraq for two more weeks. If they keep this up, Lieberman will get his wish. In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, he urged Democrats to stay silent until the summer.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Democrats "couldn't find a unified message if it was tattooed on their butts"

The Democrats appear to have a special talent for incoherence. Here they are, holding the reins of power in both congressional chambers, and enjoying solid majority support from the American people, yet apparently they still don’t have a clue how to best confront an unpopular president who is waging a disastrous and unpopular war.

Leave aside the '08 Democratic presidential contenders (the top three have three different plans), and come with me to Capitol Hill. Congress is back in session this week, and the Democrats, yet again, have gone back to the drawing board in search of a strategy that will unite its various factions while also perhaps attracting enough Republicans to give it bipartisan cover. The problem is, the Democratic Senate has one new idea what to do (although the Senate idea isn’t popular among GOP war skeptics), the Democratic House has another idea what to do (although the House idea is already considered dead on arrival), and the party’s antiwar left is still at odds with the party’s moderates over what to do. Or vice versa.

Somehow I am reminded of the Democratic incoherence that prevailed in the autumn of 2002, when President Bush was hyping the specious case for war. Back then, we had Democratic doves who said that war with Saddam Hussein would be madness, and that we should stick with containment and weapons inspections; we had outright Democratic hawks who said we should back Bush and take Hussein out; we had moderate hawks (or were they moderate doves?) who said it was time to get Hussein, but only if the United Nations said so, or only if we could be assured that the broader war against al Qaeda wouldn’t suffer, or only if Bush offered proof of a Hussein-al-Qaeda link, or maybe we should scrap “regime change" and just destroy Hussein's most lethal weapons…

Seriously, you needed a scorecard. I think Charlie Cook, the nonpartisan Washington analyst nailed the Democrats best that autumn when he told me, “They couldn’t find a unified message if it was tattooed on their butts.”

Not much has changed. The current Democratic Senate, which couldn’t get enough votes even to debate a toothless anti-escalation resolution, is now floating the idea of amending the 2002 war authorization - narrowing the combat mission, decreeing that our soldiers limit themselves to the training of Iraqi forces and to counterterrorism thrusts against al Qaeda…with the ultimate objective of withdrawing all combat forces within 13 months. The political problem is, only a couple Republicans are reportedly prepared to vote for this idea, which means that it’ll never get out of the Senate anyway.

Meanwhile, the House Democrats haven’t looked at that idea, not yet anyway, because lately they have been too busy shoveling dirt on the idea that they were ballyhooing barely a week ago: the John Murtha plan to hamper war funding. It sounded daring when Speaker Pelosi was talking it up. Murtha wanted to bar new troops from going to Iraq unless they could first meet tough readiness and equipment standards; he wanted to attach these conditions to Bush’s new $100-billion war money request. It sounded like a good way for Democratic war critics to show that they were “for” the troops.

The problem was Murtha himself; 11 days ago, he unveiled his plan on the antiwar website by saying that his plan “will limit the options of the president” – a statement that didn’t sit well with moderate Democrats from swing districts who are uncomfortable with anything that sounds like congressional micromanagement in time of war. (More on them in a moment.) Meanwhile, the liberal antiwar House Democrats (members of the Out of Iraq Caucus) don’t think that Murtha’s idea goes far enough, anyway.

Note how the Republicans deal with all this. Supposedly they are the folks playing defense, but you would never know it. They just spent an entire week banging away at the Democrats with one repetitive buzz phrase: the argument that the Murtha plan was a “slow-bleed” strategy. And they didn’t even invent that slogan; they just borrowed it from a story that appeared on, the new Washington website, and made it their own. It’s perfectly visceral for their purposes, because it conjurs the image of hampered U.S. troops, their life blood inexorably draining away.

So the Republicans have taken this slogan, and they have used it to dramatize the one Iraq issue that breaks their way in the polls. Almost every Iraq indicator favors the Democrats; as the latest AP-Ipsos and Gallup surveys demonstrate, a landslide majority of Americans believe (among other things) that the war was a mistake, that it’s right to criticize the war, that his troop escalation idea is wrong, that the troop hike will fail to work, and that Congress should establish a pullout timetable. But when asked whether Congress should cut off war money, or even money for the additional troops, landslide majorities say no.

The GOP counter-punchers have seized on that one theme, and they have spooked the majority party into a retreat. The Democrats party won’t touch the Murtha plan now, or anything else (such as a nonbinding Senate resolution, pitched by the Republicans) that would force the Democrats to go on record as “for” or “against” troop money cutoffs.

Carl Levin, one of the Senate Democrats who is pushing the idea of amending the ’02 war authorization, said candidly on Meet the Press yesterday that a lot of Democrats would never vote to cut off the money- because they view it as a political loser: “The president would then use the defeat of a cut-off-the-funding resolution as a way of supporting his (war) policy. So we’d be playing right into the hands of the president and his policymakers.” (Actually, Levin got off easy, because Tim Russert never bothered to ask him what he thought about Murtha’s specific idea.)

Right now, the heart of the Democrats’ problem (besides the fact that even a weakened wartime president has a lot of political weapons, and besides the fact that the Republicans are still more effective at playing hardball) is that their diversity begets disunity.

Most of the antiwar liberals in House, the people typically pushing for money cutoffs and troop withdrawal, occupy safe seats in deeply-blue districts. But the newest House Democrats – the people typically wary of money cutoffs and troop withdrawals – are moderates who were elected last November in swing and red districts that normally favor Republicans. These lawmakers, along with longer-serving southern and western Democrats from conservative districts, clearly feel that they can’t afford to back anything perceived as undercutting the troops.

And the House Democratic strategists know this. Looking ahead to 2008, for instance, the strategists have already drawn up a list of 29 Democratic lawmakers who will need priority assistance in their re-election bids. Most are freshmen, but, more importantly, 22 of the 29 lawmakers hail from districts that supported Bush over John Kerry in the ’04 presidential race. At least two of them, for instance, have already gone public opposing any idea that would cut off the war money.

So don’t hold your breath this week that the Democrats will get their act together, not when so few routes to unity seem available. And if they can't deal with Iraq, what will they do if Bush ups the ante and opts for direct confrontation with Iran (the country that is now a greater threat, thanks to his misadventures in Iraq)?