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Standard fare in the mainstream media as well as in both Left and Libertarian blogs, web sites and magazines, is that the Democrats are spineless. But this view simply does not fit the facts, and it is dangerous to boot, because it leads us to underestimate one of our most sinister and cynical pro-war adversaries, the Democratic Party establishment. For, if left to their own devices, the Dems will do what Kucinich warned of and substitute a Democratic for a Republican version of the war on Iraq.
The conventional wisdom is that the Dems are afraid to stand up to Bush’s war, because they fear the accusation of being "soft on terrorism" or downright treasonous. And, we are told by the liberal punditocracy, this sort of charge will prevent our poor Dems from winning elections and ending the war which, deep down, they really oppose. So what’s a poor Dem to do? Obviously call for "staying the course." This analysis is ever so convenient for the Dems. It gets the likes of Kerry, H. Clinton, Dean, Biden, Cleland and the rest, marvelously off the hook, bringing them the support of the anti-war forces. These are good men and women, we are told, just trying to win elections in the face of the ignorance of the benighted masses so as to bring us peace! Thus are hawks transmogrifed into doves, even as they cry out for more bloodshed, more troops and more death and destruction.
This whole whacko analysis cannot stand up to reality. First, the country, by a significant majority according to the polls, is against the war and long has been even before the last presidential election. Now 60% want some or all troops withdrawn at once. The least popular option, the one favored by leading Democrats, is to send more troops, an option that draws the support of less than 10%, with 57%, saying they would be "upset" at such a move. Why would anyone wanting to win an election champion a view which hardly anyone favors and is even less popular than Bush’s? Second, take as an example a senator like California’s Diane Feinstein who is not planning to run for president and comes from a solidly anti-war state, so an anti-war position is no danger for her. And yet she calls for "staying the course."
No, the idea of the spineless but virtuous Democrat does not hold up. The real reason has to be that the Dems do not give a damn about the electorate. The Dem establishment must in fact favor the war. And the reason is not hard to find. They play to the same real but hidden constituencies as the Republicans the oil tycoons, AIPAC, the barons of the military industrial complex and those who make their fortunes from empire, ranging from the banks to Bechtel. This is their class and if one of the pols dares play traitor to his class, he or she will soon be an outcast. Ask Ted Kennedy. When Kennedy called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq last January, he was virtually denounced by the rest of the Dem leadership. And although the media is afflicted with many and mortal problems, do not tell me that the media makes it impossible for the Dems to take a strong anti-war position. When Kennedy did so, it was all over the media from the front pages of the dailies to the Sunday morning TV talk shows.
The Dems know full well there is an enormous anti-war constituency out there. If they used their considerable resources to organize it and give voice to it, then it would quickly prevail. A sorry example is Cindy Sheehan’s effort. Not a single major Democrat has shown up at Camp Casey. They are blowing off Sheehan just like Bush.
In fact far from being cowardly, the Dems are showing considerable spine in standing up to the anti-war constituency that routinely does the leg work and contributes the dollars to elect them. Here their courage and resolve befit heroes of Homeric proportions. In the face of powerful anti-war sentiment from their loyalists, the Dems resolutely call for "staying the course" in the war for which they voted. Now there is spine. There is fortitude, both testicular and ovarian.
But the Dems have now been exposed and about the last excuse they have for "staying the course" is to "help" the Iraqis. Of course they uttered no such sentiment when Clinton was imposing sanctions that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi kids, a price Madeline Albright famously said was worth it to pressure Saddam Hussein. So the Dems either cry crocodile tears over the fate of the Iraqis, or avoid all mention of the war or else, like Russ Feingold, call for endless discussions of "exit strategies." I prefer the sentiment splashed across the cover of the paleocon American Conservative which proclaimed: "We do not need an exit strategy. We need an exit."
So next time you hear that the problem with the Dems is their spinelessness, do not believe a word of it. They are quite courageous in facing down their voting base to peddle death and destruction. To view them otherwise is to underestimate a potent, treacherous and insidious adversary of the anti-war movement.
JOHN WALSH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.