As anyone with even a pinky on popular culture knows, the motto of the Hogwarts school in Harry Potter is "never tickle a sleeping dragon." And now, the Debate Link stands ready to utterly ignore that wonderful maxim and seek to engage the titanic Powerline Blog in a blogwar. Of course, this has NOTHING to do with the fact that my hit counts triple whenever Powerline links to me.
The story so far: I wrote a piece entitled Left Hook on Peter Beihart's now famous Fighting Faith piece in the New Republic. Powerline linked to me saying that I was on the "right side" of this debate (yay!), and then I wrote a much longer piece called Left Cross on why I thought Democrats were both politically and ideologically better suited to fight terror than Republicans. Powerline then wrote another post on how liberals are captives of the Michael Moore wing of the party (Moore, ironically, isn't a Democrat at all, he's a Green. But that's seperate), to which I responded here and Powerline riposted here.
David cites the failure of two joke candidates, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich, as evidence that the Democrats are not dovish. Far more probative evidence, I think, is the party's utter rejection of the only true hawk in the primary field, Joe Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 2000. David dismisses the obvious implication of the Democrats' love affair with Dean by characterizing him as a "a veritable warmonger whose reputation was inexplicably wholly defined around his opposition to the second Iraq war." It's true that Dean was once something of a hardliner on U.S. military intervention, but that was back in the early 1990s. And the fact that Dean's reputation was defined by his opposition to the current war in Iraq is not inexplicable -- this was the niche that Dean successfully carved out in order to rise from obscure former governor of a tiny state to Democratic front-runner. Either that or MoveOn.org should demand its money back.
First of all, I think we can fairly label Bob Graham a hawk as well, but I realize that's tangential to the point at hand. As for Dean, maybe MoveOn should get its money back. I think that Dean's dovish credentials were overhyped. Sure, he's partially to blame for this, because it was to his political benefit to do so (if Powerline's redline is politicians who never say anything silly because its to their political benefit to do so, they'll be searching for a candidate for a long time). But what I think Powerline was missing was that Dean appealed to TWO different constituencies. One was the dovish anti-war folks. The second was the folks who wanted to fight the war on terror aggressively but thought Iraq was a distraction to it. For this second group, Dean talked tough on such issues like Homeland Security and US/Saudi relations. No less of an authority than Beihart himself said that Dean might have been able to leverage this hawkishness to an election victory (an idea to which I expressed skepticism here). The second group, whom I partially disagree with but think hold an at least reasonable position, abandoned Dean when they decided he was unelectable and went to Kerry. The position by these voters, who I think hold alot more influence than the rabid peaceniks, is not unreasonable. There is a compelling argument that Iraq was a distraction from the war, and that we should have focused our resources on nailing al-Qaeda to the wall, so I don't think its fair to tag this set of people as dovish.
Let's look at Sen. Kerry right now. Yes, he was a dove for most of his time in Congress (though to be honest, I don't think most Democrats knew that at the time. I'd like to think that I'm somewhat politically attuned, and I wasn't even looking in that direction. Dumb of me, but it at least means the motives were pure(er)). But I think his actions on the campaign trail were revealing. Powerline writes:
Finally, we get to John Kerry, the nominee the Democrats settled for when they concluded that Dean was not electable, and one of the most dovish members of the Senate with a 35 year history of opposing the use of American military power. David cites Kerry's vote in favor of the war in Iraq. But Kerry says he only voted for the war in order to give President Bush leverage with the U.N., so America could pass the global test. In other words, Kerry supported military action against Iraq only if the U.N. would sanction that action. Indeed, after the U.N. refused to sanction our action, Kerry voted to withhold funding for our troops. And during the fall campaign, Kerry most often (though not invariably) took the position that we should not have gone into Iraq. This, perhaps, is the most tell-tale sign of the influence of the Moore wing -- with swing voters dubious of Kerry's bona fides as a hardliner in the war against terrorists and the states that support terrorism, Kerry still had to appease his base by taking a soft line, or at least engaging in double-talk.
I think the above represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Kerry's position. First, as to Kerry authorizing war in order to give the UN credible threat, that's true, but it was Bush's position too (according to Factcheck.org, whose server was down when I posted this so I can't get the precise link. Just take my word for it, yes?). Bush specifically said, in the signing ceremony, that this legislation was designed to forstall war, not cause it. So if Kerry flipflopped, so did Bush, but Bush gets the worse end of the deal because he flipflopped AND lied about it.
Then we get to the famous funding bill. I agree this vote was a mistake. However, Powerline (like most of the American media) distorts Kerry's position on it. "I actually voted for it before I voted agaisnt it" may set a record for the worst political justification of all time, but objectively its fairly accurate. Kerry voted for the bill when it had funding, and voted against it after Bush threatened a veto when funding Iraq appeared to jepordize his precious tax cuts. Should Kerry have voted for the bill anyway? Probably. But in a strictly moral sense, isn't President Bush further in the wrong for prioritizing tax cuts over the security of our troops? In all, Kerry's vote was a mistake, but characterizing it as the be-all end-all of Kerry's security position is unjustified.
Then as to Kerry's late summer claims that we shouldn't have gone into Iraq at all. Lawerence Lessig best answers this challenge.
"As with most Americans, at the start, Kerry supported the war in Vietnam. Unlike almost all Americans of privilege (see, e.g., George Bush and Dick Cheney), Kerry demonstrated his support by volunteering to serve in that war. But after his experience, he—as almost all Americans—came to believe that war was a mistake. Our government had lied to get us into the war; it had lied about its prosecution of the war. Based upon the facts, he changed his mind.
The same is true about the war on Iraq. As with most Americans, Kerry supported giving the President the authority to go to war. As with most Americans, Kerry expected the President would exercise that authority in a way that did not unnecessarily put America at risk. But after his experience, he—as with most Americans—came to believe that war was a mistake. Most of us believe our government lied to get us into the war; most believe it has lied about its prosecution of the war. Based upon the facts, Kerry is now critical of a war he supported at the start.
This is not flip-flopping. It is evidence of a functioning brain. When you learn that the premise of your action was false, you should rethink your action. When you learn that the premise of a war was false, you should rethink the justification for the war. Being stubborn in the face of reality doesn't make you principled. It makes you Chairman Mao."
Fareed Zakaria best sums up the validity--and logical consistency--of Kerry's position:
"The more intelligent question is (given what we knew at the time): Was toppling Hussein's regime a worthwhile objective? Bush's answer is yes; Howard Dean's is no. Kerry's answer is that it was a worthwhile objective but was disastrously executed. For this "nuance" Kerry has been attacked from both the right and the left. But it happens to be the most defensible position on the subject.
Bush's position is that if Kerry agrees with him that Hussein was a problem, then Kerry agrees with his Iraq policy. Doing something about Iraq meant doing what Bush did. But is that true? Did the United States have to go to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their job? Did it have to junk the U.N. process? Did it have to invade with insufficient troops to provide order and stability in Iraq? Did it have to occupy a foreign country with no cover of legitimacy from the world community? Did it have to ignore the State Department's postwar planning? Did it have to pack the Iraqi Governing Council with unpopular exiles, disband the army and engage in radical de-Baathification? Did it have to spend a fraction of the money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction -- and have that be mired in charges of corruption and favoritism? Was all this an inevitable consequence of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein?"
All of this doesn't make John Kerry into Joe Lieberman. But it also shows he's not Michael Moore. Powerline concludes by noting that Hilary Clinton has taken up the mantle of Conservatism on Immigration Reform. A good test of Powerline's willingness to welcome liberal allies on these core issues would be for it to lay off its mantra of "Hilary Clinton = the Evil Incarnate" and recognize that she has been a relatively effective (and frankly quite hawkish) Senator.
But the worst part is, even if one doesn't buy anything that I'm saying, it doesn't mean the Republicans are better. It just means we're all screwed. I've yet to hear a decent response to my arguments in Left Cross about why the Republicans won't be effective in fighting the war on terror. If Democrats are ALSO ineffective, that just means America is dead in the water. It most certainly DOESN'T provide a warrant to keep electing the Republicans who have failed to make our nation safer. Until I see Republicans make bona fide efforts to make our nation safe, rather than coasting on their reputation while taking politically-motivated half steps, my Democratic allegiance is safe.
UPDATE: For Powerline's edification, "They Might Be Giants" is the name of a soft rock/ska band whom I rarely listen to. But I'm glad you like the title (I thought it fit nicely). I also ran a search on Powerline's mentions of Hillary Clinton. One negative mention, alot of tangential stuff, and some neutral gigs. So I apologize for mislabeling Powerline's position on her. Allow me to rephrase: Perhaps Powerline should be more vocal in its support for liberals when they make smart decisions (especially those, like Clinton, who tend to elicit visceral negative reactions amongst the Conservative mainstream). For the record, I've praised Bush before on this blog (here just after the election and here during the campaign season), so any charges of hypocrisy will be laughed at.
I would be interested in hearing a response to my Left Cross article, not because I'm trying to pick a fight (OK, but only a little), but also because its an important conversation to have.