Dear Democratic Senators and Representatives:
Yesterday you gave in to pressure and announced a compromise on the supplemental war spending bill that gives the President no enforceable conditions on continuing the Iraq War. Instead, you are poised to vote tomorrow on a bill that contains “optional” benchmarks, which the President is free to ignore. You promise to renew the fight this summer to bring the war to an end, bring our troops home safely, and hold the President accountable. After four or more months of heavy American losses and increasingly intense civil war.
Today, much of the Democratic “base” is outraged. Perhaps we’re outraged because you failed to make this “the beginning of the end” of the war. Perhaps because you showed every appearance of caving in. Or perhaps because you thought that we’d fall for benchmarks that were optional, and we’d think that you’d actually done your jobs.
You’d better hope it’s the first possibility — that you just lost this one, fair and square. Because quite frankly, speaking as one of the “base,” and a financial supporter of Democratic candidates in the House, Senate, and for the Presidency, you’d better convince us you weren’t simply weak, or even worse, that you were trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
Because you’re on probation. I don’t know how many other Democrats feel the same way, but I’m holding off writing checks for Democrats until I see who has backbone. I want to know which of you, if any, has real leadership skills.
I’m waiting to see which candidates know when losing a vote is the right thing to do, to make a point. I’m waiting to see which Democrats think that being on the winning side of a vote is more important than doing what you were elected to do. Who think that the American people aren’t paying attention, and that maybe we won’t notice the “optional” part of the benchmarks you worked so hard to pass. The first set of folks have my vote. The other two categories should start figuring out which lobbying firms still hire Democrats, because you’ll want to beat the rush and get your resume circulated.
Nobody I know expected you to end the war instantly. I didn’t expect that this vote would work miracles. I did expect, after the election last November, to see some folks step up and display leadership. Reid and Pelosi seemed to be going great guns, but of late you all seem to be going through the motions, with one, if not two, eyes firmly on the polls and your re-election prospects.
Tonight, in his Special Comment, Keith Olbermann said something potentially very prescient. The Democratic nomination for President in 2008 may very well hinge on how the Democratic candidates in the Congress vote tomorrow. Senator Clinton has always danced around questions regarding the Authorization for use of force in Iraq, and Senator Obama has been able — thus far — to safely criticize those who voted for the war, since he wasn’t around in Congress to vote at that point.
Well, tomorrow we get to see who’s learned what lessons from the last couple of years. Senator Obama, if you would lead this country, show us your leadership with your vote tomorrow. And Senator Clinton, here’s your chance to answer those critics who hound you about your AUMF vote.
As wrong as President Bush is, and has been, about this war, he’s never been afraid to be unpopular among substantial portions of this country. The Democrats need to take a page — but only this page — from his book. Do the right thing, and gain our support. Play politics as usual, and lose it.