It’s worth noting how Howard Dean toned down the anti- Iraq War rhetoric on CBS’s “Face The Nation” yesterday. Speaking on what would happen if the Democrats took control, he said:
“The president will still be in charge of foreign policy and the military so the influence of a Democratic Congress will be I think a positive influence but I don’t imagine that we’re suddenly gonna force the President to reverse his course. We don’t have the ability to do that, but I think we will put some pressure on him to have some benchmarks, some timetables, and a real plan other than stay the course.”
I think this is indicative of two things. Even though the Iraq War has become more unpopular, Democrats are still worried about perceptions that they are the anti-war party. While I wouldn’t deny that growing opposition to the Iraq War is hurting Republicans this election year, I don’t think the electorate has become as anti-war as the media would have us believe. Take a look at the fortunes of Ned Lamont. In a race that was billed as a referendum on the Iraq War, Lamont barely won a Democratic primary against Lieberman, who is unabashedly pro-war. Lieberman has not backed off his support for the war, and yet, by all indications, is crushing Lamont in a blue state that Kerry won by 10 points in 2004.
I think Dean’s comments also reveal a desire to manage the expectations of the liberal base should Democrats win control of one or both chambers of Congress. Just as conservatives want to see action on their agenda when Republicans win elections, if Democrats are put in power, liberals will have demands. But if there’s one thing about Republican and Democratic leaders that’s the same, it’s that they will always choose politics over principle. I’m sure that should Democrats win, they will, as Dean said, “put some pressure” on Bush, but I think they would be fearful of going overboard with the much bigger prize up for grabs in 2008. This way, when they run in 2008, they can appeal to moderates by arguing that once in power, they disproved the Republican caricatures of Democrats as foaming at the mouth anti-war liberals. Meanwhile, they’ll rally the liberal base by saying they had their hands tied because Bush was still “in charge of foreign policy and the military” and the only way to truly change things is to win the presidency.