Part I is here. H/T to yesterday's commenters, here and at Daily Kos, who provided excellent links.
Today's discussion is about responsibility. The question for today is "why don't the Republicans who think a change of strategy is needed work and vote with Democrats?" The answers are somewhat varied. Today, let's look at New England. That's easy because there's only one person to took at.
Rep. Christopher Shays has called on Congress to approve withdrawing virtually all American troops from Iraq by December 2008, a blow to Bush administration efforts to fight the mounting support in Congress for a sharp change in strategy.
"I believe we need a timeline. I believe the president's wrong," the 4th District Republican said Friday.
So, Bush is wrong and Shays will help rectify his position. And doesn't that mean Chris Shays will do the right thing and vote with the D's? Ah, you don't know Chris "Mr. Waffle" Shays.
He first embraced the idea of timelines about a year ago, on the eve of a fierce re-election fight, but stayed away from offering specific dates. Shays earlier this year had said that while he would go along with timelines, it was up to the president and not Congress to set them.
"I can't wait any longer for the administration to come and say, `These are the deadlines,"' the congressman said Friday. "I've waited longer than I'm even comfortable with."
He set the December 2008, date because it would allow the troops to leave before a new president took office a month later.
But did Chris Shays vote with the Democrats to set a timeline?
Shays voted against the Democratic-authored plan Thursday to set an April 2008 deadline because he believed that would be too rushed. Four Republicans voted for the measure, but many warned that unless they see strong evidence current policy is working they, too, could support deadlines.
Shays explained Friday that he decided to adjust his position after recent conversations with administration officials and troops' families.
In other words, Shays is a moderate every two years just before elections, which is why he's still with us. However, he continues to vote with Republicans on issues of import (from House Speaker elections to Iraq bills), and his words don't match his votes.
There are several dynamics in play here. One is Shays' typical "save my skin" conversions. Shays barely hung on in 2006 by doing his usual thing of becoming an "election moderate" for the few months needed to get re-elected, and he's not above doing it again. But he also wants the Republicans to be spared from being blamed. He'd like to delay any sense of defeat or reckoning until the next President has to clean up the mess.
Much of this is driven by the sense that the GOP as a whole is standing on the brink of a precipice for the 2008 election. Taking Ben Franklin to heart, they've decided to hang together in hopes they won't be hung separately. and part of that 'unity' is to divert responsibility away from themselves and try to, if not blame Democrats (Bush has tried that and failed) then at least get some bipartisan responsibility and make it a bipartisan mess.
In the end, it's an American tragedy and an American mess, and that bipartisanship is exactly what's going to happen – eventually. But it will happen when Republicans vote to make it happen and not before. Why? Because it takes at least 60 votes (if not 67) in the Senate to make it happen as long as George Bush decides he is not changing mission (there are no must-pass funding bills up for vote now). The Republicans are giving him until September as he asked, and beyond that they've made no promises. Good thing, because the biggest stumbling block in Washington isn't the Congress (either party), it's the President. Republicans still think he can be convinced, Democrats know he will need to be forced. More bitter medicine for Republicans, that.
In the meantime, we have Republican stalwarts like Peggy Noonan writing electoral disaster columns like President Bush has torn the conservative coalition asunder and we can't fire the president right now, so we're waiting it out. Noonan was talking about immigration when she wrote this, but she could have been talking about Iraq:
Now conservatives and Republicans are going to have to win back their party. They are going to have to break from those who have already broken from them. This will require courage, serious thinking and an ability to do what psychologists used to call letting go. This will be painful, but it's time. It's more than time.
Shays isn't ready but might well be by September, especially after he hears it from CT-04 and his well-funded opponent Jim Himes. Of course, in Shays case, the votes better come up before the election because that's the only thing that will make him let go. Is he so different than other Republicans?
In the meantime, the other group of "avoid taking responsibility for my mistakes at all costs" enablers, the pundits, will blame Democrats for refusing to work across the aisle. It doesn't matter in the least what they write. The accurate writing is on the wall: the Iraq bill comes due in September.