What's the difference between doing what's right and doing what's expedient? Sometimes the answer is "passing legislation". That uncomfortable fact isn't a 'free pass for Congress' in any sense. If they can't handle tough public votes (cough - David Vitter) they should quit (well, he may have to, anyway) or be replaced. But this NY Times story captures the dilemma we have been discussing all week:
While Mr. Bush almost certainly commands less loyalty than at any other time of his presidency, the White House has kept enough Republicans from siding with Democrats to keep legislation from reaching the 60-vote threshold needed to pass legislation in the Senate — not to mention the 67 votes needed to override a veto. At the same time, Democrats have often produced legislation that is viewed as hard for some Republicans to endorse.
"I think the trouble in this Senate is that too many of us — I try not to be one of them, but I do occasionally — are pandering to the base on both sides of the aisle," said Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio. "As a result of that, we don’t do the things that we should do."
Take, for example, a vote in the House late on Thursday evening in which only four Republicans joined Democrats in passing a plan calling for a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days, with a deadline of removing most troops — except an unspecified number needed for a limited mission — by April 1. Democratic officials had hoped to lure away more Republicans to create momentum for when a similar measure is considered next week in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California dismissed questions about the vote margin, telling reporters, "It was a very solid Democratic vote."
But given their narrow majority in Congress, Democrats alone cannot force the administration to change its strategy in Iraq. A senior Democratic official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, said Friday that "Democratic leaders want to end the war, but they also know that it’s important to highlight the differences with Republicans."
Toothless legislation attracts votes, but doesn't get the job done. Legislation with teeth doesn't attract a consensus or a working majority (at this time) because there isn't one in Congress.
However, this misses a major issue which the members of Congress are going to hear about, and in spades, when they go back home for recess. The simple fact is that the public is way ahead of the politicians. The urgency to adjust the status quo outweighs the loyalty to the base, and far outweighs loyalty to an unpopular President, that GOP congress critters feel. The country thinks Congress is dithering. Explaining it away as "I have to keep my shrinking Republican base happy, even though they are unrealistic about the war because Fox News, Joe Lieberman and I don't tell the truth about what's happening there" is not going to fly. One of those political "bases" is now 70% of the country. The other needs to be told by people they trust (and it's not us) that's there's Bush's view of Iraq and then there's reality. That's the only way the GOP will be comfortable voting to scale down and change the mission. They're desperately looking for figleafs when what they need to be looking for is courage.
That's bitter medicine, and whether it's the right wing talking heads and the online pundits or the politicians themselves, only a few (Hagel, Snowe, Luger) are actually doing what needs to be done (voting along with Democrats now and/or preparing their base for when they do). Sure, the votes aren't there yet, but everyone in Washington in this kabuki show knows that's coming. The trouble is that delaying the inevitable just means more unnecessary deaths. Hiding behind the excuse that "well, Democrats aren't being inclusive" or "it's all about politics, and it's my vote in September that will be remembered, not my vote in July" is just more wishful thinking.
The Iraq War is the worst foreign policy blunder in a generation. It's the GOP's war, and it's Bush's war. If they don't face up to that reality, and at least start preparing their base for the inevitable, they run the risk that 2008 will turn out to be 2006 on steroids. And, you know, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of ideologues.