(updated below – Update II)
RNC Chairman Michael Steele today lashed out at President Obama by saying: ”if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?“ Of course it’s absurd for Steele to voice that criticism without mentioning that it is his own Party which started that war and waged it for 8 years — as well as the fact that virtually every Congressional member of his Party continues to support the war — but Steele was right in the substance of what he said. In response, look at this truly repellent and classically Rovian statement issued by the DNC condemning Steele:
RNC CHAIRMAN MICHAEL STEELE BETS AGAINST OUR TROOPS, ROOTS FOR FAILURE
“Here goes Michael Steele setting policy for the GOP again. The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job. They’d also be interested to hear that the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we have no business in Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that we are there because we were attacked by terrorists on 9-11.
“And, the American people will be interested to hear that the leader of the Republican Party thinks recent events related to the war are ‘comical’ and that he is betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan. It’s simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement. Michael Steele would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences.”
As The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent writes, and I couldn’t agree more: “this is Karl Rove’s playbook. I don’t care how often Republicans do it — this blog is not on board with this kind of thing from either party.” Indeed, at The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol revealingly echoed the DNC, demanding that Steele resign for his “affront” to the soliders. Ironically, there was just a vote on war funding last night in the House, and numerous Democrats — 93 of them on a mild anti-war measure and 22 on a stronger one — voted to end the war in Afghanistan, many arguing exactly what Steele just said about the futility of the war. Do the DNC’s Rovian insults mean that these anti-war Democrats are also guilty of wanting to “walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda,” ”undermin[ing] the morale of our troops,” and “betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan”?
Replicating the worst of the GOP rhetoric is unfortunately not limited to the DNC. Over on the front page of Daily Kos, Barbara Morrill ends her post about Steele’s comments this way: ”What the family and friends of those who died or those who are still fighting there today think is, of course, another story.” A couple of months ago, Jonathan Alter and Keith Olbermann both suggested that criticisms of Obama weaken the U.S. and thus help Al Qaeda. Last October, both the DNC and some progressive groups accused Steele respectively of “siding with the terrorists” and being “downright unpatriotic” because he questioned whether Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was merited.
I understand and even accept the need to use the other side’s rhetoric against them, though once you start doing that, you forever forfeit the ability to complain when it’s used against you. More to the point: the 2006 and 2008 elections proved that this “against-the-Troops/cut-and-run” rhetoric is now as ineffective as it is ugly. That’s why the GOP lost so overwhelmingly in those elections while relying on those smears; why would the DNC want to copy such ineffective tactics?
But this is more pernicious than mere tactical error. The DNC’s behavior is bolstering the poisonous, manipulative premise that to oppose an American war is an “affront” to the Troops and their families and the by-product of a cowardly desire to “walk away from the fight” with the Terrorists. When the DNC, a front page Daily Kos writer and Bill Kristol all join together to smear someone with common language for opposing a war, it’s clear that something toxic is taking place. By all means, the ludicrous hypocrisy and illogic of Steele’s attempt to place all blame on the Democrats for this war should be screamed from the mountaintops — Obama inherited and (with the overwhelming support of the GOP) escalated the war, but he did not start it — but equating war opposition with disrespect to the Troops or cowardice is destructive and stupid no matter who is doing it. How revealing that the one time Michael Steele speaks the truth, he’s being swarmed on and attacked by both political parties.
UPDATE: To his credit, Steve Benen joins in the condemnation of the DNC statement with a well-reasoned argument, but also says this:
Part of me sympathizes with DNC staffers reading Greg [Sargent]‘s post and thinking, “We just can’t win. Everyone tells us to play rough and be just as vicious as the RNC, but when we do, we’re criticized by the left and right.” I get that, and I know why it seems unfair.
Two points about this: (1) there’s nothing “tough” or “rough” about the DNC statement; it’s actually lame, desperate and ineffective. As I noted above, the 2006 and 2008 GOP-crushing elections both proved that these rhetorical insults do not work any longer. Beyond that, attacking people for criticizing the War in Afghanistan is as dumb as when the Republicans attacked people who criticized the Iraq War, given that a majority of Americans harbor extreme doubts, even opposition, about the war as well as Obama’s handling of it. In light of that, is equating opposition to the war with cowardice and Hating the Troops a tough or smart political tactic? Hardly. As I said, it’s as dumb and ineffective as it is ugly.
(2) Generally, when progressives demand that Democrats be “tougher,” what they mean is in defense of progressive policies, not in defense of endless war in Afghanistan. It’d be one thing if the DNC came out this forcefully in attacking Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies, or legal immunity for torture, or cutting Social Security while maintaining bloated defense spending, or a failure to stimulate the economy sufficiently, etc. But here, they’re acting “tough” in order to stigmatize war opposition and equate questioning of American wars with cowardice and Troop disrespect. I don’t quite think that’s what progressives have in mind when they urge the Party to be more aggressive.
UPDATE II: As David Dayen notes, just last night, a majority of House Democrats (153 of them) voted for an amendment requiring a timetable for the withdrawing of troops from Afghanistan. The amendment failed, of course, because all but 9 Republicans (and 98 Democrats) voted against it, but I wonder what the DNC has to say about the fact that a majority of their Party’s House caucus are cowardly, solider-hating traitors who are betting against the Troops.