As bad as things are for George W. Bush on Iraq -- his overall approval rating is down to 40 percent in a Harris Poll out today -- they aren't necessarily a whole lot better for the Democratic Party. Ted Kennedy said the other day that the American people are "much farther ahead in their thinking about the war" than Republicans in Washington are. But the thing is, the American people are farther ahead in their thinking about the war than a lot of Washington Democrats are, too.
Fifty-six percent of the American public says the U.S. should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq now. Yet only one Democrat in the Senate, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, has called for a specific timetable for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted over the weekend, the Senate's "most visible" contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination -- Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden and John Kerry -- all voted for the war and have resisted calls for a troop withdrawal. Some Democrats in Washington, like Biden, have called on Bush to send more troops to Iraq. And the Democratic Leadership Council has started warning Democrats that they need to be "distancing themselves from the pacifist and anti-American fringe."
Are the Democrats in disarray on Iraq? A much-discussed story in Monday's Washington Post suggested that they are: The success of Cindy Sheehan's protests has turned a "long-standing rift in the party ... increasingly raw," the Post said, pitting antiwar activists against establishment Washington Democrats who supported the war and -- no matter how badly they say George W. Bush is prosecuting it -- aren't quite ready to declare that it's time to pull out yet.
"Needless to say, an internecine war between its hawks and doves is the last thing the beleaguered Democratic Party needs," the Washington Monthly's <a target= "new" href="Kevin Drum writes in today's Los Angeles Times. "You can be sure that Karl Rove would do his best to hammer such a wedge straight through the heart of the party come election time."
Drum says it's time for the Democratic Party to come together on Iraq, and he lays out one path for doing so. The antiwar left should continue to agitate for an end to the war, he says, but it should do so without demanding an apology from Democrats who once supported the war and want to reverse course now. More centrist Democrats need to get over their fears of being accused of "flip-flopping" on the war and get behind what Drum calls "the course that's probably the most sensible anyway": a gradual withdrawal of troops capped by a "hard end-date" two years out.
"For any Democrat who has been on the record for the last two years as supporting the war in Iraq, advocating withdrawal will take guts," Drum writes. "But being the first liberal hawk to seriously propose such a solution would also carry some rewards: The antiwar left would finally have someone to rally around, and the Bush administration would finally have some serious competition.
"Who will be the first to do it?"
Former Sen. Gary Hart poses a similar question in an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post, but he seems to want the pound of flesh that Drum says antiwar Democrats should be careful about demanding. "In 2008," Hart writes, "I want a leader who is willing now to say: 'I made a mistake, and for my mistake I am going to Iraq and accompanying the next planeload of flag-draped coffins back to Dover Air Force Base. And I am going to ask forgiveness for my mistake from every parent who will talk to me.'"