VIENNA, Va. -- At the Democratic National Committee's fall meeting here today, Bill Richardson delivered this message to his party: If you don't do a better job in Congress now -- particularly when it comes to the war in Iraq -- you can't expect voters to give you the White House next year.
"We, as Democrats, have to start winning back the confidence of the American people," he said. "Not only are we still in Iraq, we still have the failure called No Child Left Behind. We still have 9 million children with no health insurance. We're still allowing the president to thumb his nose at the Bill of Rights. We're slipping into a recession ... and we can't even reject an attorney general who refuses to condemn torture."
Richardson's vow to end the war drew sustained and raucous applause from the Democrats here; Barack Obama and John Edwards, who also spoke this morning, likewise drew some of their biggest cheers when they said they'd bring the troops home. The party seems awfully united on Iraq, even if Democrats in Congress haven't been willing or able to do much about it.
But if you read the mainstream media over the next 24 hours, what you're going to see is a new round of stories about how Democrats are struggling with the question of Iraq as security conditions improve there.
Blame it -- today, at least -- on the Politico.
In his agenda-setting Politico Playbook, Mike Allen led off this morning with a "breaking news" story he called a "game-changer": "A leading Democratic war critic says the surge is working, and rank-and-file members report that the political ramifications are clear: Voter interest in the issue has waned remarkably."
We've been down this road before, of course: The last time the media reported that a Democrat had said the surge was "working," the Democrat was Hillary Clinton, and that wasn't exactly what she'd said. And the last time we remember Allen hyping a Politico piece as a race changer -- he called it a "debate-changer" then -- was when the Politico reported, falsely, that the Democrats were zero-for-40 in getting antiwar measures through the House and Senate.
So what does the Politico have this time? Why, it's Rep. Jack Murtha declaring that "the surge is working."
Is that really what Murtha, a longtime critic of the war, actually said? Yes, in the same sense that it's what Clinton said back in August: While the surge may be working militarily, the Iraqi government is not using the breathing space it has created to achieve the political gains that are necessary for long-term stability there.
"I think the surge is working, but that's only one element," Murtha said on a videoconference call with reporters Thursday. "It's working because of the increase in troops, but the thing that has to happen is that the Iraqis have to do this themselves."
That comes from the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, who actually participated in the videoconference call. Murtha's office tells us that the Politico wasn't on the call, which is maybe why it took its first swing at Murtha -- in a blog post titled "Murtha's comments on 'surge' are a problem for House Democrats" -- by quoting him as saying (and this is every inch of it) the "surge is working."
The Politico followed up this morning with a post headlined "Murtha 'clarifies' his comments on the surge," but all Murtha was really doing was amplifying the comments the Politico had ignored the first time around. "The military surge has created a window of opportunity for the Iraqi Government," Murtha said in a statement his office released this morning. "Unfortunately, the sacrifice of our troops has not been met by the Iraqi government and they have failed to capitalize on the political and diplomatic steps that the surge was designed to provide. The fact remains that the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily, and that we must begin an orderly redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as practicable."
In a longer story posted this morning, the Politico's Martin Kady II and Jim VandeHei give a slightly fuller version of Murtha's original quote -- he "told reporters that 'the surge is working' to improve security, even though the central government in Baghdad remains 'dysfunctional'" -- then once again portrayed the original (and still not fully quoted) statement as something that Murtha found the need to "clarify" later.
The irresistible implication of it all: Not only is there dissension in the Democratic ranks on Iraq, but a leading Democrat is flip-flopping too!
How long will it take others in the mainstream media to pick up on the story? This long: About half an hour ago, Fox News posted the following headline on its Web site: "Murtha Moves to Tone Down Surprise Assessment That Iraq 'Surge Is Working.'"