The rage of Democratic activists is based on a belief that ending the war over President Bush’s objections is simply a matter of will. Faced with Mr. Bush’s veto, they insist, the Democratic Congress needed only to send the same withdrawal-timetable legislation back to him again and again until either he relented and signed it or funding for the troops dried up, thus ending the war.
Maybe this would have been the heroic strategy, but it ignores the degree to which the Congressional leadership’s hands are tied. There is consensus among House and Senate Democrats about the need to end the war, but they are far from being of one mind on how to achieve this. Plenty of them believe in the aggressive strategy that the party’s base is agitating for. But plenty of them—even some who have long opposed the war, like Mr. Levin and Representative David Obey of Wisconsin—are also adamant that they won’t end the war by cutting off troop funding.
And it’s not as if the Democrats have a ton of wiggle room. In the House, they mustered 221 votes for the funding bill that Mr. Bush vetoed—barely more than the 218 needed to pass a bill. In the Senate, with Mr. Lieberman siding against them and South Dakota’s Tim Johnson still sidelined, the Democrats are a caucus of 49 on Iraq.
That doesn’t mean Democrats are waving the white flag. The funding question will be revisited in September, and already a chunk of previously loyal Republicans—wising up to their increasingly bleak 2008 prospects—have sent unmistakable signals to the White House that they’ll finally be prepared to declare their independence then.
Mario Cuomo once commented that in politics, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose—which helps to explain why activists were more enamored of Congressional Democrats in 2006 than they are in 2007.
There are honest differences among Democrats over how to end the war. But too many on the left are forgetting that the Carl Levins of the world are on their side.