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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Democrats' spinelessness may come back to haunt them

Good point made this morning during a round table discussion hosted by George Stephanopoulos on his This Week on ABC. As I've noted before, the Democrats have had an excellent week, capped by Bush's inability to pull off an open trade treaty with South American countries. But the current investigation -- pushed by the Democratic leadership that forced the Senate into a closed doors session just the other day -- might come back to bite them in the ass.

"How so?" could any reasonable person ask. After all, it was the Republican-controlled Congress and White House who made the so-called "case" for the invasion of Iraq and then went ahead and did it. Right, the problem is that many Democrats went along with it, and stated so on record (John Kerry) or with their vote (Hillary Clinton). Of course, they did it because they are largely a spineless bunch, who didn't have the guts to stand up to Bush & co. when it was necessary and unpopular. Now that it is becoming a little less unpopular (although just as necessary), the Dems are growing tiny little balls, which are certainly better than nothing.

But conservative Republicans, slimy as usual, are quick to point out Kerry's remarks and Clinton's vote, deducing through their own brand of logic that the Dems are in it as much as the GOP, so why are they being so “unfair” and “political” about the war issue?

On the other hand, the latest ABC poll shows that Republicans are, finally, in serious trouble. Only a year in advance of the mid-term elections, the Democrats beat them on all, I repeat all, issues, often by large margins (ok, they are tied for handling terrorism, but still...).

Moreover, in terms of "party attributes," the Republicans win only on having a strong leadership (and apparently one whose results aren't particularly appreciated by the public at the moment), while Democrats out-poll their opponents in terms of being more open to moderate positions (no kidding!), more concerned with average people (duh!), and better representing American's values. The ultimate irony is that if the 2004 Presidential election were held today, Kerry would beat the crap out of Bush, and by a long margin. Let's hope people will remember all of this at least until next year.


  1. While I must agree that the Dems have been spineless from the very first on this Iraq thing, there comes a time when, if they are ever to regain some semblance of fortitude, they must bite the bullet and admit that spinelessness and stick to the theme of resisting any further weakness. Otherwise the Republicans, especially under the "leadership" of Bush, will continue the Iraq disaster and may even go further by attacking other sovereign nations.

    With elections coming up next year it is time for Mr. Niceguy to step back and let some real mean Democratic SOBs take the fight to the right-wing.

  2. It's important to understand that many americans believed the administration's talking points in March '03, e.g. that Saddam and Iraq posed an imminent WMD threat. Viewed in that light, opposition to the war was contrary to the duty of an elected representative, viz. to represent the interests of the people. Hence it is inaccurate and unfair to refer to the democratic response at the time as "spineless," since they were acting in the perceived interests of the country and their constituents based upon what the Bush administration told us. On the other hand, now that there are strong indications of the administration's dissembling on the matter, the republican /conservative failure to aggressively support Reid and the inquiry into falsified "intelligence" and the complex pattern of lies is, indeed, spineless.

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  4. I don't see how this meme can get much traction. As James points out - the vote was taken at a time before the extent of intelligence manipulation was known.

    Furthermore, it was not a vote "for war", it was vote giving the President the authorization to go to war as a measure of last resort in the face of imminent danger.

    Granted, conferring that power upon the Presidency was a foolish notion that Democrats and Republicans alike should have to answer for. And granted many Democrats were probably cow-towed into their affirmative votes.

    But the notion of complete complicity is easily defended by the argument that it was based on intelligence that only later turned out to be tainted.

    Before the election (dismayed by the awful performance of the Kerry campaign), I wrote my own rebuttals to various Republican arguments in a piece I called "If I were John Kerry". On the question of Kerry's seemingly contradictory stance on the war, I wrote the following (keep in mind I was role playing as a politician):

    "My position on the Iraq war has been quite clear, quite simple and perfectly consistent, despite the Republicans continual attempts to distort it. The President required the authority to preemptively attack Iraq in the event that Iraq proved to be an imminent danger to the United States. The Saddam Hussein threat had to be ascertained and, if necessary, dealt with.

    I, and most others, voted for the authorization with the explicit understanding that the President would only take us into war as a last resort in the face of an imminent, clear and present danger. For only an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction could justify the risk of de-stabilizing the region. Only an imminent threat could justify taking the focus off of Osama bin Laden and the future success of a democratic Afghanistan. And only an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction could have given America the credibility it needed to attack Iraq without aggravating a backlash of anti-American sentiment, increasing the risk that the cancer of terrorism may spread.

    My decision to give the President the authorization to take us to war was also predicated on intelligence reports – intelligence that we assumed was objectively collected and complete -- not the product of a bias that may have induced our intelligence agencies to produce the results they felt that the administration wanted to see.

    (I spare you the whole rebuttal and cut to end...)

    It should be quite clear to any reasonable person that voting to authorize the use of force as a last resort for the protection of America is not equivalent to endorsing this administration’s choice to use that authorization when the situation was far from that of “a last resort”.

    Furthermore as I made clear in October 2002 and I quote: “Let there be no doubt or confusion about where we stand on this. I will support a multilateral effort to disarm him by force, if we ever exhaust those other options, as the President has promised, but I will not support a unilateral U.S. war against Iraq unless that threat is imminent and the multilateral effort has not proven possible under any circumstances.” Clearly those conditions were not satisfied. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a contradiction in my position towards the War in Iraq.

    The last quote was real, mined from Senate transcripts. We never heard Kerry employ any defense of his Iraq position using that quote. I think it would have played well with the mainstream. Maybe Kerry really was trying to have it both ways (which was silly, because he had the liberal vote locked up regardless)

  5. I can't buy the arguement that Bush was given the vote to go to war because "it was made with the best intelligence available." There were plenty of legitimate sources at the time saying that the WMD and chemical weapons BS was just that - BS. But the Republicans steamrollered anyone who took that stance. The only thing the administration wanted to here was that information that "seemed" to support their desire for war. They were in power and they were going to do what "their" president wanted. I'm not going to say whether Bush was honestly afraid, misinformed or anxious to make up for his less than illustrious military career. Let's just say that in retrospect it is hard to assign anything honorable to Bush2.

    The Democrats with the exception of a few like Byrd just folded and gave one of the quirkiest presidents in history, the right to plunge this nation into war - and that is spineless behavior and it is wrong whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.

  6. My question to those who argue that we acted on the best evidence available is, "Am I the only one who remembers Scott Ritter?" This guy was screaming at the top of his lungs that the WMD angle was bull, along with pretty much all the other wepons inspectors that had been there. For his efforts, he had his patriotism and character called into question. Of course, in the end, he turned out to be right.

    Personally, I think congress acted the way it did to feed the bloodlust of the people. Lets face it folks, most people didn't care who we went after as long as someone was punished for 9/11. Whether or not they were guilty was irrelevant. That is the real weakness of the Dems.

    Of course, maybe I'm just in a cynical mood.


  7. Dennis/Noah,

    I can't say I disagree with you. Objectively, there was enough evidence to be skeptical about the WMD evidence. (I wrote a paper prior to the war, where I surmised the WMD evidence was tenuous at best)

    And yes, Democrats and Republicans both failed in their duty. That's not surprising. How many rational thinkers have you seen in the public arena?

    Many were "steamrolled" or "folded", but I bet some (despite the voices of objection) really did trust the President/CIA. Again, I don't think our elected representatives are the most skeptical bunch. Ok, maybe they all caved.

    But the point I was trying to make in my earlier point was that as a political tactic, it would be hard for the Republicans to make the accusation stick today, because so many people now associate the faulty intelligence with the Republicans.

    As for "most people just wanting to punish someone fo 9/11", I would argue that's an exaggeration. Certainly some less educated people expressed that sentiment (but they actually believed there was Iraq-Al Queda link). Most conservative voices however, were pushing for the war on the grounds of a pre-emptive strike against a possible danger, not as a punishment for 9/11. As I said in an earlier post, I believe the administration actually believed it could transform the Middle East. There crime is one of incompetence and naivety. Wolfowitz, for example, was writing about regime change in Iraq and its fantasy-like ramifications for years before 9/11. A wise man once said "Never attribute to malice, what can be attributed to incompetence" Its a form of Occam's Razor.

    Not that it matters anyway. Has any conservative or Republican citizen in the last three years ever changed his mind and decided that the Liberals were right? Has any liberal or Democrat ever been convinced that the conservatives are right? (rhetorical questions)

    The amount of spin and partisanship is such that no matter what evidence surfaces against Bush, the conservative propaganda machine simply spins it as a left wing conspiracy. Whenever Bush does something not wrong (couldn't get my self to type "right"), the liberal propaganda machine nevertheless spins it as another example of his evilness. In both cases, the legions of ditto heads and ideologically blinded masses follows, swallowing hook, line and sinker.

    (Guess I'm feeling cynical today, too)


  8. Alan,

    Your right, my characterization of “most people” not caring about who we went to war with was an exaggeration. I live in one of those places where the “we should turn the whole region into a parking lot” sentiment is pretty prevalent. But I should remember that where I live is not necessarily indicative of the rest of the country.

    I’m feeling much better about the human race at the moment, but that may just be the Johnny Red talking.

    However, I still can’t shake the feeling that the Dems voted for the war because they thought it would be a popular position to take. Once you consider that the war had pretty popular support until just recently, it’s not an unreasonable idea.



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