Thursday, May 10, 2007

Democrats Having Effect on Bush, But They Have to Keep Up the Pressure

Director (Seth Meyers): Okay, well, all I need you to do is stand on your mark and read your lines off those cue cards.
Donald Trump (Darrell Hammond): Here's how I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna stand on my mark. I'm gonna read my lines off the cards.
- Dialogue from a sketch depicting Donald Trump acting on "Days of Our Lives" on the October 29, 2005 episode of "Saturday Night Live" (read the whole sketch here)

Judging from recent news stories, it appears as though the efforts of Congressional Democrats in standing up to President Bush on his Iraq war policy are finally bearing fruit. For the first time, it appears as though the Bush administration is finding that it is forced to make accommodations in the face of external pressure. But, for the Democrats, all this means is that they have to stand firm and keep up its opposition to the White House.

According to a Yahoo!/AP article, The House is supposed to vote today on a bill that would only fund the war in Iraq through July, with Congress making the decision at that point whether or not to continue funding based on the progress on the ground. Of course, Bush has promised to veto this bill, saying, according to the AP, "We reject that idea. It won't work." (Like Bush has been such a good judge of what will and won't work in Iraq.)

But, after weeks of insisting that it was his way or, well, his way, Bush has moved his position on Iraq, even if the advancement is measured in centimeters when it should be calculated in miles (specifically, the distance from the White House to his home in Crawford, Texas). He is now agreeing to the idea of some kind of benchmarks in the funding legislation (Yahoo!/AP article) for the Iraqi government to meet, even though just over a week ago, he was opposed to such an idea (Washington Post Article).

Much like the way Donald Trump is portrayed on "Saturday Night Live," taking the suggestions of others and parroting them back as if they were his own, the administration is taking baby steps forward, but acting like it was their idea all along. In addition to Bush adopting the idea of benchmarks, Vice President Cheney said in a Yahoo!/AP article that success in Iraq "depends on Iraq's leaders themselves, and the ultimate solution in this country will be a political solution." Uh, isn't that what the Democrats in Congress have been saying for weeks? You know, back when the administration was accusing them of not supporting the troops? Of course, it's not like Cheney has taken to wearing tie-dye and love beads. His statement was made while he was defending the extended deployment of American soldiers.

It sounds to me like the administration is preparing to make a compromise that they can pretend was their idea in the first place. But, it's clear that the shift in policy has nothing to do with a change of heart or mind. Instead, their options are starting to narrow.

Moderate Republicans in Congress, who watched as control was wrested away from them in November because of Iraq, met with Bush to make clear to him that their support for his war policy will end soon because they do not want to be tossed out of office by their constituents in 2008. (Yahoo!/AFP Article on the Subject) As I wrote in this space last Wednesday, even though Bush talks like a monarch whose power is absolute, in reality, his power extends only as far as his Republican colleagues in Congress are willing to go to block his vetoes from being overridden.

So, the Bush conversion is not a change of heart (remember, good Republicans don't do that, only flip-flopping Democrats change their positions). No, it's a last grasp at trying to keep as much of his flawed agenda going as possible. And, by co-opting the terminology of his opponents, he hopes to do so while making the Democrats look like whining obstructionists.

That is why the Democrats have to stay strong and not jump on Bush's first quasi-compromise offer in a bid to declare victory. They have to prevent the administration from making it sound like the solution was theirs all along, rather than one that was beaten out of them by their endangered allies in Congress.

The administration's actions inching forward should not be the end of the battle, but just a significant turn of events that keeps the Democrats on the offensive. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be well-served not to order a "Mission Accomplished" banner, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should not have her measurements taken for a flight suit. We all know how well that worked out the last time.