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Tilting at Windmills

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July 2, 2010

WHEN THE SHOE GOES ON THE OTHER FOOT -- BUT IT DOESN'T FIT.... It's not at all surprising that the Democratic National Committee is pouncing on RNC Chairman Michael Steele's bizarre remarks on the war in Afghanistan. It is surprising how far the DNC is willing to go with its message.

About two hours ago, the DNC issued a statement arguing that Steele is "betting against our troops" and "rooting for failure" in Afghanistan -- and that was just the headline. It went on to say that Steele's apparent opposition to the war suggests the RNC chairman is prepared to "walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job." The statement added that it's "unconscionable" for Steele to "undermine the morale of our troops," concluding that Steele "would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences."

Greg Sargent responded to this with a very compelling take, arguing that this kind of rhetoric comes from "Karl Rove's playbook."

Are liberal Dems who have made much the same case about Afghanistan also "rooting for failure" and "betting against our troops"? The DNC would argue that this is a different situation -- that Steele's argument isn't in good faith. It cuts against what he himself has said in the past -- that we must win -- and is at odds with his entire party. Also, they'd argue that coming from a party leader, his words really do have consequences for troop morale and for the war effort.

But Steele didn't "root for failure" anywhere. And he isn't really "betting against our troops." He's saying that this an inherently unwinnable situation, however brave and tough the troops are. I don't know if that's what he believes, but that's what he said.

Greg's right. I don't doubt that the urge at the DNC to give the RNC a taste of its own medicine is pretty intense, but when DNC messages about a war in 2010 are effectively identical to RNC messages about a war in 2004, there's a problem.

Part of me sympathizes with DNC staffers reading Greg's post and thinking, "We just can't win. Everyone tells us to play rough and be just as vicious as the RNC, but when we do, we're criticized by the left and right." I get that, and I know why it seems unfair.

For that matter, I haven't forgotten the Bush/Cheney years, and the disgusting rhetoric Republicans used to attack any American who voiced disagreement over the war(s). Dissent was equated with disloyalty. Words like "treason," "traitor," and "fifth columnists," weren't just thrown around casually, they were literally a daily part of the public discourse.

But Republicans were wrong at the time, and such tactics are still wrong now. If the DNC wants to exploit Steele's remarkable comments for all their worth, that's more than fair. But once the DNC starts equating opposition to the war with "rooting for failure" and "undermining the morale of our troops," the party is reading from the wrong script.

Steve Benen 3:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Thank you.

The Dems should be better than this. Steele should be criticized for his hypocrisy, not called a traitor.

Posted by: Buffalonian on July 2, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

All this does is legitimize this sort of behavior. If both Democrats and Republicans do it, then it's clearly part of "mainstream thought" and there's no going back. Both Democrats and Republicans think criticizing the war is akin to treason. We are right and truly fucked.

Posted by: Tree on July 2, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

If you think about it a minute, you'll be even more in sympathy with that no-win-situation philosophy, because there's probably no going back from the partisan schism in American politics. This kind of talk is automatic now, because if Democrats don't use the opportunities they're given, they'll be derided as the "party of nerds" that doesn't know how to play politics. Republicans never hesitate to use hyperbole and overdrawn comparison to win office, and are contemptuous of anyone who does.

What it all boils down to is that you can't lead if you're not in office. Well, you shouldn't be able to - it's true that Republicans are doing it, but that's because Democrats are letting them.

It is indeed a pity that things have gotten to this stage, but they have. If Democrats try to be gentlemanly and chivalrous, they'll be handed their asses in November. Don't make the mistake of thinking the people can see hypocrisy without having their noses rubbed in it, because they can't. It could perhaps have been worded better, and might have been if not gotten out so hastily, but attack is the right instinct.

Posted by: Mark on July 2, 2010 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Dissent here: first off, I don't give a damn if those opposed to the afghanistan war got their feelings hurt. Secondly, welcome to what a strong pushback looks like. Seems to me the same folks who've been endlessly asking for stronger dem responses are always the ones who are then horrified when we give them.

Do y'all want to make war on the GOP, or just complain about how that war is prosecuted?

Posted by: mmonides on July 2, 2010 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, mmonides (should I call you Rmbm?). This is what pushback looks like and it is the result of a unending partisan divide in this country. We Dems can disarm and try to raise the standard of debate in this country -- and then prepare to moan for 2+ years about Speaker Boehner and the endless stream of subpoenas aimed at the White House -- or we can show the GOP that we'll fight just as hard for every vote. It's what it takes to get power in this country right now and I'd rather have it then piously comfort myself that we were better for the 4 years we had it.

Posted by: njdem on July 2, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

It's obnoxious and asinine for all the obvious reasons, and also because the war is indeed going very badly. Nobody seems to be able to say how we're going to win there. Does the DNC really want to box Obama in like this? Hard enough to justify withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, given his own rhetoric on the surge, but how can Obama now "walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job"?

Posted by: smintheus on July 2, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

As I posted elsewhere: This is not “getting tough with Republicans”. This is “doing exactly what we’ve spent the last eight years condemning Republicans for doing”.

Getting tough on them and giving them a taste of their own medicine would be something to the effect of: “RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s recent comments are as rich with irony as they are with revisionist history. Republicans have spent eight years reading from Karl Rove’s destructive playbook, smearing anyone who opposes either of the wars they started as unpatriotic and accusing them of not supporting the troops. But now that President Obama has inherited the mess that they left behind and committed to resolving it responsibly, they’ve suddenly rediscovered the horrors of war and the virtues of questioning their government. Like the lockstep Republican obstructionism in Congress that is harming families across America, this only further demonstrates that the Republican party has no solutions, no principles, and no agenda other than reflexive opposition to anything this administration does, regardless of its merits.”

The recent “on their side” ad the DNC put out was pretty good, but they really need to up their game. It's not hard to use their tactics against them without stooping to their level.

Posted by: Catsy on July 2, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Yes heaven forbid Democrats bring a gun to a gunfight.

Steele and other right-wing nitwits who seem willing to bring harm to their country for political advantage may not be traitors, but they sure ain't patriots. Fuck 'em. Make 'em howl, DNC.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on July 2, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

No, this is not an issue of strong pushback vs. unilateral disarmament. It's about intelligent and effective (i.e. persuasive and productive) rhetoric. When you're handed an opportunity like this by Steele, you don't sky it into the upper deck like Robin van Persie.

Instead, you point out Steele's hypocrisy and use that to highlight his crass partisanship. You make it an example of why Republicans can't be trusted to give the public a candid, credible, and coherent viewpoint on issues of national importance. And you use THAT to show why Republican hyper-partisanship is damaging to America's interests.

You don't argue that the only acceptable policy is Obama's policy, and anybody who disagrees hates the troops. That's pretty close to an own goal.

Posted by: smintheus on July 2, 2010 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Amen, Steve. This isn't what "pushback" looks like, it's what "tit for tat" looks like, and it's damn childish. By doing this kind of thing Democrats forfeit all claim to the moral high ground and legitimize the "both parties do it" blather of the mainstream press.

Posted by: noncarb on July 2, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

"but when DNC messages about a war in 2010 are effectively identical to RNC messages about a war in 2004, there's a problem."

Bingo! If I wanted to be a part of the idiocy that reigned during 2004 etal, I would be a Republican. Thanks Steve, smintheus, and Catsy for making sense - the DNC doesn't need to operate this way.

Posted by: whichwitch on July 2, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Does the DNC really think doubling down on a commitment to stay in Afghanistan "as long as it takes" is going to get approval from the public?

Tim Kaine is as big an idiot as Michael Steele.

Posted by: karen marie on July 2, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Steele "would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences.""

But we weren't attacked by Afganistan then, and we are now fighting the Taliban who also did not attack us, they are resisting our occupatioin.

In the mean time we are bleeding to death economically.

Posted by: Marnie on July 2, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

"As I posted elsewhere: This is not “getting tough with Republicans”. This is “doing exactly what we’ve spent the last eight years condemning Republicans for doing”."


I am not yelling at you personally, but THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE INTERNET LEFT HAS DEMANDED THAT THE DEMS AND THE ADMINISTRATION DO. Since Obama took office, the Left has called on Obama and other Dems to behave EXACTLY like Republicans in order to get what they want. 'It wasn't okay when the GOP did it, but since its a Liberal policy to hell with the standards we set for them' - THAT is the way the Left has been acting for the past 18 months and now we want to poo poo the DNC for following in their foot steps?

Posted by: Alli on July 2, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

If DNC staffers are truly thinking they can't win because everybody tells them to "play rough and be just as vicious as the RNC", then I suggest the DNC get some new staffers. Are they dimwitted? If that's what they're thinking...wow. It's nothing but a whiny playground excuse - akin to "I know you are but what am I?". What galls me is their refusal to understand the essence of the criticism which is being directed towards them. Do they not understand that people want them to play HARD, not nasty - to grow a spine? That people want them to fight for progressive/Democratic policies with the same intensity as the modern Republican party fights for its own - but not with the same level of ignorant and blind vitriol? Do they really not see that this is what people are really asking for? They need to elevate the rhetoric above the fray. The DNC's response to Steele is miscalculated and stupid. Gosh, these DNC'ers are daft.

Posted by: Homes on July 2, 2010 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

"THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE INTERNET LEFT HAS DEMANDED THAT THE DEMS AND THE ADMINISTRATION DO"

If the internet left has argued for continuing the Afghanistan war indefinitely (or until we "finish the job" which is the same thing), that's news to me.

Posted by: ferg on July 2, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have to respectfully disagree. Yes, the Dems piled on the rhetoric, but they absolutely have to start fighting fire with fire. The Dems are always arguing facts, logic, and reason, while the GOP throws fireballs of deception. The GOP should be on its death bed, given its dismal performance during the Bush years and its truly insane ideas, but instead of demise it is facing victory in November. The GOP's simplistic messages and hardball tactics work. The Dems should be able to use the Rove playbook to their advantage without being accused of selling their souls. I'd rather see the Dems play hardball and retain power than have them follow the "principled path" and enable the GOP to reclaim power. I won't take any comfort in the fact that the Dems stood by principles of fair play if the GOP takes control of Congress in 2010, and Sarah Palin is elected President in 2012.

Posted by: ameshall on July 2, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Why is the dnc wasting its ammo on steele? They need to go after congressional republicans who are holding the country hostage for political purposes.

Posted by: CDW on July 2, 2010 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK
I am not yelling at you personally, but THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE INTERNET LEFT HAS DEMANDED THAT THE DEMS AND THE ADMINISTRATION DO.

Who is the INTERNET LEFT and where can I find their RSS feed?

Posted by: Catsy on July 2, 2010 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

You are right that saying Michael Steele is rooting for failure is exactly the wrong script to follow, the minority of commenters above who are supporting this message are wrong. The are right, that the Democrats should attack Steele and the GOP over this, but a more effective script - one that has the advantage of being true and of being less likely to come back and bite us in the ass - is the following:

Open with video of Michael Steele saying Afghanistan is a war of President Obama's choice.

"Despite what RNC Chairman Michael Steele would like you to believe, President Bush with the full support of the Republican Party, started the war in Afghanistan in 2002. At the time, they also had the overwhelming support of the American people and the Democratic Party because Afghanistan had been the safe haven from which Al Qaeda organized the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Unfortunately, just as the forces of the United States and our allies had the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the run in Afghanistan, George Bush with the full support of the Republican Party chose to take their eye off the war they had started in order to go after non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It was George Bush with the full support of the Republican Party who selected Hamid Karzai to lead of Afghanistan and then failed to provide him with the support and guidance needed to establish an effective and non-corrupt governemnt there. It was George Bush with the full support of the Republican Party(possibly insert clips of John McCain and other Republicans saying that Afghanistan was secondary to Iraq in the fight against terrorism) who chose to largely ignore the war they had started in Afghanistan for over 6 years, while the Taliban re-organzed and re-armed.

President Obama, faced with a choice of giving up on Afghanistan or of increasing our committment there to finally win the war that George Bush with the full support of the Republican Party had been ignoring, chose the second option. But Republicans are so desperate to attack President Obama that they keep making absolutely ridiculous comments like those of RNC Chairman President Michael Steele."

Posted by: tanstaafl on July 2, 2010 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

But they ARE rooting for failure and they ARE traitors!!! Their leader, Rush Limbaugh, said as much when he announced that he wanted Obama to fail even before the inauguration. And since then, they have done everything they possibly could to see that he does. It doesn't matter to the the Republicans if we stay in Iraq and Afghanistan for another 50 years so long as OBAMA FAILS. It doesn't matter if we have 10% unemployment for the next decade so long as OBAMA FAILS. It doesn't matter if BP destroys the ecology and the economy of an entire region of our nation and is never held accountable for it so long as OBAMA FAILS.

Every God-damned Republican in this country is a traitor to it. Republicans should be spat on every time they go out in public, and you people are worried about "keeping the moral high ground." They are the enemy, not just of the Democratic Party, but of everything decent this country has ever stood for. They are the enemy of the entire human race. I support their destruction by any means short of violence, and if they succeed in putting another warmongering maniac in the White House, I may have to reconsider that.

Posted by: Alan on July 2, 2010 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but they are not openly rooting for the failure of our troops in Afghanistant. And if we accuse them of secretly rooting for failure there to humble Obama, then we open ourselves to have the attack turned around on us given the many people on the left who consider that Afghanistan is ultimate unwinnable by any meaningful sense of the word winning.

On the other hand, the charge that Republicans are rooting for failure, and working for it, despite the horrendous cost to the American people is much easier to make on other issues.

Anyone looking at the Republicans constant obstruction on economic issues and especially on confirmation of appointees that the Obama administration NEEDS TO HAVE to run the country effectively can hardly doubt that Republicans are willing to inflict real suffering on the American people if it serves their purposes.

Posted by: tanstaafl on July 3, 2010 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

God, some people in this thread just don't fucking get it.

"Getting tough" with the republican doesn't mean using their exact same tactics and rationales. That ends up REINFORCING their objectives.

STEELE IS THE OUTLIER HERE. REPUBLICANS ARE PISSED AT HIM.

Make him look like the fool that he is for claiming Obama started the war. Hold press conference and tell people that the RNC head doesn't know that Bush and GOP started this war.

But don't use the tired, worn and WRONG GOP bullshit that Steele is "rooting for failure."

If this is the kind of mindset that resides in the DNC, then we are truly fucked.

We have our own power. It's called BEING RIGHT. We don't have to sift through the republicans' dumpster looking for ways to "get tough."

Posted by: bdop4 on July 3, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

P.S. Greenwald pretty much lays out the dynamics of this stupidity in a post today.

Posted by: bdop4 on July 3, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Re:
But once the DNC starts equating opposition to the war with "rooting for failure" and "undermining the morale of our troops," the party is reading from the wrong script.

Not only is the party reading from the correct script, it's reading the precise chapter and verse. It's brain-washed oppressed masses like you, who think that the Democratic Party is somehow different from the Republican Party and therefore writing its own scripts. The DNC is not giving back the same medicine they received from RNC out of a perverse wish for revenge, it's the only script there is now, as long as the central commitee of the Neoliberals/Neocons believes it is in their interest to keep pounding on the Taliban blokes, no matter what the price in military and civilian lives or public treasure and ecological consequences. It hits left and right with equal enthusiasm.

Posted by: squinter on July 4, 2010 at 5:43 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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