Friday, March 23, 2007

Post mortem

The phrase in this case being particularly apt. (Cross-posted to The Core 4.)

The Iraq war supplemental appropriation, the so-called Iraq Accountability Act - actually the Give Bush His Blood Money Act, what I call the Pelosi bill - passed on a largely party-line vote of 218-212. In anticipation of that momentous occasion, David Sirota, who had consistently argued for passage, wrote a commentary that I assume was meant to be magnanimous in victory - but which instead came off as so smarmy as to be positively creepy.

The progressive members who gave up opposing the bill and went along with it were "principled and shrewd," he said. They should be "applauded." They were "courageous." It was their "hardball" that made possible this "strong, binding legislation," the latter phrase so pleasing to him that it appeared in some form no less than seven times. They were "heroes" who had become "one of the most powerful blocs in the U.S. Congress." They "should hold their heads high" because they will "go down in history." Most importantly, oh yes indeed most importantly, they were "serious." Not like those "discredited" people "just blowing off contrairian [sic] steam." Serious, principled, shrewd, courageous heroes.

Please. It's all bullshit. All meaningless platitudes. Meaningless platitudes laid on so think you could secure bricks in it.

Contrary to Sirota, progressives made no "deal" with Nancy Pelosi to get the votes she needed: Saying there was a "deal" implies that both sides got something out of it and I'm at a complete loss to think of a single thing the progressives got. Unless, of course, we are to say not being "treated as pariahs," as a commenter suggested elsewhere, or being freed from the rumored threats against funding for projects in their districts is to be regarded as "getting something." In other circumstances, I think we would call that "submitting to blackmail" rather than "making a deal," but I expect I'm one of those discredited contrarians, so who can trust what I think?

(Sidebar: Sirota condemns the "unacceptable behavior" of those who would accuse supporters of the bill of "selling out."
The truth is, those antiwar leaders trying to cobble together a legislative coalition could easily make the charge that the contrairians [sic] are selling out - selling out a viable way to end the war in order to grandstand for the cameras."
But," he grandly informs us, "these antiwar leaders aren't making that argument." Well, why should they? They have David Sirota to make it for them.)

On the other hand, Sirota, despite his fawning praise of this "strong, binding legislation," fesses up:
I agree that it's very likely Bush will try to ignore the law like he has so many other laws ... but now, if this bill passes, a law will be on the books that we will be able to try to enforce through the courts and through other means.
Which is, of course, an admission that the bill itself contains no enforcement provisions. If Bush continues to maintain combat troops in Iraq after September 2008, which Sirota apparently agrees he will, the only way to enforce a limit would be to go to court, which will take - how long? And that's even assuming the courts will shed their usual reluctance to get in the middle of a foreign policy dispute between the Legislative and Executive branches and take the case at all.

Now, Sirota is right when he says you can't legislate on the assumption that the law will be ignored, because if you do, "why legislate anything?" But he doesn't address the obvious "on the other hand" question: Given the same conditions, why legislate something with no means of enforcing it? What is the point of passing legislation that can be ignored without consequences? More exactly, why pass a bill that by your own admission puts no effective constraints on Bush but does give him nearly one hundred billion dollars to continue the carnage in Iraq?

And this doesn't even consider that should the bill by some combination of members being exposed to nitrous oxide and divine intervention pass the Senate, it will be vetoed. No one expects it to become law. And no one, at least no one of who I'm aware, has hinted that in that case the "next step" (because, after all, this bill is just "the first step," Sirota and many others insist) would be a follow-up bill stronger than this loophole-ridden travesty. In fact, the most common prediction is the exact same one that had been brandished as a horror weapon to bully people into supporting the supplemental in the first place: a "clean" bill that gives Bush his cash fix without any even symbolic restrictions. So what's the difference between passing and not passing? Only that this way, the Democrats got to "grandstand for the cameras," to pretend they're doing something about the war even as they know they're not.

I have sympathy, truly I do, for those progressive legislators who felt trapped in a web of conscience, party loyalty, political pressure, and the hope - a vain hope is still a hope - that this bill might actually accomplish something and wound up voting for it. Unlike some, I won't condemn them or declare they have "endorsed the war." Rather, I am, as I wrote to my own member of the House, "deeply disappointed" in the vote for this "toothless bit of posturing." I am upset, I am depressed. I firmly believe that defeating this bill was not only the right thing to do, but by being responsible for its going down, progressives would have demonstrated to the leadership that there is an aggressive antiwar caucus that could not be intimidated and would not back down and that therefore must be taken into consideration and that that, rather than the acquiescence applauded by David Sirota, is the way to become a "powerful bloc." Just ask the Blue Dogs.

So I think the progressives who voted yea were wrong on the vote and wrong on the strategy. But again, I don't condemn them, because I can sympathize with the conflicts they felt and I accept that they did what they felt was the best thing at that moment. Those I condemn are a political leadership more concerned with saving face than saving lives and which valued posturing over principle to the extent of refusing even to allow a vote on the proposed Lee amendment (which would have required the removal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of the year) - along with their water-carriers like David Sirota, who, for all their supposed political savvy, fail to grasp the simple concept that the way to get what you want does not begin with asking for less.

Footnote: Shorter David Sirota: Progressives, we graciously accept your shrewd, courageous, unconditional surrender.

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