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Democrats need PR guru

Democrats need PR guru
WASHINGTON — The Democrats in Congress have three choices with regard to President Bush and the Iraq war. They can go along with his policy and continue to fund the war. They can use the powers they have under the Constitution, principally the power of the purse. Or they can pursue impeachment, if they conclude that Bush went to war under false pretenses, and that he’s overstepped the authority of his office in conducting the war.
What Democrats cannot do if they hope to maintain a shred of credibility is oppose the war and still vote for the administration’s latest funding request of almost $200 billion.
If they do, it will be for one reason, and that is their fear of the Republican public-relations machine. The GOP has skillfully portrayed a vote against war funding as a vote against the troops, as though yanking the money would leave soldiers on the battlefield unequipped, devoid of armor, bullets and food.
This strains commonsense. Cutting the funding would not leave the soldiers vulnerable and in harm’s way, an outcome that would be unconscionable. Instead, if the Democrats acted on their rhetoric, they would force the president to bring the troops home. OK, you say, but the Democrats don’t have the votes to pass legislation that would end funding the war; they’re not even close. And even if they could muster enough votes in the Senate to overcome a threatened filibuster, Bush could always veto the measure. That’s true, but why not try?
The answer is the Democrats are afraid of playing into the old stereotype about their party that they’re weak on national defense, and they have let the Republicans frame the argument. To understand how absurd this is, it’s helpful to understand how Congress stops anything, whether it is a federally funded program or a war. For example, if the majority party in Congress wanted to end subsidies for ethanol, they wouldn’t do it suddenly; they would phase it out. And when the opposition party alleged they want to put the American farmer out of business, they would have lots of good answers at the ready to demonstrate that isn’t so.
The Democrats were elected to the majority in Congress principally to end the war. That doesn’t mean they have to do it precipitously, but they should have the gumption to stand up to the false claims that Republicans are making. It doesn’t take a public relations genius to turn the GOP’s argument on its head. Instead of buying the notion that getting out of Iraq is evidence that Democrats are not strong on national security, the Democrats should frame the debate as one that strengthens the national interest. Ending a futile war in Iraq is a pro-defense move that would free up money for Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban, and allow the badly strained U.S. military to rebuild itself for future conflicts.
Funding the war has become a soundbite issue. If you support the troops, you support the money, and if you don’t, you’re abandoning the soldiers. That’s a false choice. In last month’s Democratic debate, the three frontrunners wouldn’t commit to having all the troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term as president. Odds are that one of them will be in the Oval Office beginning in January ’09, and they didn’t want to foreclose their options. That’s a responsible position, but the voters will demand more of a commitment as the campaign progresses.
Given the timidity of Congress, Bush could well keep the war going at its current level through the end of his presidency. The Democratic candidates have all said they will end the war, but then they equivocate and leave the voters wondering whether they are all talk and no action, just like the Congress. Perhaps they do need a public relations guru.
Published in The Messenger on 10.05.07

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