November 28, 2005 [LINK]

Warner vs. Biden on the war

Yesterday's Meet the Press provided a rare opportunity for cool-headed dialogue in the heated battle over Iraq war policy. Sen. John Warner represented the sensible mainstream Republicans, and Sen. Joe Biden represented the loyal, sane wing of the Democrat side. Some Republicans resent Warner for trying too hard to maintain constructive relations with the Democrats; it's a thankless, difficult task that must be done. Once again, Senator Warner made me proud to be a Virginia Republican, soberly acknowledging the high cost in lives and money, but insisting that the fight is worth it. For his part, Biden coyly hedged when Tim Russert asked him if he really believed that the war was "lost," as he recently hinted. Biden is smart enough to know that such words from a high-level U.S. politician would have a self-fulfilling effect. Unlike some other Democrats, who are now "invested in U.S. defeat," as Rush Limbaugh puts it, Biden aspires to higher office (the presidency, as he frankly acknowledged) and therefore must carefully strive for a balance between promoting the national interest and pandering to the Democrats' activist base. Talk about a tough dilemma! If anyone could pull it off, though, it's Biden. The king of the media-conscious, pompous grandstanders on Capitol Hill, Biden is the Democrats' version of John McCain, who is often exceptionally honest and courageous, reflecting well on his party, but sometimes relapses into the habit of saying whatever makes the reporters happy.

In Saturday's Washington Post, Biden elaborated on his call for a "timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq, but most of what he wants is already being done. Perhaps the heat he and other moderate Democrats are putting on President Bush could have a useful effect, by letting the Iraqi leaders know that they must pick up the slack soon, or risk a premature termination of U.S. support. That would be a manifestation of "two-stage diplomacy," one of my favorite tools of game theory in political science. Ironically, Biden is brimming with presumptuous overconfidence in the ability of the United States to get the Iraqi factions to forge a compromise. In the end, however, talk of a "timetable" is just a meaningless sop to the clueless American masses.

Novak on Durbin

Among other Democrats in the Senate, Dick Durbin (D-IL) has stood out recently as particularly obnoxious, comparing U.S. treatment of captured terrorists to totalitarian regimes like Pol Pot (see June 24). Robert Novak called Durbin to task for his procedural shenanigans in the Senate in today's Chicago Sun Times. Durbin forced C. Boyden Gray to write a formal letter of apology for a political ad two years ago before allowing his nomination as U.S. ambassador the the European Union to go forward, and accused Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) of allowing oil executives "to lie" by not putting them under oath. In the old days, which John Warner still remembers, senators refrained from impugning each other.

Speaking of Stevens, he managed to restore the funds that had been appropriated for the "bridges to nowhere," but now those funds are not earmarked. As long as Alaskans don't spend that Federal money on those bridges, no one in the Lower 48 will probably notice...

Cunningham quits

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) tearfully resigned his seat in the House of Representatives today after pleading guilty to bribery charges in San Diego. Apparently the former Navy pilot had been on the take for many years, and his opulent lifestyle, driving a Rolls Royce, must have raised a few eyebrows. Some believe that other legislators may be caught up in the crooked Web of mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Are the Republicans on Capitol Hill going to live up to the "Contract with American" and demand higher standards of each other, or are they going to cash in their hard-won majority chips and become like the Democrats?

Can Republicans get a grip?

That raises the broader question of where the Republicans are headed. In Sunday's Washington Post, Douglas MacKinnon examines how the Republican Party is bearing up under the stress of sole responsibility for governing the nation. Many Republicans are tearing their hair out in expasperation over the Democrats' gleefully destructive rhetoric on the war in Iraq, falling prey to the temptation to respond in kind. Very tacky. On domestic policy, meanwhile, some GOP leaders are intolerant of any kind of dissent, forgetting that honest policy differences are a universal phenomenon in majority parties. MacKinnon scolds Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) who used his power as chairman of a House subcommittee to eliminate discretionary ("pork barrel") spending in the districts of 21 fellow Republicans as punishment for defying his commands and voting in favor of AMTRAK. At this critical moment for the country and for the Republican Party, I strongly agree with the fundamental lesson MacKinnon draws:

We can still govern, and we still have time to do the right things -- chiefly, not waver on Iraq. But is the Republican Party truly prepared to "stay the course" as we approach the elections? GOP members need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the president in this increasingly unpopular but necessary war, and not put finger to wind and decide that self-preservation comes first.