July 25, 2007
Tuesday's Washington Post drew attention to a public opinion survey which, they say, shows a strong shift in favor of the Democrats on the Iraq war issue. Apparently, nearly three times as many American people (49% to 17%) believe that the Democrats in Congress have done too little to get President Bush to change his war policy as those who believe they have done too much.
A little scrutiny would lead one to a different conclusion, however. For one thing, the choices posed by the poll questions are artificial. Asking whether Bush is willing enough to change his war policies implicitly assumes that those policies should be changed, which is a highly debatable proposition. People who agree that he should refuse to cave in to pressure to change his policy would have a hard time answering this question in a straightforward way. (I know I would.) Furthermore, negative attitudes toward a national leader are entirely understandable when there is a prolonged, unpopular war. The folks are upset, and somebody has to take the blame. But there is not much point in directly comparing attitudes toward a specific leader who has a real face and name with attitudes toward a large, heterogeneous assembly -- e.g., Congress.
Another problem is the nature of the survey itself. The Post reporter who co-wrote this story, Dan Balz, has a solid reputation (I don't know about Jon Cohen), but the questions remind me of the "push polls" that some political candidates use to influence voters while pretending to merely inquire about voting preference. News stories like this should be clearly identified as "analysis" pieces, making it plain that they reflect the author's own viewpoints.
As for the underlying political dynamics depicted in the article -- the risk to the GOP fortunes in 2008 posed by the war -- there are many uncertainties. The mitigating factor here is Hillary's strong need to shore up her vulnerability on national security issues. Because of her past anti-military statements, she is forced to adopt a relatively hawkish line on Iraq and the broader war on terrorism. That's why, in the "debate" on Monday evening, she came down so hard on Barack Obama for his "irresponsible" (her words) position on the war. This illustrates why it is that the Democrats will have a hard time presenting a coherent alternative war policy in next year's campaign: a large proportion of Democrats are simply blind to strategic realities. One of the big ironies of governance is that responsible leaders are not necessarily responsive to public opinion -- especially in emergency sitatuations such as war when the pros and cons are very complex and judgment tends to get clouded by emotion. Abraham Lincoln defied the opinion of a war-weary public in 1864, putting his reelection at risk, and we are all better off for it.
A certain notorious person on my list of unmentionable wackos showed up at a rally protesting U.S. military involvement in Iraq last Friday. Why don't I mention her or others on that list? Because I understand that the more public attention those kinds of people draw, the more influence they get. I just wish more people on the Right understood that.