Trumpets blared on the loudspeaker. Dozens of members of Congress gathered on a makeshift stage, draped by giant American flags, cops, firefighters and veterans in uniform, and a huge banner reading "Real Security." In advance of the midterm elections, the Democrats were determined to appear both "smart and tough," a phrase used by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh that has become common parlance for the party.

Their national security agenda, released today after months of bickering, pledged to modernize the military, kill Osama bin Laden, kick our oil addition and immediately implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for homeland security. But on the issue of Iraq–the most pressing security concern for most Americans–the Democrats remained deliberately vague. Their alternative states:

 

Ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.

 

What that means no one quite knows. As blogger Atrios writes, "If 2006 fails to be ‘a year of significant transition’ what will Democrats be saying then?"

Mostly, Democratic leaders stuck to poll-tested sound-bites. Namely, one theme: the Bush Administration’s incompetence.

Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid: "Dangerous incompetence."General Wesley Clark: "Incompetent leadership."Madeleine Albright: "Rank incompetence."

All the talk of incompetence made me think of an American Prospect article from October entitled "The Incompetence Dodge." Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias wrote:

 

The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge — a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place.

 

Exactly right. If before pro-war Democrats used the incompetence argument to dodge how and why we entered Iraq, today they’re using the same language to circumvent any real discussion of how we get out.