Of late, Democrats have taken to whining that Bush is politicizing the debate over the war on Iraq. Actually, there’s not much of a debate to politicize–since most Democrats in the House and Senate seemed either resigned or eager to vote for a resolution authorizing George W. Bush to launch a war when he sees fit. (On the way to that vote, Democrats and Republicans may force alterations in the wording of Bush’s proposed blank-check resolution; its thrust, though, is likely to remain the same.) But there’s nothing wrong with politicizing this war or any other–if that means asking voters to decide electoral contests on the basis of a candidate’s position on the war. The Democrats’ problem is that, for the most part, they are unable or unwilling to politicize Bush’s rush to war, for that would entail fiercely challenging Bush’s demand for the authority to use force against Iraq–which is not the Democratic position.
So instead of worrying about the war, many Democrats fret about the politics. Days ago, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a fundraiser in Kansas for Republican congressional hopeful Adam Taff, who is running against Democratic incumbent Dennis Moore, and he proclaimed that electing Taff would aid the administration’s war effort. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, quickly protested. “I was chagrined,” he said, that Cheney would tell people to vote for a Republican because he was a war supporter. “If that doesn’t politicize the war,” Daschle added, “I don’t know what does.” And when GOP chairman Mark Racicot observed that a vote against the war “could be fair game in the closing days of the campaign,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri griped, “He’s making a veiled threat, outlining how Republicans would use the Iraq vote against Democrats.”
In reality, it was not so veiled. But that’s not the point. Shouldn’t legislators be judged on how they vote on such a crucial matter? The GOP is perfectly within its rights to urge voters to back Republican candidates who support Bush and his war on terrorism and his war on Iraq to come, and to claim that these are the most important questions facing the United States. It is up to the Democrats, if they so desire, to present a different case. That is the essence of politics. The Democrats can argue they care about national security and domestic matters. They can champion a different definition of “national security” than that embraced by the Republicans. They can assert Bush is using a justified or unjustified war to divert attention from the in-the-dumps economy. Democrats who oppose the war can try to persuade voters they know better. That is what an election is about.