Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Monday | March 17, 2003

On war and Democrats

One of the themes of the CDP convention was the disconnect between pro-war and anti-war Democrats. That's how the press framed it, in any case, and it wasn't entirely inaccurate.

But California is a different place, and the reality is that we heard two wishy-washy pro-war Democrats (Kerry, who got heckled for voting for Bush's war, and Edwards), while every single other California and national speaker on the podium bashed Bush's war.

California is clearly Democratic heaven, with every single statewide office held by Democrats, as well as the State Senate, the State Assemply, both Senate seats, and 33 of 53 congressional seats. Party chair Art Torres is a rockstar, Boxer is now the Senate's most liberal member, Pelosi is gaining respect even from Republicans, and the DCCC is led by Matsui (CA-08). And in this state, Democrats have a deep bench.

But how different is this state (and its "looney Dems") from the rest of the nation? Will an anti-war message truly mean danger for the Dems chances in 2004?

No one was happier to advance that theme than Garry South, Gov. Gray Davis' brilliant tactician. Always eager to talk to the media, his words of caution were printed in myriad media outlets this weekend. Particularly, South was critical of Dean and his anti-war rhetoric:

I don't think it's a winning message.

Dems have to be careful of playing to the room and moving too far to the left.

While calling Dean a "credible candidate", South refused to name him to his list of viable candidates (Lieberman, Gephardt, Graham, Edwards and Kerry). His reasoning was predicated on Dean's fundraising abilities, and he might be right about the good' governor's achilles heel.

But ultimately, South was obsessed with the war. In his professional opinion (and one that cannot be easily dismissed), opposition to war will hurt Democrats nationally.

Perhaps. For every argument in support of South's assertions, there's another one that refutes it. Ultimately, we simply cannot know.

Bush will soon be launching an invasion at least partly on the assumption that it will be a political winner. Rove admitted as such when he urged Republican candidates to run on the war in 2002. Lieberman made his calculations (political and otherwise) and decided to agree with Bush. Edwards as well. Kerry agreed and disagreed at the same time, leading to some tortured rationalizations.

Dean (and the rest of the lesser candidates) have made a different calculation -- that war will be too costly in human lives and treasure. Are they correct? No one can say. Not Dean, not your friendly neighborhood warblogger, not me. We can only analyze the military and political landscape and arrive at conclusions.

If the war and subsequent occupation go well, South and the majority of Dem presidential candidates will be in the clear. Their strong stand on principle (yeah, you can snicker), in the face of the party base's opposition, will earn them points. This could be their collective "Sister Souljah moment".

But if the war or occupation goes poorly, Dean has a clear path to the nomination and a far more receptive national electorate. And I think South fails to account for that possibility.

Either that, or he's just doing his job. While he wouldn't say what campaign he would be joining for the primaries ("I've talked to several"), it's clear he'll work for one of the top tier candidates. He seemed particularly happy with Lieberman, and to a lesser extent, Edwards. Both are pro-war, and South may be laying the foundation for his future employers: war support equals electability.

South is a brilliant tactician. Anyone who could re-elect the radioactive Gray Davis is dangerous, and thankfully he's on our team. He will be a key ingredient as Democrats engineer regime change in '04.

And we dismiss his warnings at our own peril.

Still, while the war will be an issue, we won't know who'll be on the right side until the damn thing is over.

Posted March 17, 2003 12:01 AM | Comments (69)


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