POLITICS DECEMBER 12, 2005
Once upon a time, the Democratic family consisted of two basic types of politicians--those who supported the Iraq war and those who were against it. As the war dragged on and the political climate changed, however, varied new species began to evolve, with all manner of ideas and opinions about the occupation. For months, these different Democratic factions lived more or less in harmony. But Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha's dramatic call last month for a fast U.S. exit from Iraq was like a climate-altering asteroid event. Suddenly, Democrats were forced to articulate their Iraq positions as never before--and they found themselves in the throes of a Darwinian struggle for primacy over their party's identity. Just as animals adapt and change on the craggy rocks of the Galápagos, Democrats are now morphing and grouping on op-ed pages, in think tanks, and on Sunday morning talk shows at a frantic pace.
The most aggressive genus of the Democratic family is the Rapidus Exitus. This is a Democrat whose highest priority is the swift return of our troops. Within the genus, the most common species is the Dovus Withdrawlus--also known as the "Told You So" Democrats. This Democrat usually mistrusts U.S. military power and strongly opposed the war from the start. The Dovus Withdrawlus, which generally springs from urban liberal districts, mostly habitates in the House of Representatives--particularly at meetings of the House's Out of Iraq Caucus, whose 50 or so members include the likes of Maxine Waters, John Conyers, and Dennis Kucinich. These Democrats tend to be fixated on the past, particularly the president's decision to go to war, rather than with the present and future stakes in Iraq. "Success for us is two words: Troops. Home," one of the caucus's co-founders, Lynn Woolsey of California, recently told Roll Call. (Caution: This is a highly confrontational species prone to shouting at adversaries.) Note that some prominent members of this species, fearful of appearing weak to Republican predators and hoping to mate with moderate voters, may appear more supportive of the occupation than they really are. Until her Wednesday afternoon call for rapid withdrawal, Nancy Pelosi was this group's archetype. But Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid continues to display this behavioral camouflage.
A most curious species mutation in the Rapidus Exitus genus is the Hawkus Withdrawlus. This is a pro-military Democrat who can stomach the bold use of U.S. power and who may even have initially supported the war but who can't bear to see the military ground down in an uncertain mission any longer. Murtha, a former Marine who turned against the occupation after visiting one too many amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is a perfect specimen. A Hawkus Withdrawlus like Murtha may never be seen co-habitating with a Dovus Withdrawlus like Waters, but the latter may hide behind the former, using him for cover and protection when predators approach.
A new and rapidly multiplying genus is the Bloviatus Gradualmorph--also known colloquially as the "Cut and Stay" Democrats. These often long-winded policy-wonk Democrats have concluded that the occupation is causing more harm than good and that a troop drawdown is a key step toward stability in Iraq. Many of them voted for the 2002 Iraq war resolution but have slowly mutated into a more antiwar form. But they have not developed cut-and-run instincts. Instead, their deeply inbred sense of "responsibility"--particularly among those who roam the august corridors of the Senate and the foreign policy gurus who dwell in dimly lit think-tank offices--leads them to forgo talk of timelines and exit dates for less ambitious calls merely to begin the withdrawal process. A common "Cut and Stay" species is the "I Was Wrong" Democrat--one who voted for the war but has recently proclaimed it to be a mistake, and who releases overpowering atonement pheromones when describing his withdrawal plan. John Edwards spoke for this species in a recent Washington Post op-ed in which he rued his vote for war and called for the "gradual" withdrawal of a "significant" number of troops conditioned on the training of Iraqi security forces. These Democrats have also been seen recently marking their territory at the Council on Foreign Relations (Joe Biden), Northwestern University (Tom Daschle), and the Center for American Progress (Lawrence Korb, who co-authored the Center's recent troop "redeployment" plan).
One particularly cunning variant of the "Cut and Stay" Democrat is the DailyKos Pleaseasaurus. These versatile creatures deliver a highly appealing mating call to the party's angry antiwar base--particularly blogosphere liberals who traffic sites like DailyKos.com--by issuing troop-withdrawal calls that seem more dramatic than they actually are. Chief among such creatures is Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a longtime war opponent who wants an announced timeline for full troop withdrawal by the end of December 2006. In reality, Feingold's exit strategy comes with major, often overlooked caveats that essentially call off the withdrawal if security conditions don't allow for it. Likewise, John Kerry preened for blogosphere liberals in an October Georgetown University speech savaging the Bush administration for its management of the war. "[F]or misleading a nation into war, they will be indicted in the high court of history," Kerry thundered. "History will judge the invasion of Iraq one of the greatest foreign policy misadventures of all time." But Kerry's actual prescription is remarkably tame: a drawdown of 20,000 troops after the December Iraqi elections, followed by nothing more specific than "the withdrawal of American combat forces linked to specific, responsible benchmarks." Scientists expect to see more Gradualmorphs mimicking such tricks in 2008 primary state locales like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Finally, biologists are furiously collecting data on a fast-dying genus: the Maximus Patiencis. These moderate-leaning Democrats have been strong supporters of the war, have emphasized the overriding goal of a stable Iraq, and have resisted the temptation to endorse even "Cut and Stay" plans for withdrawal. Some of these Democrats are highly difficult to observe in their natural habitats, tending to flee under scrutiny. One is Virginia governor and 2008 presidential hopeful Mark Warner. Warner literally refuses to discuss how he would have voted for the original Iraq war resolution had he been in the Senate--"I'm not going there," he told Charlie Rose this week--and he has proposed little more than setting clearer benchmarks for success. Much the same can be said for another presidential hopeful, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.
Hardest of all to collect data on is the elusive Hillary Clinton. But we do know that Clinton has also urged President Bush to set benchmarks, and, just this week, she hinted in an open letter to supporters that she may back a phased withdrawal if the December 15 elections go well. Scientists are currently debating whether this constitutes a mutation into a DailyKos Pleaseasaurus. One person who studies Democratic foreign policy behavior isn't sure. "She just wants [the debate] to go away," he says. "She sees no good coming from this."
Finally, researchers marvel at the last remaining member of a once-common species, Fidelis Puris: Joe Lieberman. While others of his kind have dramatically mutated or been defeated by Republican predators they unwisely trusted, Lieberman has shown a roach-like indestructibility--if anything, his pro-war characteristics have recently grown more pronounced. Lieberman's response to Murtha was a steadfast Wall Street Journal editorial titled "our troops must stay," in which he warned that a "significant" military presence in the region will likely be necessary "for years to come."
Which species will prevail and reign supreme over the Democratic landscape? As we've noted, the Maximus Patiencis is nearly extinct already. The question is how fiercely Rapidus Exitus Democrats like Murtha and Pelosi, who consider total withdrawal their top priority, will battle the "Cut and Stay" Gradualmorphs, who retain hope for success in Iraq. The Gradualmorphs currently seem to possess the traits with broadest public appeal. But the Rapidus Exitus Democrats are fierce fighters energized by the party's liberal base. Of course, whichever group prevails in this struggle must then battle for public opinion with the most fearsome predator of all. He is wounded but still dangerous, and, at times, he has posed an existential threat to the entire Democratic family. He is the dreaded Dubyasaurus. And, until they determine their own identity, Democrats cannot defeat him.