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DECEMBER 12, 2005

On the Hill

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 GalApagos, 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.

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