Six months ago, I was confidently telling people that if the Democrats couldn't win the presidency in 2008, we should just disband the party.

Lately, I have started hedging my bets.  

And an hour with the front section of Sunday's New York Times was enough to make me think that we are headed for another heartbreaking and unnecessary loss.

What did we learn today from the "liberal media?"

  1. Violence is on the decline in Iraq.

    2. One brigade of US troops has started to pull out.

    3. The troop surge has not produced the political progress that was promised, so the Bush administration is simply downsizing its goals, to make it look like progress.

     4.  The Democratic presidential candidates appear ready to soften their stances, or at least their language, on Iraq and change the subject to domestic issues.

Here we go again.  

We will be fooled again, it would appear.

Which brings us to the question: What is an antiwar Yellow Dog Democrat to do, after reading that one of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy advisors, Michael O'Hanlon, is saying:

"The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness," said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. "If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it — how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in."

Ah, yes, caution is certainly called for.  You wouldn't want to be too strongly against the war when only 60 to 70 per cent of the American people think it was a mistake, want to end it and bring our troops home.

After four and a half years of bloodshed, it is hard to believe -- no, I refuse to believe -- that any kind of minimal gains and Republican propaganda campaign will swing what is now a silent antiwar majority in the other direction.

A reduction in carnage and fewer US troops in harm's way are good news. The unasked question is always "compared to what?"  Troop levels will still be higher than before the surge, and violence levels are said to be the lowest since February 2006, a high water mark after the bombing of a Shiite mosque.  But the number of US troops killed in 2007 remains the highest of any year since the war began.

That is hardly a cause to celebrate or for Democrats to change course.

The cautious general election strategy of trying to appeal to everyone by saying nothing -- the Democrats' secret plan in recent years -- hasn't worked too well.

While the Dems try desperately to peel a few votes off of the Republican base, the GOP plays to its base, although softening it with a little "compassionate conservative" talk now and then.

The leading Democratic candidates already have refused to say they will have all US troops out of Iraq by 2013.

But that's the Big Three -- Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. Kucinich and Dodd would move more quickly. Then there's this:

One candidate favors withdrawing all troops immediately and unconditionally: Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

"Let’s be clear: 40 dead American troops is 40 too many," said Tom Reynolds, a spokesman for Mr. Richardson. "Measuring progress through body counts is wrong. Sixty-five percent of Iraqis support killing American soldiers. There is no national political progress. None. It can only happen when we send a clear signal we are leaving."

Richardson has not been my candidate.  I've hoped -- probably against hope -- for an Obama-Edwards or Edwards-Obama ticket, a dynamic duo from a new generation that could excite voters and bring some real change.

In all likelihood, things will shake out in the next two months and the nominee will be obvious in early February.

But if it's the triangulating Clinton who seems headed for the nomination, there may be an opportunity for a challenge from an antiwar candidate like Richardson.

I'm reminded frequently, as I promote the Iraq Moratorium and other antiwar efforts, that it is not 1968.  I acknowledge that.  Opposition to this war among the general public is higher than opposition to the Vietnam war in 1968, but the people are not in the streets.

Eugene McCarthy didn't win the nomination in 1968, of course.  But his antiwar campaign forced a sitting president, Mr. LBJ, to drop out of the race.  And the eventual nominee of the fractured party, Mr. HHH, went down to defeat because many in the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party saw him as more of the same, another hawk, and withheld their votes.
Others were horrified by what they saw in the streets of Chicago and in the convention hall, and turned away from Humphrey, too.

So, here's a scenario:  Clinton wins most of the early primaries, Edwards and Obama drop out or are crippled, and Richardson -- recognizing that he won't get the nomination -- takes up the cause, on principle, and becomes a strident antiwar candidate, competing for delegates in the many remaining states.

In late August, Democrats at their national convention in Denver are split over the platform plank on Iraq, but Clinton and the voices of triangularization prevail.  Maybe there's even a strong antiwar presence in the streets of Denver.

The war grinds on, but it's less of an issue, since the Democratic candidate voted for the war, says she'd do it again, and says there will be no precipitous withdrawal of troops.

I ask again:  What is an antiwar Yellow Dog Democrat to do?

Maybe it really is 1968 again.

[Cross-posted at Docudharma.]

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