Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

Posted by Cutler on November 06, 2006
Iraq, Isolationism, Right Zionists

I have been pretty relentlessly negative (here, here, here, here and here, for example) about the significance of any Democrat mid-term victories, at least in terms of the war in Iraq.

I stand by that analysis. As some Neocons themselves appear to understand, the Democratic party is not fundamentally opposed to the Neocon war in Iraq.

There are, however, a few additional points to consider.

First, votes can be cast–and correctly interpreted–as “productive misunderstandings.” The Democrats are not an anti-war party, but they may benefit from popular anti-war sentiment anyway. If so, much will depend on the media coverage of the elections. Will the election be interpreted as a vote against the war, even if the party that benefits is not against the war?

One reason why I often turn to the Financial Times for election analysis around the world is that they understand that some elections are lost by incumbents, even if they are not really won by challengers. It will be interesting to check in with the FT Wednesday.

Will the mainstream media emphasis focus on the anti-war “No” vote or the Democrat victory?

In Connecticut, for example, the Democrat Senate primary several months ago was a clear referendum on the war and Ned Lamont won as an anti-war candidate. While Lamont will probably hold all the votes he won in the primary, Joe Lieberman, running as an “independent Democrat” will probably trounce Lamont in the general election, if only because Republicans gagged their own candidate and backed Lieberman, even as the Democrats party hedged its bets by promising to preserve Lieberman’s seniority if elected. Lieberman then made his seniority a bread-and-butter campaign issue.

In this instance, the story will correctly focus on a Democrat, pro-war victory.

In other cases, however, the spin may focus on the implicit, popular, anti-war “No,” rather than the highly ambiguous Democrat “Yes.”

If so, then a media feedback loop might help make the election an occasion to reinforce popular anti-war sentiment.

I take some comfort in the fact that Marshall Wittmann is worried about his newly adopted party. Wittmann, a Kristol/McCain Neocon who ostensibly “left the GOP” for the right wing of the Democratic Party, predicted that something like what I’m calling a “productive misunderstanding” might emerge from the mid-term elections.

Speaking to Byron York of the National Review for a September 11, 2006 article (full text available online from a third party) written in the aftermath of the Lamont primary victory, Wittmann seemed to fear the worst.

“It’s going to drive the Democratic presidential primaries to the left on national security and the Iraq War,” says Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, “and it’s going to make it difficult for anyone to stand by their decision to vote to authorize the war.” The rise of netroots anger, Wittmann adds, will “send the message that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic party,” which could affect the party for years to come…

“While the Republicans may be forced to reform themselves after the ’06 elections, the Democrats will be emboldened and not inclined to change, so the weaknesses that were evident in the ’04 campaign will never be addressed,” says Marshall Wittmann. “The paradox of ’06 is that the Republicans could be forced to get their act together while the Democratic Left will be completely reinforced by the results.”

We’ll see. I’m not sure that the Democratic Left, such as it is, will manage to run Wittmann and the Democratic Leadership Council out of the party. It isn’t even clear that Wittman really believes this. His professed “fears” about the Democratic party may simply be Wittmann preparing the way for his inevitable decision to return to the Republican party in time for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Finally, I have a question for those who know more about Vietnam and the Democratic Party:

What prepared the way for an anti-war challenge to a Democrat war in Vietnam back in the Johnson years?

My fear, today, is that the Democrats will be more effective than the Republicans at mobilizing popular support for the war.

The Johnson years tell a different story, don’t they?

As the Democrats return to positions of power, we need to review the history of the progressive de-legitimation of Johnson’s war.

How to prepare the way for a critique of “our” war (the one inherited by “competent” Democrats who presumably don’t allow for easy but narrow critiques of Halliburton/Bechtel cronyism and corruption, etc.)?

My hunch is that “Anybody But Bush” isn’t going to cut it.

2 Comments to Iraq, Vietnam and Democrats

  • I don’t see popular support for the war emerging regardless who wins the elections. There were different factors in force during Vietnam: High profile senators and public figures challenging the party line like, Eugene McCarthy, RFK, Frank Church, George Mc Govern, Fullbright, Jane Fonda, Muhammed Ali, all heavyweights weighing in against the president. There was a critical media then. Also , a healthy amount of college educated grunts and officers in the military agitating against the war and college students who didn’t want to serve, “hell no we won’t go”. There is not enough of this going on today. Tom

  • Tom, I agree that we are dealing with different circumstances here. You are right to point out the celebrity culture of the 60s differs from that of today. TomKat’s new baby makes the Vanity Fair cover with Annie Leibovitz as the exclusive insider photographer. Strange times indeed. However, I do not think there was ever a “critical media.” Though George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck would tell us otherwise, media was never radical. I think what is different are the media themselves. The “revolutions” of the 60s occurred in the wake of a nation, and a world, just coming to grips with the televisual. No one today will write something like Debord’s Society of the Spectacle because it would incite a very violent “DUH!” from all of us.

    Now, we are very much post-television. I agree with you and Jonathan, who had noted in a previous post , the importance of the drat(or the lack thereof) for today’s anti-war politics on campuses. I’m with Jonathan on this one all the way. Perhaps the politics of indifference is more powerful than we think. Thus, I don’t think we need a “critical media” to procure “moral clarity.” That too, I believe, would fail miserably.

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