The final straw

Dean Barnett

1/27/2007 12:01:00 AM - Dean Barnett

It must have been a fun week to be a leftist. The week began with news of significant carnage in Iraq. While many liberals harbor sympathy for put-upon Iraqis, many more relish any development that adds to their narrative that “Bush’s War” is a disaster. Next, the president gave his annual State of the Union address which the American public greeted with passionate indifference. As if that weren’t enough good news for the typical lefty, James Webb, a netroots darling, saw his rebuttal to the State of the Union hailed with hosannas by the mainstream media.

But sweetest of all had to be the fact that this week saw civil war break out in the Republican Party. Enraged by the notion that some Republican Senators were going to support a resolution of non-support for the troop surge into Baghdad, members of the conservative blogosphere took action.

Led by my blogging partner, Hugh Hewitt, conservatives put up an on-line petition that reads as follows:

“If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution. Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.”

After a mere 48 hours, The Pledge, as it has become known, attracted almost 20,000 signers.

SOME THINK THIS IS POLITICAL Hari-kari, or that at the very least it will be destructive to the Republican Party in ’08. Senators who appear likely to support the resolution and who are up for reelection in the next cycle include Susan Collins and Norm Coleman. Regardless of what actions either of these Senators takes (short of sending filthy text messages to former pages), it’s hard to imagine the National Republican Senatorial Committee not supporting their campaigns.

But, in fact, this was a good week for conservatives; it was the week conservatives finally fought back and began reclaiming their party. For the past six years, conservatives have withstood the numerous slights and insults of the Republicans in congress. Steel tariffs, profligate spending, betrayal on judges, grandstanding on Abu Ghraib – conservatives tolerated all these things because of the fear that the Democratic Party would be even worse, especially where the war was concerned.

But for conservatives who support the war effort and consider the struggle against Radical Islam an existential threat to America, there has been nothing worse than

Republicans supporting this resolution and doing Carl Levin’s and Ted Kennedy’s bidding. At the very least, this represents a new low.

Rightly or wrongly, we feel that Republicans who in the past have supported the war effort are voting now to register their disapproval only due to craven political calculations. Buttressing that sentiment is the fact that not a single Republican Senator has explained what good will come from a Senate resolution belittling a battle effort that’s already afoot.

Assuming just for the moment that Republican Senators who support the anti-surge resolution are prisoners of conscience who won’t be able to sleep at night unless they speak their minds regarding the surge, these Republican Senators of heightened conscience should note that supporters of The Pledge aren’t asking them to refrain from being true to themselves; we are, however, beseeching them to do so in a constructive manner. If a Republican Senator sincerely opposes the surge, he should express his opposition in a thoughtful manner rather than by supporting a feckless and reckless resolution that undermines the war effort. And since presumably they have reached their conclusion regarding the surge after careful analysis and deep reflection, they should also be so good as to share with us their ideas for moving forward in Iraq and in the wider struggle against Radical Islam.

FOR SIX YEARS, SERIOUS CONSERVATIVES have responded to every betrayal from a Lincoln Chafee or a Chuck Hagel with continued support for the organizations that enable them like the NRSC. This support in the wake of each and every disappointment said in effect, “Thank you, Senator. May I have another?” The cumulative result of this unconditional love has been Republican Senators concluding that their agenda mirrors those of their party’s activists – namely, that we all care about nothing more than the careers of our Congress critters.

On Thursday evening, Senator John Ensign, the head of the NRSC, appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. On the one hand, Ensign is an enviable position; Liddy Dole did such a wretched job of running the NRSC during the 2006 cycle, it’s almost unimaginable that Ensign won’t benefit from the inevitable comparisons between him and his predecessor. But on the other hand, Ensign is taking over the reins of the NRSC at a time when the chickens of six years of Republican Senatorial malfeasance are coming home to roost.

During his appearance on Hugh’s show, Senator Ensign warned Hugh and his listeners that litmus tests are a bad thing. With all due respect to Senator Ensign, he’s wrong regarding this particular litmus test.

The time has long since come when Republican voters should demand that their office-holders be serious about the war. The anti-surge resolution is a frivolous thing, a pathetic exercise in rear-end covering. While differences regarding the war tactics urged by the White House are fair game, nakedly playing politics with matters of life and death is not.

The sooner the Republican Party gets serious about the war, the better it will be for both the country and the party.

Obviously the Republican Senate caucus isn’t capable of taking the lead in showing such resolve. But perhaps Congressional Republicans will be able to follow the lead of their supporters, supporters who are very serious about becoming “former supporters” if the party continues on its current trajectory.