To a casual observer, the antics of both parties in Congress may resemble the monkey house at a zoo, rather than any attempts at systematic (let alone sensible) behavior. But these are rational men and women, and what they're doing is carefully designed to achieve specific goals.
Take the Democrats. They swept into control of both houses of Congress in November 2006, pledging to achieve all sorts of traditional Democratic objectives. In fact, however, they knew perfectly well that George W. Bush would continue to be president until January 2009, and that he could and would veto any highly partisan measures passed by the new Congress. Moreover, their narrow margin in the House and razor-thin edge in the Senate eliminated any possibility that they might be able to override any vetoes that thwarted them. So the Democratic Congress of 2007-08 was bound to be an exercise in political futility, at least in terms of achieving any meaningful legislation. The Democrats knew this, even if the American people did not. So they are concentrating on using these two years to advance their real objective, which is to capture the presidency in the 2008 election. In practical terms, this means making George W. Bush look bad.
The Democrats in control of Congress have two major means of furthering this end. The first is to introduce -- and, if possible, pass -- bills that sound attractive to the average voter but which they know President Bush will, for one reason or another, be sure to veto. That is the motive behind the various bills up for discussion, chiefly in the Senate but also in the House, which try (more or less seriously) to force the president to withdraw our troops from Iraq. The Democrats contend that the Congressional elections of 2006 resulted in a clear mandate from the voters to pull out of Iraq, and that Bush is simply defying the will of the people by refusing to do so.
They are probably wrong in attributing such a simplistic view to the voters, but they are undeniably tapping into a widespread public dissatisfaction with the war. Moreover, they can play innumerable variations on the general theme -- pull out now, "redeploy" in six months, limit overseas assignments, etc. Not one of these bills has passed, or is likely to. But harping on the subject serves as a useful reminder of which party supports the war, and which doesn't. (In the Senate, passage of controversial legislation is further restricted by the rule that permits even the minority party to filibuster to death any bill it dislikes, unless 60 senators vote to close off debate. Since the Democrats have only 51 votes, this is practically impossible.)
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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