From OJ to Britney to Iraq

Posted: Nov 16, 2007 12:01 AM
From OJ to Britney to Iraq

Remember when OJ Simpson was considered a sports hero and an American success story, rather than that guy who got away with double homicide? Remember when Britney Spears was known as the hit-making Mouseketeer who spoke publicly of remaining a virgin until marriage, rather than the out-of-control boozing party girl who shaved her head, flashed photographers and had her kids taken away from her? Timing makes all the difference.

In 1991 President George Herbert Walker Bush experienced such high approval ratings as a result of the Gulf War that most of the Democrats’ heavy hitters passed on the race to challenge him. A recession brought those poll numbers down, but even though the economy rebounded throughout 1992, the news of the improved economy was not conveyed to voters in time to secure a second term for Bush 41. I remember watching a television news report on the eve of that election about Bush’s bad economy. The day after the election, after Bill Clinton had won, Jeff Greenfield appeared on ABC News and referred to the economic recovery that was underway. I wondered why that report was not the one given less than 48 hours earlier on election eve. Yes, timing makes all the difference.

Some may have forgotten, but in April of 2003, Iraqi crowds cheered when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad. In the following years, public support for the U.S. mission in Iraq eroded as casualties rose and tours were extended. The stories being told by embedded journalists of the important work U.S. soldiers were performing in Iraq became harder to find, while politicians willing to declare defeat and call for withdrawal became more prevalent. Although politicians don’t generally like to surrender when it appears we are winning, some have done exactly that.

As the value of OJ Simpson and Britney Spears endorsements swiftly plummeted from earlier highs, so has the value politicians can derive from calling for withdrawal from Iraq. At some point, they will not only hold little value, but they will result in negative effects.

This week Democrats passed an Iraq withdrawal bill attempting to tie $50 billion in war funding to a mandated timetable that President Bush start bringing troops home with a goal of ending combat by December 2008. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, “The fact is, we can no longer sustain the military deployment in Iraq…Staying there in the manner that we are there is no longer an option.”

The statement, and the vote for that matter, seems especially strange in light of recent good news out of Iraq that even the New York Times and NBC have reported. In fact, they seem even stranger since a reduction of troops will already have begun before this Christmas. Michelle Malkin interpreted Pelosi’s remarks: “Stop pestering me, Code Pink! I beg you to stop!”

Such statements and votes may be intended to assuage anti-war groups angry at congressional Democrats for failure to end the war, but I doubt they will even accomplish that and they risk putting Democrats in a position that Republicans will be able to exploit in 2008.

Remember, it is all about the timing. If the mission in Iraq is seen in a positive light (or as I predict is possible, even as a potential success) in 2008, Democrats who described the mission as a failure will likely be forgiven by voters who heard them make those statements when all the news they were hearing from Iraq seemed to point to such a conclusion. However, if Democrats continue to declare the mission a failure and call for withdrawal at the same time voters are hearing reports of progress and other good news from Iraq, Democrats will appear to be in denial of reality and worse will appear to be pulling for an American defeat when it appears victory is possible.

Congressional Republicans might even be able to pull a Kevin Federline-style rebound. A couple of years ago it would not have been thought possible that the wanna-be rap star Federline, who sponged off of wife Britney Spears’ money and fame, would ever be seen as the more responsible of the two, and the favored spouse in a custody battle for the couple’s two kids, but that is what happened. Timing is everything.

If Democrats continue to deny the reality on the ground in Iraq, and to pander to their anti-war base, they may be setting up an opportunity for political advantage that not even congressional Republicans can find a way to botch.