Bush advisor Karl Rove's brilliant doll-making abilities were on display this week as Congress helped him build the latest version of the Democratic Party Straw Man Model Scarecrow for this November's congressional elections. Wikipedia defines a straw man as ''a dummy in the shape of a human created by stuffing straw into clothes. Straw men are used as scarecrows, combat-training targets, effigies to be burned, and as rodeo dummies to distract bulls.'' In Rove's politics, Democrats are the rodeo dummies and voters are the distracted bulls.
I'm referring to this week's House vote, engineered by the Republicans, that sought to force Democrats to approve a nonbinding resolution that declared that ''an arbitrary date for the withdrawal of or redeployment'' of U.S. troops from Iraq is against our country's interest. Earlier, the U.S. Senate opposed withdrawing troops from Iraq and now the House followed suit, predictably along party lines, 256 mostly Rove Republicans voting to approve the resolution and 153 mostly Democrats voting to oppose.
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My right-wing friends might say that such a vote seems straight forward enough ? so what's the problem?
Here's the problem: The vote was a rank manipulation by Republicans to stifle legitimate criticism of a war that's been badly managed, and in the process create a phony issue (hence, the straw man) to cast the Democrats as ? what are the current right-wing phrases? ? ''cut and run,'' or ''bug-out'' liberals, a party that, in one Republican's words is ''there for the first bullet but not for the last'' ? as if dodging fire was somehow stupid.
It also proves the great Dr. Johnson's observation that ''Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.'' For years, Republicans have assured the country ? I hear it every day on the radio ? that criticizing the Iraq war is in the best traditions of political dissent (Republicans ought to know, there are plenty of them who oppose the war and have opposed it) and makes for a stronger war effort. Think of the U.S. lives saved when public pressure was put on the Pentagon to supply better armored vehicles and more Kevlar vests. Or how Democratic doubters lit a fire under the feckless Bush administration and made the latter force the Iraqis to finally create a civilian government.
Now, with this phony resolution, Republicans not only seek to stifle dissent, they are trying to re-run the election of Joe McCarthy to the Senate ? only this time, critics aren't communists, they're first cousins of Al-Zarqawi. In Republican propaganda, all that's missing is some B-roll of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, sighting an anti-aircraft gun ala Jane Fonda in Hanoi, circa 1968. If the Democrats are sometimes accused of still living in the '60s, it's the Republicans who are doing their level best to keep them there.
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Bush received some good publicity recently; a new government has been formed in Baghdad; the monster Zarqawi was killed and Karl Rove will not be indicted. It's been just enough good news to push off the front page the fact that U.S. deaths reached the awful benchmark of 2,500 killed and that Iraqi deaths are often measured in batches of 50 or more per day, usually dispatched by random car bombs. While the media celebrated Bush's secret trip to Iraq to confer with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, fewer noted that three years after conquering the country, the president was forced to sneak in during the dead of night and so distrusted the new government on whose fortunes he's spent considerable American blood and treasure, that the Prime Minister got exactly five minutes notice that Bush would pay him a visit.
But to criticize the war is supposed to be un-American, which, according to Rove's logic, makes the over 60% of Americans with serious questions about the war somehow un-American. You wouldn't think that a proposition so stupid could be labeled ''brilliant,'' but it has been because it is. Rove has helped recast the Democrats as ''cut and run'' when in fact, the truth is the opposite. Only a tiny minority of the party (including me) has proposed a withdrawal of some type or another. Most Democrats want to stay the course, but stay it better, smarter, and wiser. Instead, Rove's strategy offers more of the same, a failed war supported by misinformed voters and Democratic politicians cowed by his cynical tactics and too frightened to raise their voices in opposition.
It's really too bad, not just for us, but for the hundreds of young Americans and thousands of Iraqis who are destined to die in the months and years ahead.