Fully Fund the Withdrawal

Ever since they won the November elections, Democrats in Congress have mystifyingly decided to keep answering, often without even being asked, the age-old Republican question for all Democrats: "when did you stop beating your wife?" In its contemporary vernacular usage, the question has morphed somewhat, and is now most commonly phrased as follows: "when will you cut off funding for American soldiers in the field?" To the consternation of many who oppose the war, the high frequency and regularity of Democrats to answer this question has two negative effects. First, by accepting Republican framing, it allows Republicans to control the debate, and implies that Democrats are inherently anti-troop. Second, it functions to cut off any debate on using the so-called "power of the purse" to actually end the war, since the semantic difference between cutting off funding for troops in the field and ending funding for the war is not easy to discern in the space of a sound bite.

After the collapse of Murtha's plan to gradually restrict the number of troops available to conduct the war, I have come to a different conclusion about the way Democrats are using the language of funding, and about the options available for Democrats to stop the war. The problem is not just that Democrats are answering the latest variation on the "when did you stop beating you wife" question, the problem is that even those who seek for Democrats to end the war through decisive action in Congress have framed the issue along a continuum of more or less funds, and more or less restrictions, for the war. It is in this manner that those who seek to end the war are always self-describing themselves in negative terms: cutting off funding, cutting of authority, restricting troop levels, etc. There is no way for us to sort through the semantic difference of "when will you cut off funding for troops in the field," and the positive options we want to take to increase our security, protect our troops, because whatever we do is phrased as negative.

There is a solution to this. The issue should not be phrased as cutting off funding for the war, but instead as redirecting funding to withdraw from Iraq. As Representative Barbara Lee recently stated:
Ms. Lee said her goal was to shift the discussion to a "fully funded withdrawal" from "cutting off funding."

"There's a distinction between cutting off funding and using the funding to begin a speedy and secure withdrawal within a specific timeframe," she said.
Now, compare Lee's quote to Representative Nadler's in the same article:
Nothing is going to happen unless we use the power of the purse," said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. "It's time to draw a line in the sand."
"Fully fund withdrawal" versus "use the power of the purse"--which one do you think walks right into the Republican frame about cutting off support for troops in the field? As long as we in the anti-war community are talking about cutting off funding, we are going to lose any ability to coax Democrats in Congress toward taking the decisive action that is necessary to stop the war. Instead of framing the discussion in negative terms, we have to start talking about positive action.

In this circumstance, the frame does mater, big time. If you are talking about cutting off funding for the war, you are talking about a plan that has only 30-40% support nationwide. However, if you are talking about funding withdrawal, then you are talking about a plan that has 55-60% support nationwide. When it comes to weak-kneed Democrats who are afraid of taking any action that isn't supported by 60% of the public, the difference is night and day. Compare some recent polling on funding versus recent polling on withdrawal:
USA Today/Gallup Poll. March 2-4, 2007. N=1,010 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.

"Would you favor or oppose Congress taking each of the following actions in regards to the war in Iraq?

"Setting a time-table for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year"
Favor: 60%
Oppose: 39%

"Denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq"
Favor: 37%
Oppose: 61%
Even though both are about ending the war, withdrawal polls extremely well, while denying funding polls like crap. And it isn't just Gallup. Withdrawal polls at 56% in ABC-WaPo, while "cutting off all funds" polls at 29% in AP-Ipsos. Pretty much no matter how the question is phrased, withdrawal polls very well while cutting off funds polls very poorly. The difference between cutting off funds for troops in the field and ending funding by a certain date in order to draw down the war is just not going to get made, as the semantic barriers are far too high at this point. Even Democratic aides are telling the press that progressives are looking to end the war by cutting off funding:
Liberals Dems now don't want to vote for the Iraq supplemental, with many pointing out to Pelosi and party leaders that they never have voted for one before and aren't about to start doing so now just because Democrats are in the majority. These Democrats also want to offer their own alternative proposal to cut off Iraq funding immediately as an amendment to the supplemental on the House floor, said Democratic leadership aides.
Of course, without an actual quote, that could just once again be the Politico doing whatever it can to put a negative rhetorical spin on anti-war legislative maneuvers. However, quotes like Nadler's don't help the perception that cutting off fund is exactly the direction progressives are taking. If Democrats are going to fund the strength to take the action necessary to stop the war, we have to start talking about funding withdrawal, rather than about cutting off funds for the war. We have to shift the frame.

I am tired of progressives losing because we have popular ideas and bad political operations. Getting on board with a unified message wouldn't be a bad start. With only two weeks before the supplemental vote, it is time for progressives to get some real message coordination on this one. Represenative Lynn Woolsey has more on this.

Tags: Democrats, Iraq, messaging (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

Who's ADVISING the blue dogs?

 The blue-dog Dems, apparently, have forgotten the lessons of 2002. Though it does not seem like they had any interest in learning those lessons to begin with.

 In 2002, the Democrats caved to the White House on the AUMF because they thought their "bipartsianship" would inoculate them from charges of Not Being Serious About National Security while at the same time taking that issue off the table and making the elections about...ergonomics and stuff, I guess.

 It was a lunkheaded idea even then. Even if the outcome of the midterms had been only half as disastrous as it turned out for the Dems, it would have still been a lunkheaded idea. Oh, and the media really went easy on the Dems after that vote, didn't it?

Now, a certain faction of Democrats is falling into the exact same trap -- caving in on a critical Iraq vote because of paralyzing, crippling fear that David Broder might fret over their lack of bipartisanship. This despite having public opinion behind them.

Earth to blue-dogs: It didn't work in 2002. It's not going to work today.

 If the blue-dogs care about the troops, they'll support Murtha's plan. We're about to find out how much the blue-dogs care about the troops. Or if it's every bit as much a phony talking point for them as it is for the Republicans.  

by Master Jack 2007-03-06 11:15AM | 0 recs
Fund the troops, fund the withdrawal...

Save the world. (Does that make Murtha the cheerleader, or is it Pelosi? Silar is represented by the Swift-Boat attackers going after Murtha?)

Great way to shift the framing, Chris!

The problem with the "cut off the funds" frame, is that it keys right into the right-wing mega-frame of Dems being soft on terror. The Republicans have been pretty clever with their media approach, daring if not insisting, that the Democarts put up or shut up on the issue, and trying to suck them into a PR mistake while diverting them from any real action.

It betrays their anxiety that the Democrats might actually do something, and it diverts attention from the progressive mega-frame that "Iraq was the wrong war, wrong time, wrong place, wrong enemy".

So the great thing about the frame "fund the troops, fund the withdrawal" is that it draws a new line on the sand (putting 56% of the public on our side of the line as you point out), without watering down the anti-war line.

However, further compromises with the conservatives in the Democratic Party would be counter-productive, even if it led to a line at the 67% popularity point. 2006 proved that being anti-war wins elections, and the Republicans are totally screwed in 2008 if Bush/Cheney/Republicans don't find a solution.

But, right-wing Democrats (i.e. the pro-war and pro-business wing) may also be screwed in 2008. Their support for the war has opened up a lot of space for the progressive side to run stronger candidates. If they continue to have a free pass pretending to be opposed to the war without actually doing anything, then we'd have a harder time running good candidates in the primaries.

by MetaData 2007-03-06 11:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Fund the troops, fund the withdrawal...

I really like "Iraq was the wrong war, wrong time, wrong place, wrong enemy" so we are going to "fund the withdrawal" from this misbegotten war. Great framing!

by RandomNonviolence 2007-03-06 05:45PM | 0 recs
Budget Impasse

Bush won't sign any resolution forcing him to withdraw troops into law, or will gut it via a signing statement, leading to a constitutional debate/crisis, which places Congress in the position of either conceding to Bush or impeaching him; a strategy the right wing would love to force, and which most of our elected Dems don't want to follow.  The only real power Congress has is to cut off funding, in some fashion, but our Dems don't want to "own" the funding cut off just as Bush "owns" the war.  

I think many of our Dems in Congress would lke to find a way to actually do something about the war, without forcing the constitutional showdown that many would almost prefer.  Hence, the focus on the power of the purse; Dems know that they have that power, but are, rightfully to at least some degree, concerned about the spin the MSM will put on any attempt to use that power.  

The strategy that the Dems ought to follow is to try to force the Congressional Republicans into obstructing continued war funding, by loading the continued funding with other items and terms that are so unpalatable that the Senate Republicans will filibuster it, leading to a budget impasse.  IF there is anything that the MSM hates to report on, its a budget debate.  About the only thing that they usually report on in such debates is, who's at fault for the impasse.  

I'm not saying load it up with pork, or extraneous BS.  I'm saying that continued war funding needs to be tied to fundamental security measures which have not been addressed by this administration or the previous Republican Congresses.  

Just a couple of ideas, off the top of my head, would be to include funding for port security (including the expansion of the TSA and its ability to unionize), requirements for chemical and nuclear plant security, authorization to bring civil and criminal charges against contractors for fraud, etc.  Things that the administration, and the Republicans, have fought against tooth and nail for the last four years, and which most Americans agree need to be done.  If the President, and Congressional Republicans want funds for Iraq, he and they need to address some of these other pressing issues, and begin making the hard budgetary choices that are required.  I think most Americans would support that position, and indeed embrace it enthusiastically.  It would then be up to the Congressional Republicans to obstruct it, creating a budget impasse, which the Dems can blame them for.  Then they will "own" the funding problem, not Congressional Democrats.  Either way, Congressional Dems would win; either we get some accountability with the funding, and address some much-needed security concerns, or the Republicans wind up cutting off funding for the troops as a result of their unreasonable refusal to make the hard budget choices necessary to address the greater war on terror, as opposed to just writing a blank check for Bush's Iraq war.  

by Jbearlaw 2007-03-06 12:47PM | 0 recs

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