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"
"Denying the funding needed to send any additional U.S. troops to Iraq"
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