Jonathan Meyer is a former counsel to Joe Biden and was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration. In today's Roll Call, he leaps out ahead of his fellow Democrats, and tries to map out a path to political success in a world where the surge has succeeded. In short, it amounts to changing the subject:
Over the past couple of years, Democrats have made huge political gains by criticizing President Bush for both his decision to invade Iraq and his conduct of the occupation. These critiques are probably the single greatest factor in Democrats retaking the House and the Senate in 2006 and sending Bush's approval ratings spiraling to historic lows.
But that critique has gone about as far as it can go. A significant majority of voters today agree with Democrats that the decision to invade Iraq was wrong, and that the conduct of the occupation and attempts to rebuild the country have been failures. A large percentage of Americans believe the Bush administration misled the country on Iraq in the first place. Those opinions are solidly held and highly unlikely to change. That debate is over...
This presents a unique opportunity for Democrats. Having used the Iraq War to win over millions of Americans who were previously disposed to support the other side, they can now build on that momentum by turning to other issues to seal the deal with voters who remain on the fence.
To borrow a phrase, it's the economy, stupid...
Making these arguments will prove tremendously advantageous to Democrats for many reasons, but chief among them are two: First, without losing the gains they've made through criticism of the Iraq War, they will be able to expand their base by recapturing the economic middle class and building a broader, more stable constituency based on dealing with the future, not revisiting the past. Second, having already created an image of themselves as the more levelheaded purveyors of foreign policy, they can now show themselves to be the more responsible, trustworthy grown-ups on pocketbook issues, undoing the damage inflicted on them by decades of "tax and spend" name-calling.
I'd argue (and have argued) that there's truth to some of what Meyer says. As Iraq fades in importance, candidates must be able to address other issues. It's hardly clear, however, that Democrats benefit from a shift to discussion of taxes and the economy. Further, there are numerous factors that could yet shift the debate on Iraq into a Republican asset.
For example, did the deposition of Saddam force Iran to alter its calculus about nuclear weapons? If Republicans make that case, it demonstrates a strong and tangible benefit to going to war in Iraq. And what if the Iraqi government makes substantial progress toward reconciliation? Either of those might well shift the attitude of voters toward the entire effort.
It seems that Meyer's piece amounts to an attempt to shift the debate before it becomes politically damaging for Democrats. I guess that means Democrats have reached stage 4 ('it's really happened!').