Jonathan Bernstein writes something about Iraq that I think a lot of activists will scoff at, but I think he’s right —
… as it turns out, the decision to leave casts quite a bit of light on how Madisonian democracy works in the US, both for good and for bad. Itâ€™s a story in which the ocean liner metaphor people use was absolutely apt. It took a whole lot of pushing, but this certainly appears to be the case in which citizen action, working through a political party, ended a war.
The story goes like this. Acting in presidential primaries and other primaries in 2004, liberals made it clear that the ambivalence (or, in some cases, solid support) for the war that was evident in Congress in 2002 was absolutely unacceptable within the Democratic Party. That accelerated in the 2006 primaries, with the sort-of-defeat of Joe Lieberman showing exactly where the party was. As a consequence, when Democrats won majorities in Congress in 2006 – in large part because unhappiness with the war had severely damaged George W. Bush – it was an almost solidly antiwar caucus.
The establishment Dems still didn’t get it then, and criticized bloggers and activists for working so hard to get rid of Lieberman. But …
Under the Madisonian system, Bush, who had two more years in the White House, was just as legitimate an elected official as were the new Democrats in Congress (as were the remaining Republicans on the Hill, for that matter). But the result wasnâ€™t, as it happened, deadlock; instead, much to the frustration of antiwar voters, the result was a surge into Iraq and increased American casualties. And yet as much as it didnâ€™t appear so at the time, the truth was that the surge was the beginning of the end: thereâ€™s a straight line from the surge through the agreement with Iraqis that yielded steady troop reductions under Bush, continued pullback under Barack Obama, and the final official handover today.
Antiwar sentiment helped put Barack Obama in the White House, and the drawdown continued. “The point is that the war ended because citizens, acting mainly through the Democratic Party, ended it,” Bernstein writes.
And so todayâ€™s outcome is the very direct, if distant, triumph of the Deaniacs way back in 2003. Itâ€™s the triumph of party actors who enforced an antiwar line on Democratic candidates in 2004 and 2006. A triumph of all the people who worked so hard for Ned Lamont in Connecticut. Itâ€™s a triumph of those who did it again in 2008 despite the frustrations of 2007 – itâ€™s a triumph of those who didnâ€™t walk away when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and the rest of them were apparently stymied by George W. Bush, but instead went out and tried to reinforce their numbers in the Senate and the House and to put an ally in the White House.
Here’s the critical part:
Iâ€™ve said this before, but Iâ€™ll repeat it: elections arenâ€™t plebiscites on public policy issues. They donâ€™t actually tell us â€œwhat the people wantâ€ in any kind of direct wayâ€¦thatâ€™s just not something that mass-electorate contests are capable of doing. But they can be used by citizens, especially acting through political parties, to take action. To make history. And itâ€™s damn hard; itâ€™s a nation of over 300 million, and many of them really, really, donâ€™t agree with you – and even more just donâ€™t actually care about whatever it is that you believe is critically important, as hard as you may find that to believe. Thatâ€™s not a flaw of democracy: that is democracy. But itâ€™s also democracy to keep working, in and out of electoral politics, to find allies, to build coalitions, and to keep trying to win no matter how frustrating it gets.
Yes. And that’s why I get so disgusted with people who sat home and let the Right take back the House in 2010, and who say they’ll sit out the next election, or vote for Nader or some other loser to “send a message,” because they voted in 2008 and the country didn’t instantly turn into progressive utopia. It took the Right several election cycles and a huge investment in media and other organization to take over the country and dominate politics. It’s going to be a long, slow slog to take it back. And yeah, pulling the Dems in our direction can feel like trying to move a glacier. But it can be done.