With their victory in the special election in New York’s 26th district last week, Congressional Democrats are feeling their oats. While their optimism is understandable, the notion that they can ride Medicare demagoguery back to majority control of Congress is debatable. Nevertheless, if the country’s mood is changing from one of outrage about deficits, taxes, and spending to one of fear about entitlement reform, it is well to ask what sort of party do Congressional Democrats think they are? The answer is a caucus that is not only obsessed with expanding the entitlement state, but one that is also increasingly isolationist.
That’s the only way to interpret the vote late last week in which virtually the entire House Democratic caucus endorsed a demand that the Obama administration accelerate its plans to withdraw completely from Afghanistan but to negotiate a deal with “all interested parties” in the country, meaning the Taliban. All but eight House Democrats voted for the amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that narrowly failed by a vote of 215 to 204, with 26 Republicans joined the Democrats on the issue. As Politico noted, many in the House Democratic leadership that opposed previous efforts by leftists to undermine the war effort in Afghanistan—Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, for example—joined with them this time.
Although some are characterizing this vote as mere “impatience” with the stalled conflict and anger about Pakistan’s double game in the region after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in that country, the decision of Congressional Democrats to play the anti-war card is still a curious one. After all, the war is being fought now by a Democratic administration. Though President Obama has sent the country mixed signals about his intentions at times, he has also been clear that he would not cut and run from the place.
Americans may be tired of the war and some may be misled into thinking the killing of one terrorist is a good excuse for abandoning the war against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists who are still a potent threat. But the idea that the country is truly ready to abandon the so-called “good war” in Afghanistan (as opposed to the “bad war” in Iraq, which has already been largely won) is probably unfounded.
Democrats are hoping that invoking Paul Ryan’s name will be enough to wash the taste of their 2010 defeat out of their mouths. But they need to be careful. If they wish to return to power they need to take into account that 2012 won’t be a repeat of 2006 when an anti-Iraq war wave gave them control of Congress. With their own Democratic president still committed to fighting in Afghanistan, it won’t do him or their electoral prospects any good to be perceived as a party of anti-war extremists who are willing to hand a victory to the Taliban.