The Murtha effect

News & Politics

How many anti-war rallies does it take to change the war debate within the Democratic party? Way too many. How many conservative hawks does it take to achieve exactly the same effect? One.

Call it the perfect storm of press conferences -- held exactly at the right time by the right man -- but John Murtha's call for withdrawal has single-handedly transformed the Democratic Iraq policy debate. Ron Brownstein in the L.A Times explores the Murtha effect:

Twin confrontations over Iraq, in the House and the Senate � highlighted by a ferocious House debate that followed a call by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) to immediately begin removing American troops � showed that the center of gravity among Democrats is rapidly moving toward proposals to accelerate the withdrawal of American troops from the war.
"The last week has changed everything," said Tom Matzzie, Washington director of, a liberal group opposing the war. "The whole debate just jumped ahead six months."
The "debate," mind you, not policy agenda, for the majority of Democrats on the Hill remain much too afraid to support a call for a rapid withdrawal. That's exactly the fear that Republicans continue to feed:
Many Republicans also see last week as a turning point. Bush allies believe that Murtha's declaration � following Senate Democrats' call for estimated timetables � will identify Democrats with a policy of "cut and run."
"I don't think the country has any doubt there are two positions: One is to stay and fight and the other is to leave," said one Republican strategist familiar with White House thinking.
As public opinion has soured on the war, support for withdrawing troops has grown, according to recent surveys. Nineteen percent of respondents to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released last week supported an immediate withdrawal, and 33% said that all American troops should be pulled out within a year � meaning that a majority wants all troops home by the end of 2006. Among independents, 56% want all troops home within a year, among Democrats 67%, the poll found.
Yet a range of GOP strategists remain confident that their party will benefit as more Democrats push to end America's involvement in the war. "As long as the Bush administration was in the position of having to debate events in Iraq, it hurt us," said the GOP strategist familiar with White House thinking. "When we are in the position of having to debate the Democratic Party on this, it helps us. That's what happened in the 2004 election."
What happened in 2004 is that the Republicans were in the fortunate position of debating the war with a candidate whose position was as follows: I voted to support the war powers of the president, which Bush then did not use wisely, not because the war was wrong, but because it was not a war of last resort, and even if it was the right war, it's just been poorly executed. So, um, vote for me.

Yeah, that sounds about the same as Murtha.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of Kerry clones, especially in the Senate, eager to answer the GOP's prayer for a rerun. But this time around, they'll have to debate not just the Bush administration, but also their own party faithful. [LINK]

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