Narcissism-of-small-differences Dep’t

Neither voting for the Iraq funding bill (appearing to support giving Bush a blank check to continue with his policy of open-ended war) nor voting against it (appearing to be willing to cut off supplies to an army in combat) was an attractive choice. We ought to be able to respect, and continue to work with, those who accepted either of those bad alternatives.

The vote on the Iraq funding bill isn’t splintering the Democrats as thoroughly as immigration is splintering the Republicans, but there’s plenty of bad feeling out there. Those who voted against the appropriation are accused of being unserious, since we’re not actually going to stop supplying bullets while we have an army in combat. Those who voted for funding are accused of supporting the Bushies’ endless war. Jane Harman is catching static from her former centrist friends; elements of the netroots are swearing never to give Jerry McNerney another dime.

As a fan of both Harman and McNerney (as someone who went to a fundraiser where Harman spoke for McNerney) I’d like to offer a plea for lowered voices on this. From the viewpoint of someone who wants a speedy but carefully-executed withdrawal from Iraq, there was no good vote to cast, and either vote was defensible. That’s frequently the case in the dance of legislation. Members are forced to map quite complicated opinions onto a simple binary choice, and the result is lost information.

Whether to set a deadline in legislation was a tactical rather than a moral question. It might be better to leave things vague, if we had an Administration in power prepared to commit to an eventual end to the carnage, but we don’t. By the same token, whether to vote for or against a bill that was certain to pass was also a tactical and not a moral question.

It was reasonable for McNerney to vote for the bill to express a desire that our withdrawal from Iraq be careful instead of pell-mell (and to assure centrists about his reasonableness and moderation). It was reasonable for Harman to vote against the bill to express a desire that our withdrawal from Iraq be in this world and not the World To Come (and to assure activists that she hasn’t sold out to George Bush or fallen under the spell of David Broder and Joe Klein, and to tell her constituents, who overwhelmingly want to damned thing to be OVER that their elected representative is listening).

Neither vote had any direct result in the theater of operations, so neither won was a “failure to support the troops.” I can respect legislators who made the choice either way. And it’s just silly to call either vote “caving it to pressure” (from the center or the left, as the case may be). Every Democrat had to choose between catching crap from the Broder/Klein axis and catching crap from the netroots (and most of the voters). If Harman had voted for the bill, the Kossacks would have been as sure that she’d caved in to “pressure from the center” as the respectable pundits are that she caved in to “pressure from the left.”

There will be other votes. Eventually, enough Republicans are likely to panic in the face of the impending destruction of our military forces and the impending electoral disaster for them in 2008 to force a change. Until then, it’s all Kabuki. So exhale, and save your breath for yelling at the people who deserve yelling at. For some reason, Paul Krugman’s accurate and potent formulation of the problem &#8212 George Bush is holding our troops hostage as a means of securing funding from the Congress for his policy of open-ended war &#8212 didn’t catch on. But that’s what people on both sides of this vote should be telling the voters from now through a year from November.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com