Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate passed the fiscal year 2008 Defense Authorization bill.
It was a largely unremarkable event, except in two respects. The Democratic-moved bill contained no language to force President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq; and the bill passed by a 92-3 margin, with just two Democrats opposing it.
The vote should have the Democratic base, and anti-war voters, more generally, asking questions -- especially in Washington, home of Sen. Patty Murray.
Murray is one of the more prominent anti-war voices in the Senate, as one of the original 23 senators who voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. She is also the fourth-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership -- and, thus, is looking increasingly ineffective in using her position of power to ensure that Democrats deliver on one of the core compacts with voters who elected them to congressional majorities last year: bring the Iraq war to a close.
The failure of congressional Democrats to make headway in forcing the president\'s hand on Iraq -- and indeed the fact that literally none of the top three Democratic presidential candidates will commit to having the U.S. military out of Iraq by 2013 -- should be of particular concern to Murray. Her reputation at home has long been that of an effective legislator: She has brought plenty of federal dollars to fund transportation projects and has engineered much defense spending in the state, to boot. Her position within the Democratic leadership similarly suggests confidence in her ability to set agendas and unite the caucus.
However, the inability of Murray and other members of the Senate leadership to forge consensus on Iraq withdrawal language vis a vis this bill, and last month, to persuade enough senators to support a proposal to bring most U.S. combat troops home from Iraq in nine months, shows a degree of powerlessness on what looks like the seminal issue of our time. The fact that two of her current colleagues, running for the presidency against the backdrop of a very anti-war Democratic base, cannot see fit to commit to withdrawing from Iraq in five years\' time, shows that she and other Democratic leaders are failing in making the anti-war case to their own best-known advocates -- and in turn, representing voters who are desperate for a change of tack where Iraq is concerned.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week shows that nationwide, voter disenchantment with the Iraq war has reached such proportions that 66 percent of those polled want funding for the war cut. However, even last October, before voter exasperation with the war had reached its current levels in much of the country, an MSNBC/McClatchy poll showed that nearly two-thirds of Washington voters opposed the Bush policy on Iraq. Washington has been a strongly, and early, anti-war state.
Democrats\' failure to make good on promises to force a change in policy on Iraq (beyond the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) is, according to The Washington Post, at the root of the low approval ratings for congressional Democrats, also shown in their survey. As it stands, just 38 percent of those polled approve of the job Democrats are doing. That draws into even sharper focus the likelihood that as Democrats nationally are garnering voter disenchantment as a result of their perceived caving on Iraq, Murray, who is no rank-and-file senator, could end up in the same situation.
That said, Murray doesn\'t appear to be losing the support of Evergreen Staters yet. The latest SurveyUSA poll (conducted last month), testing voters\' views of the job she is doing, puts her approval rating at 55 percent, and her disapproval rating at 36 percent.
Although those aren\'t exceptionally great numbers (Murray\'s approval rating is only 1 percent higher than that of Sen. Maria Cantwell, who got on the wrong side of many voters by supporting the war), contrasted with those of the Democratic Congress as a whole, Murray will no doubt take them.
She\'ll probably also be hoping that by continuing to portray the Democrats as the anti-war party (effective or not) and the impasse on Iraq as fundamentally due to the president\'s intransigence, those generally positive numbers hold. Whether they will be the true test of the political talents of the \