Sunday, November 20, 2005

A House divided: Iraq, Murtha, and the passions of war

At Newsweek, Howard Fineman reports on the past week's drama in the House, with passions on both sides raising the political temperature to dangerously high levels. But here's what really happened, what it was all about:

The drama on the floor was a shabby—at times, farcical—finale to a season that nevertheless had produced something serious: a transformation of the politics of the war in Washington. Some of the change had little to do with the war per se. From the bungling of Katrina disaster relief to the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, the White House had faced a run of bad news that would buckle support for any of the president's policies. But as they watched the continued deadly attacks by Sunni insurgents—and the continued erosion of Bush's numbers as a war leader and honest man—Democrats were encouraged to up the ante in Congress. "The fact is, Bush's war policy has failed," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a former Clinton spin doctor who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "It's failed! Who better to say so than Jack Murtha?"

Murtha's call for withdrawal only served to concentrate the debate and hence to make the options so much more concrete. Bush may have flip-flopped again today and "toned down his attack on war critics" just over a week after his reprehensibly partisan 11/11 speech, but there's no turning back now and there's little that he can do to change the terms of the debate, war room or no war room.

There'll be more spin, of course, but Bush has lost control of the domestic front. Two months ago I wasn't so sure, but now it may very well be that the Bush Era is finally over.

(For more, see The Moderate Voice.)

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