WHEN prominent people in Washington spend an anniversary apologizing for being catastrophically, unforgivably wrong about a decade-old decision, you might expect that the decision in question had delivered their party to disaster or defeat. But last week’s many Iraq war mea culpas were rich in irony: one by one, prominent liberals lined up to apologize for supporting a war that’s responsible for liberalism’s current political and cultural ascendance […]
All those now-apologetic liberals who supported the war in 2003 are a big part of this story, because without their hawkishness there would have been no antiwar rebellion on the left — no Michael Moore and Howard Dean, no Daily Kos and all its “netroots” imitators.
Not entirely wrong, but not entirely true. Our problem with the Democratic establishment a decade ago ran far deeper than their acquiescence on Bush’s bullshit wars. It was the notion that to win, Democrats had to keep imitating Republicans—on corporatism, on social issues, on religion, and yes, on foreign military adventures. Iraq was a symptom of a much larger problem, a Democratic Party so unsure of itself that it had lost its moorings, encapsulated by John Kerry’s “I voted for it before I voted against it” nonsense. Our party was psychophrenic, torn between doing the right thing, and doing what it thought it needed to do to win elections.
Except that what it thought made it electable actually did not. The DLC’s and Third Way’s self-serving advice, much like Grima Wormtongue’s, served only to weaken and corrupt. And as numbers junkies, we in the early netroots knew objectively that the status quo was an electoral liability. As I wrote in The Hill this week:
We were data-obsessed, poring over polling numbers and demographic trends. When we pushed the party leftward, we did so by arguing electability. We either proved those shifts would win an election (like opposing the Iraq war), or we waited for a more opportune time (like marriage equality).
Ideology informs our politics, but data informs our tactics. And we did it to great effect:
In 2006, aided by Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s surprise primary loss, Democrats saw the light on the Iraq war. By 2008, they had evolved on immigration. The Occupy movement brought back economic populism in 2011, and marriage equality followed in 2012. In 2013, the party is moving on guns. It may have happened incrementally, but today’s Democratic Party bears surprisingly little resemblance to its 2003 edition.
The Iraq War was certainly a major flashpoint in the development of the resurgent activist Left, just as the passage of Obamacare did the same for the Tea Party Right. But it was just part of a broader struggle. And even without the war we still would’ve had George W. Bush to organize around. He, more than anyone else, was the catalyst.
Take him out of the equation, and things would politically look a lot different. This site probably wouldn’t exist. With Al Gore in the White House I and so many others would’ve had no impetus to start blogging or organizing. On the other hand, we would’ve had hundreds of thousands of fewer dead people around the globe. Given the choice, it’s a trade I would gladly take. Unfortunately, I never had, nor ever will, have that choice.