Election fraud. "Osama bin Laden? I'm not that concerned about him." The Downing Street Memo. Curveball. Social Security reform. "You're doin' a heckuva job, Brownie." Regressive tax cuts. Massive deficits. Enron and Ken Lay. Halliburton. Torture. Unconstitutional indefinite detentions of U.S. citizens without trial or due process of law. Hostage-taking of spouses. Tom Delay. Jack Abramoff. Duke Cunningham. NSA/FISA/warrantless wiretapping. Trying to cut the Social Security death benefit. Anything else I left off the list that I should have mentioned.
You may categorize these as Republican scandals. I categorize them a different way:
Scandals that failed to bring this administration down, any one of which may have ruined any other administration. And every time another one emerges from the woodwork, we mutually express our revulsion, as well as our relief that this one will finally be the one that broke the camel's back. But it never is.
But there's one situation now that gives us the opportunity to break free of this cycle of disbelief: Iran.
We can keep on pressing on all the failures and scandals of this administration. But as John Cornyn so eloquently said, "none of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." Our dear Senator Feingold's response to this was certainly worth noting, but the unfortunate fact is that a good deal of the public thinks that Feingold is nice in theory, but will side with Cornyn at the ballot box.
This was perfectly illustrated in a conversation I had with an old family friend not too long ago. He's a Democrat in all respects, but he doesn't follow politics very deeply. He asked me what the whole NSA/FISA thing was about, and I explained it to him. He said, "I don't really care, if they keep me safe. If they spy on my internet use, so what? I'm not doing anything wrong."
My friend will still vote Democratic. But there are many, many others who won't. And until we convince the American public that we will keep us safe better than the other guys--and Iran gives us the perfect opportunity. You may think that Iran will just be another foreign policy opportunity for the Republicans to exploit, but I counter that national security is not open to just one party to exploit. It's our national security too, dammit. I believe in what Wes Clark told me just this past Saturday:
our best hope is to take back one House of Congress. And the best way to do that is to talk national security and challenge them on it head-to-head.
And we now have the perfect opportunity. Iran has been in the news a lot lately, and we can either take advantage of it or we can fail to and let it take advantage of us.
Picture two different possible scenarios. In one, our congress, as the minority party, does its best to extract information to be released to the public about all the scandals of this administration, trying increasingly and ever more fervently to capitalize on a "throw the bums out" mentality that is currently rather pervasive among the electorate. Meanwhile, the Bush administration proudly announces the withdrawal of some forces from Iraq, boosting his public opinion polls. All the while, the Republican machine continues to ratchet up the rhetoric about the grave threat posed by Iran and their nuclear ambitions. By the time the Democratic leaders get their act organized enough to respond, Fox News will be introducing every other international news segment with the background "Iran: imminent nuclear threat." Chris Matthews will have Nagourney from the New York Times on his show, talking about the next scandal to hit the airwaves, and concluding his segment with "the Democrats are so desperate to bring down this administration that they're willing to let their country get nuked in the process." As tensions rise and unreliable intelligence is leaked to the public, tensions grow and the nation rallies around the current leadership, which keeps on repeating the mantra that they will keep us all safe from the imminent threat and makes everyone who disagrees out to be an unkempt granola-eating pacifist. End result: the Republicans keep their majority in 2006 and solidify their ability to maintain their assault on the democratic process.
By contrast, consider the scenario in which we follow Wes Clark's lead and challenge them about national security, and Iran in specific, before all the chips are out on the table and the Republican machine fires up the rhetoric on Iran. Imagine a scenario in which all of our Democratic leaders--led by our fighting Dems running for Congress and Senate, backed by our current Senators, and backed by our 2008 Presidental frontrunners, including a Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Imagine that we keep on repeating that Iran is a decade away from building a bomb, and that an attack will not increase our long-term security, but will fan the flames of fundamentalism while distracting from the more imminent threat of already extant nuclear material falling into terrorist hands. Imagine all of our leaders continuing to repeat that we need to have talks with Iran directly, rather than outsourcing our diplomacy to Europe like we outsourced getting Osama to Afghan Warlords.
Imagine after this that every time the Republicans ratcheted up the rhetoric on Iran that we responded every single time with the talking point that the Republicans are trying to use a military solution that is unwise and counterproductive to distract from the scandals that are plaguing the Republican leadership in the White House and Congress--the same effective argument the Republicans used against Bill Clinton. Imagine the voting public going to the ballot box in 2006, consistently reminded of these issues and consistently reminded of the 50+ veterans we have running for office, compared to the 2 they have running.
If we do that, you'll be looking at a completely different dynamic come November. We must not continue to rely on their own errors and scandals to bring them down, expecting that pointing it out will be enough and that the public will eventually see the light. Instead, we have to trump them on the issue that allows the public to ignore them in first place.
Iran is the key.