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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Saturday, March 31, 2007

the president versus the people

I've been looking for a simple and direct formula to characterize the impending standoff between the President and Congress over Iraq. The most direct way to express this stand off, in my view, is this:

The mid-term elections of November 2006, if they meant anything, reflected the desire of a clear majority of the American electorate for a change of course leading to a withdrawal of United States combat forces from Iraq.

It goes without saying that voters saw this change as happening in the near term. A change of course taking effect on any slower timeline...ie. after the 2008 election cycle...would make the 2006 mid-term elections meaningless.

The "stand off," then, between the President and Congress is, in point of fact, actually a double stand off between the President and a clear majority of the American electorate. I say double stand off for this reason.

First, the voters did not vote for, and by and large, do not support, the current administration policy of a surge/escalation of combat forces in Iraq. In fact, in November of 2006 they voted for the exact opposite policy.

Second, a change of course leading to a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq is something the voters voted to see to happen in the near term. ie. Even if the "on the ground" reality in Iraq takes some months to show the effect of that transition, the voters want an immediate overarching policy change.

The current funding legislation set to clear both houses of Congress reflects both of these conditions while at the same time giving the executive branch a great deal of sway. ie. While both the Senate and House measures authorize funding for the troops currently deployed in Irag, both measures, at the same time, also establish a formal change of course in Iraq with 2008 as the zone for that change of course to take full effect.

What we have then, is not so much a disagreement between the President and the Congress over U.S. policy in Iraq, but a rift between the President and the American electorate.

The voters did NOT vote for the current Bush surge in November 2006. No fair-minded political observer dare suggest otherwise.

Further, since every public opinion poll before and after the election clearly indicates the voter's desire for a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, it begs the question then, if that transition does not begin to take full effect in 2008, a presidential election year, when would it happen, and why did we even bother to hold elections in 2006?

That is the crux of the political meaning of the stand off between this President and the current Congress. In order to veto this funding legislation, the president, politically, must nullify and negate the will of the voters clearly expressed in the 2006 elections.

Now, it is in this President's interests to characterize his argument as simply a partisan disagreement with Democrats in Congress. That is, however, simply not the case.

We held an election in November of 2006 and this President's policies and party were soundly defeated. Despite that, he has been given every penny, and more, he asked from the current Congress. Is the President suggesting that the legislators in Congress owe him more deference than they give to the will of the voters they represent?

From the moment George W. Bush rejected the suggestions of Iraq Study Group and moved to push the current surge in Iraq he embarked on a political path that put him at loggerheads not simply with the new Congress, but with the American electorate itself.

The best way to express this political moment, then, is the formulation: the president versus the people.

The meaning and import of that phrase, more than anything else, is what we will see play out over the next weeks.