How much opposition to the Iraq War must be expressed in America before Congress takes note and does something?
This simple question tears away the veneer of antiwar platitudes and pro-democracy rhetoric that spews from the nation’s capital. It has been four months since voters delivered an antiwar mandate, and the Washington establishment no longer pretends to care about the public will.
As opposition to the war has increased and as the progressive movement has demanded action from Congress, Beltway voices have expressed their disgust with democracy. In November, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on national television to say that the war “may not be popular with the public – it doesn’t matter.” In March, Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D‑S.D.) attacked Democratic proposals to end the war: “I don’t think we should be overreacting to public opinion polls.”
The same disdain for voters is expressed by the corporate media. In early March, the New York Times reported that the most intensely antiwar Democrats are on the “fringe,” despite the Times’ own poll showing growing public outrage at the war. This followed the paper’s columnist David Brooks, who lashed out at those who would challenge pro-war Democrats: “Polarized primary voters shouldn’t be allowed to define the choices in American politics.”
These statements imply opposition to the war is recent, fleeting and somehow illegitimate. But since August 2003 – a few months after the invasion – polls have consistently shown that Americans think the Bush administration misled us into Iraq, and that Congress should put the brakes on the war. By the eve of the 2006 election, polls showed opposition to the Iraq War at an all-time high.
After the election, as President Bush announced his plan to escalate the war and congressional Democrats responded with non-binding resolutions, a CNN poll found that a strong majority wants Congress to cut off funding for the so-called “surge.” Meanwhile a Washington Post poll found that a majority of Americans want a timeline for withdrawal and want Congress to do what it takes to stop Bush’s escalation – positions the corporate media would have us believe are “fringe” and people like Herseth et al. oppose in the name of faux “centrism” and “not overreacting.”
So what to do?
First, progressives can look for alternative routes of pressure. Washington politicians may ignore polls, but they might feel less comfortable ignoring their own state governments. With the help of the Progressive States Network, resolutions demanding Congress stop President Bush’s military escalation in Iraq have been introduced in 29 states and passed chambers in Iowa, California, Vermont, New Jersey and North Dakota.
An interaction featured on YouTube illustrates a second critical point. The video shows activists aggressively criticizing Rep. David Obey (D‑Wisc.) for not doing enough to end the war. Obey reminds them that he voted against the war and has used his position on the Appropriations Committee to try to slow down the administration’s actions in Iraq. But, he says, the Democratic votes do not yet exist to cut off funding for the war.
Congress members must be pressured in a targeted fashion to help lawmakers like Obey garner the votes needed for strong action. Conversely, blanket attacks potentially alienate the allies we do have – like the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who are thankfully starting to play hardball with the Democratic leadership on the war.
The cop-out for progressives is to declare a pox on Capitol Hill and give up. That’s what the anti-democratic zealots in Washington want us to do, and why their attacks on the majority of Americans become ever more shrill. But the louder they squeal, the more we know we are closer to our goal. If the progressive movement perseveres and picks its targets carefully, Congress will be forced to end this war.