Horse race moderates! What are they good for?

Cokie Roberts is doing her weekly bit on NPR this morning and, as usual, I'm perplexed. Word is that the Republicans have responded to recent Democratic criticism of the war effort with a political attack aimed at painting Democrats as weak on defense. As Roberts tells the story, this has caught Democrats by surprise and created a real political problem for them. How can Democratic leaders like Hillary Clinton maintain a moderate stance on Iraq without alienating the increasingly anti-war Democratic base?

The answer, quite obviously, is that they can't. The peace wing of the Democratic Party won't compromise on Iraq again. Last time around, lots of us let the horse race analysts badger us into supporting a candidate who refused to launch an all out critique of a war that we knew to be a disaster. Kerry's candidicy was an enervating failure. Why on earth would we go through that again?

Contrary to the assumptions of analysts like Roberts, the Democratic response to a Republican attack need not be a retreat to the soft comfortable middle. Another strategy, and really the only strategy available to the Democrats given the politics of the base, would be for Democrats to intensify their critique of the war. Roberts and her horse race loving fellow travellers are right that there are politcal hurdles along that route. What they can't seem to see is that the questions for analysts to be asking are about clearing those hurdles rather than about avoiding them.

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