News of the Weak: Can Republicans Escape the Legacy of the War?

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Politico assesses the progress congressional Democrats have made in blocking funding for the war in Iraq and put forward this metric as measure of success:

Since taking the majority, they have forced 40 votes on bills limiting President Bush’s war policy.

Only one of those has passed both chambers, even though both are run by Democrats. That one was vetoed by Bush.

Indeed, the only war legislation enacted during this Congress has been to give the president exactly what he wants, and exactly what he has had for the past five years: more money, with no limitations.

They paired with analysis from’s Charles Franklin that sees a slight uptick in public opinion on the war and seem to conclude that the war may be “neutralized” as an issue in 2008.

But Franklin’s analysis is worth reading in full. He makes no predictions about the trends he sees — which, he emphasizes, are “marginal” to begin with, but instead argues that these small shifts simply show that the war is not the immovable, negative weight it once was. It’s a slightly more malleable negative weight:

Let’s be clear: the trend estimate is that only 38% think the war is going well, while 58% say it is not going well. The balance remains on the pessimistic side and by a 20 point margin. What I am talking about is the change in trend and the shift of marginal opinion. But that is a telling indicator. On election day 2 years ago today, the partisan war for public opinion seemed to have decisively shifted to the Democratic view. The notion that there was nothing the White House could do to reverse their public losses of support was widespread. But the last 10 months show that indeed there was something that could change and this change is important.

I would quibble with the parallel construction he puts forward to explain the shift, however:

Republicans (including the president) have made real progress in swaying opinion to their side, while 10 months of Democratic efforts have failed to persuade citizens that the war continues to be a disaster. The war of partisan persuasion has tilted towards the Republicans and away from the Democrats, at least in this particular aspect.

I haven’t looked at the numbers closely enough, so there may be data that backs up the idea that the Republicans are actively responsible for bringing a small percentage of the public around to their point of view, but I don’t buy it. I think news of the occasional military successes in Iraq, combined with an absence of the kind of horror stories we saw a year ago are probably more important. And no matter whatever small uptick of support exists for the war now, there is no way for Republicans to uncouple themselves from the bad planning and shameless propaganda that defined the war as a disaster in the months leading up to the surge. Put it another way: I don’t think Americans will forget that Republicans got us into the war and Republicans screwed up the war. For the party in general, those are mistakes that will never be erased, only mitigated, unless, perhaps, Republicans figure out a way to end the war, a challenge made all the more difficult by the arrogance and incompetence that marked the way they started it.

SHORTER ME: If a mere 20 point deficit separates support for the war from opposition to it, it’s still a pretty f—ing unpopular war.

UPDATE: Joe makes a good point below as to the challenges the Democrats face in not “neutralizing” the war as winning issue for themselves.