the big idea
Dogs and Democrats
Why Congress won't stop Bush's surge.
By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007, at 3:32 PM ET
Several decades ago, psychologist Martin Seligman developed his theory of " learned helplessness ." Subjected to repeated punishment, animals and humans often come to believe they have no control over what happens to them, whether they actually do or not. In Seligman's original experiment, dogs subjected to repeated electrical shocks would prostrate themselves and whine, even when escaping the abuse lay within their power.
As with canines, so with congressmen. In theory, Democrats now control a co-equal branch of government. In practice, they seem so traumatized by their years of mistreatment at the hands of a contemptuous executive that they continue to cower and simper whenever master waves a stick in their direction.
The first response one is tempted to make is that if there were no such thing as a self-professed Democrat and political pundit named Jacob Weisberg who supported for nine months the Iraqi war he now suggests Democrats should end, unilaterally, within days of taking power perhaps Democrats might be a tad less twitchy. Weisberg is still a charter member of the The War Was A Great Idea, It's Just Too Bad The Bush Administration Mismanaged It club; as such he might be expected to grant some leeway to Democrats (or wavering Republicans) who agreed with him then and still feel the war is worth one more push. But as we know, that's not how punditry operates.
Our second quick response is a two-parter: that's what you get when you ignore the requirements of Article I, Section 8, in the interests of so-called efficiency and a nostalgic wish for daddy to make those big decisions for everybody; and in a similar minor but controversial conflict in Indochina some years back it took a proposed escalation into another country before a rebellious Congress ever moved to cut off funds, and that was a good six years into complete debaclehood. Expecting the Democrats to do so now in a matter of days is absurd. Blame the voters in 2006 if you'd like; I'll save some for the staff of Slate circa 2003.
But our real answer is that in a less than perfect world (make that far from) it is the right move for Democrats to avoid using the purse at this point. It's wrong on the merits, it's wrong militarily, and it's wrong by all standards of decent behavior, but it's necessary that George Bush be saddled with the complete failure of his handling of the war and the Presidency (and by extension, that John McCain be toasted over the fire of a 120,000-troop "surge", but that's just a tangent). Everybody knows this is a last-gasp CYA and nothing more; not even the Bush administration believes what it's peddling. And the desperate final act is gonna blow up by next autumn, and by then maybe even Jacob Weisberg will have it figured out, provided Ken Pollack explains some of the finer points to him.*
*In that now-famous Slate Liberal Hawks' Mea Culpa coffee klatsch Weisberg said that so long as Pollack was fooled about WMDs then he, Weisberg, felt pretty good about having done likewise. It's a remark which, among other things, demonstrates the almost total lack of interest in fact which was required to have believed the Bush administration in the first place. It's an interesting re-read, since you get to see what sort of self-delusion had, by January of 2004, replaced the original self-delusion.