Saturday, January 20, 2007
Escalatio, again: "Gordon Smith is an equivocating fool" edition
Apparently, Oregon's Republican Senator, Gordon Smith--who has been painfully ambivalent about the Iraq war for some time now--has come out against the Biden/Levin/Hagel measure opposing the Bush escalation plan. (h/t BlueOregon.)
His reason? The language of the bill is too inflammatory because it explicitly refers to the Bush plan as an "escalation"--which is apparently a "partisan" word choice.
So Smith, who claims to support a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq, refuses to support one of the few moves the Senate can make to open up the possibility of such a withdrawal--because of word choice?
I understand that Smith, as a Republican in a blue state with a potentially-difficult re-election bid coming up next year, is in a very awkward position, and his attempt to triangulate some middle ground position on the war makes sense. He can't afford to alienate either the truly crazy rural Oregonian Republican base or the "moderate" suburban voters who have lately turned against the war in a big way. I fail to see, however, how he's going to win any votes whatsoever by refusing to support a bill that should be the logical consequence of a position he's already taken due to what can charitably be described as a semantic quibble.
As many before me have noted, the Republican Party has had remarkable success in the past several years in controlling the terms of "respectable" political debate: not only the underlying assumptions, but literally the terms, the specific words used to describe things. There have been some missteps--such as the amusing moment in 2005 when Bush was for "private accounts" for Social Security before he was against them and in favor of something totally different called "personal accounts"--but for the most part their efforts have succeeded so handily that we rarely even notice the effort on their part.
I don't think it's going to work this time, though. I suppose it's pretty obvious why Bush and other war hawks would prefer the manly-sounding "SURGE" to the Vietnam-echoing "escalation", but since what they propose fits the literal dictionary definition of escalation, it's hard to see them winning the semantic fight here. It's not possible to change the words people use to describe things simply by applying blunt force PR trauma. The Republicans can't just rename the escalation plan "the absolutely most perfectest increase in heroic warrior presence resulting in free lunches and cute fuzzy bunnies for all" and expect people to accept it; if the plan calls for increasing troop levels and combat intensity, it's an escalation plan, and that's what people are going to call it.
I don't know what Smith thinks he can accomplish by getting involved in this idiotic, substance-free dispute. I do know that I hope now, more than ever, and irrespective of his alleged new-found opposition to the war, that the good people of Oregon will see fit to rid our state of this embarrassment in 2008.
(P.S., the image above comes from a truly astonishing nugget of online pop-culture nostalgia: SaveSURGE.org, a site devoted to preserving the memory of the short-lived 90s soda.)