In a July 10 article examining the effect of the Iraq war on the 2008 presidential race, The Politico quoted Mark Salter, an adviser to the presidential campaign of Republican candidate Sen. John McCain (AZ), asserting, "It's one thing for (Democrats) to say, 'Get out,' or 'Redeploy,' or 'Divide the country into thirds' ... But it's another to say, 'We won't fund the troops.' That, I think, will be a pretty costly mistake in the general election. You had 150,000 troops in the country, and you voted not to resupply them with armor. ... Those things are easy to point out." Salter appeared to be criticizing those Democrats, who, on May 24, voted against a war funding bill that did not include a binding timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The Politico did not note, however, that McCain himself recently voted against an emergency spending bill that funded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That bill passed the Senate by a vote of 51-47 on March 29 and was reconciled in conference with a similar House version. Bush ultimately vetoed the bill on May 2, citing its provision for a withdrawal timetable.
This is not the first time the media have quoted McCain or his staff attacking Democrats for their votes against one of the Iraq war funding bills without noting McCain's own vote against a war funding bill. As Media Matters for America noted, both the Associated Press' Liz Sidoti and NBC News congressional correspondent Chip Reid uncritically quoted from McCain's May 25 statement criticizing Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) for voting against the version of the funding bill that did not include a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Neither Sidoti nor Reid noted McCain's March 29 vote.
From the July 10 Politico article by senior political writer David Paul Kuhn:
Democrats are heading into the 2008 election with what, at first glance, looks to be a historic opportunity: For the first time in decades, they are facing Republicans on terms of rough parity -- and possibly even superiority -- on national security issues. Polls show the public trusts Democrats as much as or more than Republicans to keep the country safe, a dramatic reversal from President Bush's first term.
These numbers may mean that Democrats have vanquished the ghost of the Vietnam era, when liberal activists won the debate about ending the war but, in the process, gave the party a reputation among many voters for being too dovish to lead on a dangerous planet.
But some political analysts say they believe the McGovern experience could be repeated again, as the party's presidential candidates compete to win the favor of anti-war Democrats while leaving themselves vulnerable to charges of weakness in a general election.
This uncertainty is one reason the leading Democratic candidates are trying to run as hawk and dove simultaneously. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), for instance, are both moving rhetorically and substantively against the Iraq war while calling for an increased military presence to fight terrorists in Afghanistan.
As far back as the Eisenhower years, Gallup was recording consistent preferences for Republicans on military issues.
But if the mood of the country has changed, Democrats are plainly still laboring to project that opposition to Bush's handling of the Iraq war -- most polls show the public agrees with them -- does not mean they are uncomfortable with military force.
Republicans are banking that this is a distinction Democrats cannot sustain and that votes by Clinton and Obama to defund the war effort would damage either one as a general election nominee. A similar vote by 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) -- while former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean pressed Kerry from the anti-war base -- combined with his inept public explanations, shadowed him through the general election.
"It's one thing for (Democrats) to say, 'Get out,' or 'Redeploy,' or 'Divide the country into thirds,'" said Mark Salter, a counselor to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "But it's another to say, 'We won't fund the troops.' That, I think, will be a pretty costly mistake in the general election.
"You had 150,000 troops in the country, and you voted not to resupply them with armor," Salter added. "Those things are easy to point out."