But it is still difficult to understand the Democrats' strategy here. They failed to try to mount a filibuster because they feared being attacked as coddlers of the terrorists. But now they voted against the bill in large numbers, thereby ensuring those exact accusations will be made anyway -- and made loudly (the White House already started today). Yet they absented themselves the whole time from the debate (until they magically appeared today), spent the last several weeks only tepidly (at most) opposing the President's position, and thus lost the opportunity to defend and advocate the position they took today in any meaningful way. As a result, the Democrats took a position today (opposition to this bill) which they have not really defended until today.
They make this same mistake over and over. Isn't this exactly what happened when they sort-of-supported-but-sort-of-opposed the Iraq war resolution in 2002 because they were afraid of being depicted as soft on terrorism, only to then be successfully depicted as soft on terrorism because they were too afraid to forcefully defend their position? It's true that fewer Democrats voted for the President's policy this time around, but it's equally true that they found their voice only on the last day of the debate -- on the day of the vote -- after disappearing for weeks while they let John McCain "debate" for them.
The more cynical among us might be tempted to think that they were trying to take stand against torture without really taking looking like they were taking a stand against torture. I'm beginning to understand what the Christian right feels when the Republicans try to pull the same fast one on abortion.
As for the demoralizing effect I was talking about, here's one of Kevin Drum's readers:
My wife and I have been lifelong Democrats and have contributed and worked on national and Ohio campaigns for the Democratic Party since 1988. This year we were actually looking forward to winning Ohio for the Democratic Party.
No longer. We're livid. We will not work, support or even vote for either Brown or Strickland. Judging from the reaction of many fellow Democrats, we're not alone.
Liberals across the country were waiting/hoping/praying for the Democratic Party to grow both some balls and some brains and kill two birds with one stone by both coming out against a reprehensible bill and fighting back against the GOP on national security and terrorism. They failed at both, and by trying to split the difference have come off only as moral cowards without an ounce of sense in their heads. The Democratic loss of credibility on national security is only dwarfed by the perception that looms in the minds of American voters; that Democrats don't really stand for anything, will bend with the breeze, and will always look to come out on the "right" side of an issue. The Democrats failed on this issue, and they failed badly. They've bitterly disappointed their most fervant supporters, continued their strategy of running away from Rovian attacks on their national security credibility, and proven in the minds of some voters yet again that Democrats have no principles they're willing to take a stand for. After these past couple of weeks, who could argue that they're wrong?