As you now know, Iraq vet Paul Hackett came within 3,500 votes of claiming the most Republican seat in the Ohio Congressional delegation. Many of my friends in the liberal blogosphere have taken his astonishing performance to mean that there’s a tidal wave brewing for our side, just like 1994 proved tidal for the Republicans.
I’d urge caution, for a number of reasons. Michael Crowley, in an article for The New Republic (email me or leave a comment if you’d like to read the story), gets into it a bit. I want to address it from my particular angle, as an Iraq vet who’s been involved (and likely will get involved again) in politics.
First, finding a candidate like Paul Hackett is well-nigh impossible.
While there are other Iraq vets running for office (like Pat Murphy in
Pennsylvania), the numbers are simply not there yet. And the fact of
the matter is, guys like Murphy, Hackett, and to a far lesser degree
myself, have to essentially square a circle: how do you run as a vet of
a war that you oppose? Like Murphy, I’m neither pro-Iraq-war nor
anti-Iraq-war; I’m pro-troops.
I’ve found that one of the biggest problems facing vets from this war (and Afghanistan, too) is that beyond the superficial gestures of support (such as splashing a ribbon on your car), most Americans are frankly detached from this war. As Paul Rieckhoff and many others have said, Americans don’t have a dog in this fight. Unless you know someone in the service, the Iraq war is simply something that resides in the nether regions of the country’s consciousness–you may see a bombing in Baghdad and feel bad about it, but that’s about it.
More to the point, Hackett was a straight-shooting (both literally and metaphorically) candidate. I don’t know how many Hackett-like candidates we have in the wings, but my gut tells me they don’t exist in great numbers. And even if they do, they face certain challenges in that oftentimes, their stands on certain issues run counter to the base–and again, Iraq figures greatly in that conjecture.
Time and again, Hackett stated that even though we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, now that we were there, we had a responsibility to stay until the mission was complete. How many folks would have been comfortable knowing that if a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq was introduced on the floor of the House, Hackett would likely have voted against it?
Or take his stand on guns (largely pro-gun). I’ve stated offline, time and again, that the main reason our appeal on guns fails is because the primary use of guns isn’t hunting or sport-shooting; it’s self-defense. To make it really simple for all of you: guns are the adult security blanket. People buy them to protect themselves and their families. The reason Democrats fail in this issue is because people really do think that Democrats, by taking their guns away, will make them vulnerable. Until we recognize that and embrace that, we’ll never neutralize (never mind win) the gun issue. And, frankly, the gun issue is a huge part of the reason why Democrats lose in areas that we should otherwise win.
Finally, let me touch on one other issue that Democrats have chosen to focus on as a bedrock issue: CAFTA. I’ll be the first one to admit that my expertise in trade issues is well-nigh nonexistent, and so I’ll gladly defer to folks like Matt Yglesias, Josh Marshall, and Nate Newman on this. But I get the feeling that CAFTA is way too complex of an issue, with far too negligible of an impact nationwide, to have much use as a bedrock issue.
I’ve heard many, many folks in places like MyDD slamming members of Congress like Melissa Bean and talking about challenging them in primaries. I’d caution that before we do that, that we consider that it might be wise to consider that members could use a bit of flexibility. I think things like CAFTA are successful in the context of taking out members of the opposition whose districts are stricken by CAFTA, but I don’t know that that, by itself, is the kind of thing that causes voters to line up by our banner.