When the shoe goes on the other foot — but it doesn’t fit

WHEN THE SHOE GOES ON THE OTHER FOOT — BUT IT DOESN’T FIT…. It’s not at all surprising that the Democratic National Committee is pouncing on RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s bizarre remarks on the war in Afghanistan. It is surprising how far the DNC is willing to go with its message.

About two hours ago, the DNC issued a statement arguing that Steele is “betting against our troops” and “rooting for failure” in Afghanistan — and that was just the headline. It went on to say that Steele’s apparent opposition to the war suggests the RNC chairman is prepared to “walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job.” The statement added that it’s “unconscionable” for Steele to “undermine the morale of our troops,” concluding that Steele “would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences.”

Greg Sargent responded to this with a very compelling take, arguing that this kind of rhetoric comes from “Karl Rove’s playbook.”

Are liberal Dems who have made much the same case about Afghanistan also “rooting for failure” and “betting against our troops”? The DNC would argue that this is a different situation — that Steele’s argument isn’t in good faith. It cuts against what he himself has said in the past — that we must win — and is at odds with his entire party. Also, they’d argue that coming from a party leader, his words really do have consequences for troop morale and for the war effort.

But Steele didn’t “root for failure” anywhere. And he isn’t really “betting against our troops.” He’s saying that this an inherently unwinnable situation, however brave and tough the troops are. I don’t know if that’s what he believes, but that’s what he said.

Greg’s right. I don’t doubt that the urge at the DNC to give the RNC a taste of its own medicine is pretty intense, but when DNC messages about a war in 2010 are effectively identical to RNC messages about a war in 2004, there’s a problem.

Part of me sympathizes with DNC staffers reading Greg’s post and thinking, “We just can’t win. Everyone tells us to play rough and be just as vicious as the RNC, but when we do, we’re criticized by the left and right.” I get that, and I know why it seems unfair.

For that matter, I haven’t forgotten the Bush/Cheney years, and the disgusting rhetoric Republicans used to attack any American who voiced disagreement over the war(s). Dissent was equated with disloyalty. Words like “treason,” “traitor,” and “fifth columnists,” weren’t just thrown around casually, they were literally a daily part of the public discourse.

But Republicans were wrong at the time, and such tactics are still wrong now. If the DNC wants to exploit Steele’s remarkable comments for all their worth, that’s more than fair. But once the DNC starts equating opposition to the war with “rooting for failure” and “undermining the morale of our troops,” the party is reading from the wrong script.