DEFENDING THE WAR….Atrios points out something interesting today: the Senate decided to pass the $87 billion Iraq aid package by a voice vote, thus freeing members from casting individual votes. That much I knew. But a moment’s thought leads you to the obvious corollary: Republicans control the Senate, which means it was Republicans, not just Democrats, who didn’t want to be tied down to a firm yea or nay.

Now, The Hill reports that every Republican they talked to said the voice vote was a big mistake. Inexplicable, really. How could they do it? But then the story adds laconically:

None of those Republicans who criticized the way the issue was handled singled out [Majority Leader Bill] Frist by name. One reason is that any single senator could have demanded a roll call vote when party leaders ?hotlined it? ? a process used to contact senators about pending legislation.

This gets back to my comment yesterday about George Bush’s unwillingness to really make the case for staying in Iraq. Not a few platitudes here and there, not macho throwaways about America never running from an enemy, but an entire address to the nation that presents a genuine, broad-based vision of what we’re doing over there and why it’s worth hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. And just as Bush’s unwillingness to do this sends a message that he doesn’t really have a good case to make, the Senate’s voice vote sends a message that Republican lawmakers were vaguely ashamed of their vote and just wanted to sneak it through with no one the wiser.

Ditto for the military’s decision to ban photographers from taking pictures of flag-draped coffins, and ditto again for the PR campaign to blame the media for the administration’s own problems ? the traditional last refuge of politicians who have run out of genuine arguments.

I think Americans are pretty good at telling when someone really believes what they’re saying and when they don’t, and George Bush and the Republican party are not acting like a group that has a deeply felt vision that they’re proud to defend. It’s going to cost them.