Thursday, September 07, 2006

When a Republican refers to his own leaders as "armchair politicians," you know he must be in trouble

The Democrats won’t capture the House in November unless they can knock off some heretofore unbeatable Republican congressmen -- Curt Weldon, for example. He has reigned supreme in his suburban Philadelphia district since the Reagan era, winning every time in his customary biennial landslide.

At the moment, however, Weldon epitomizes the GOP’s national political woes. This time he faces a credible challenger -- Joe Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral, who has raised some real money -- and he has to stump for re-election as the local representative of a Republican White House that is broadly unpopular in his seventh congressional district. Worse yet for Weldon, his district has been trending Democratic over the past six years (thanks in part to migrants from Philadelphia); in 2000, voters there backed Al Gore over George W. Bush, and in 2004, they backed John Kerry over Bush.

All this undoubtedly explains why Weldon has now deemed it necessary to devise a creative way to demonstrate a bit of distance from Bush. Clearly he thinks he might be in trouble; why else would he have crafted a House resolution decreeing that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces should be stripped of the authority to decide when to withdraw the soldiers from Iraq?

The Hill, a respected newspaper that covers Congress, reports today: “The resolution (contends) that military commanders should put in place a system of criteria to assess the capability of Iraqi security forces. Once those criteria are met, the mission in Iraq would be considered complete and the president could begin withdrawing troops.”

In other words, the commanders in the field have more credibility to make the decision than the president or his top war planners.

Is my interpretation too strong? Not according to what Weldon told The Hill. He said that the commanding generals are “the ones we’re paying to do the job. They know what the criteria are, they’re the best to assess the readiness of the Iraqi brigades. They determine the timetable for bringing the troops back home.he commanders.” Under his plan, “There’s no armchair politician back here making those decisions, whether it’s an elected member of Congress or even the secretary of the defense.”

Armchair politician...That’s not a very nice thing to say about Donald Rumsfeld, but that’s politics when the heat is on back home. Not even the Senate Democrats went this far last summer, when they voted for an Iraq resolution calling on Bush to accelerate the transition to a limited troop presence in Iraq; they at least felt that the decision on troop levels should stay in Bush’s hands.

This is all symbolism, anyway; resolutions don’t have the force of law. But Weldon is aiming for some PR that would demonstrate he’s not in lockstep with Bush. He clearly realizes that his usual landslide margin of re-election victory (35 points or more) won’t be replicated this year; nor will his 2004 victory margin (19 points, his worst ever -- and a signal that his district was changing).

So here’s my advice: watch the Weldon race. If he goes down on Nov. 7, it probably means that the GOP House majority is doomed.