It seems to me that the dire condition of the Republicans in congress is due, almost entirely, to their own neglect and incompetence. Their current electoral disadvantage is largely a matter of their inability to respond appropriately to the propagation of two caustic memes: 1. That the US is losing the War in Iraq and the larger War on Terror; and 2. That Mark Foley's pederasty somehow tars anyone other than himself. During today's Meet the Press Bob Woodward was treated to a profoundly sympathetic interview by Tim Russert. Not only did Russert loft a few soft pitches directly over the plate, but it was clear that Woodward had been briefed on what questions would be asked so that he'd be able to prepare responses, ready with documentation and cites (something missing from most of his book). But the primary fault of the interview was that Russert failed to challenge the basic assumption of the book, without which it reduces to total incoherence: that the US is losing. If that assumption is challenged the entire premise of State of Denial becomes evidence of a state of denial by Woodward and his supporters, about the actual condition of the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. It's also an indictment of the mainstream media's ability to make sense of facts... a flaw from which the conventional wisdom would not recover were it given reasonable credence. And by their self imposed incapacity to make a defense one could almost suspect Republicans of complicity in their own demise...
The basic assumption of the Woodward book, quite apart from its disregard for academic validation and transparency, is simply the mind-numbingly foolish contention that because an enemy continues to fight with some degree of ferocity we must have the wrong strategy, and we'll lose the fight unless we change strategies by choosing to fight with less intensity ourselves. If we'd used this same analytical paradigm during WWII we'd have given up the Pacific Campaign and the advance into France, because the most ferocious fighting happened near the end of the war: at Iwo Jima and the Bulge. Furthermore Woodward's support of his thesis, the argument that attacks are increasing, avoids mention of the equally salient fact that lethality is declining. US casualties in Iraq follow the trend of offensive operations, but have generally been declining, while those of the Iraqi forces have ticked up by 30%. Furthermore, a close look at the casualty trend suggests that although average casualties have remained about the same since the fall of Baghdad, the variation has decreased. The peaks and valleys are no longer as high or as low as they were in the past. This suggests that the persistence of the opposition is based not on a growth in recruitment and resources due to anger at the US, but on the continued perception that if they keep up the fight the US will eventually just give up and go home. And it also suggests that, in spite of what Woodward claims, violence is being slowly contained. In other words they're still fighting with some ferocity because they have faith in Bob Woodward and the Democrats.
Of course, the US is going home eventually anyway... though not because we're losing. Rather, we are gradually handing off responsibility for the war to Iraqi security forces (h/t: Good Lt). What's happening, in other words, is something precisely analogous to what was happening toward the end of WWII... when the tide of war was turning decisively against the Axis causing them to reach deeply into their dwindling resources in a "hail Mary" attempt to influence perceptions. Al Qaeda itself recognizes this, even if Woodward doesn't. Thus, it becomes a question of whether one chooses to believe Bob Woodward or Al Qaeda concerning the state of the war.
Russert could have brought some of these issues up, but didn't. That's understandable in a sense. Selling the story that the US had lost in Vietnam, over the empirical fact that we were winning that war, established the American Mainstream Media dominance that secured positions, careers and privilege for the next thirty years. The ability to over-ride an empirical fact is one of the most profound demonstrations of power that can be imagined, so one can understand why Russert would have a desire to repeat the hat trick. But what one can't really forgive is the inability of the Republican establishment to effectively counter these memes, or even summon the desire to try. As they carp and grouse about who is responsible for an inappropriate but non-criminal act it's easy to see how they might swing wildly at a curveball delivered in the general neighborhood of the plate. But strike two is still strike two. There won't be any do-overs, and if they can't take advantage of reality to counter an outright defeatist fantasy perhaps they deserve to lose. Strike one was high and outside, strike two low and inside. Any bets where the next pitch will be?