Political analyst extraordinaire Charlie Cook says that while Democratic poll numbers are plummeting right now -- because they backed down to President Bush on the question of Iraq funding -- their stance will pay dividends in 2008.
Did congressional Democrats make a mistake by switching to a more cautious approach, passing a war funding bill with no strings rather than one with a timetable that would be vetoed -- a veto they could not override? Clearly, this move has antagonized many voters with strong anti-war feelings. But with no hope of overriding presidential vetoes anytime soon, Democrats would have run the risk of being portrayed as leaving U.S. troops in the field without adequate resources once the current spending bill expired.
Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans appear to be nearing the end of their rope on Iraq. Democrats will continue applying pressure to Bush and his fellow Republicans until someone breaks. When that happens, the balance may tip in Democrats' favor on this issue.
In short, Democratic leaders have opted for short-term pain in exchange for long-term gain. Anti-war forces are upset that the Democratic Party is not storming the ramparts every week. However, in November 2008, anti-war voters are very unlikely to defect to the GOP, stay home, or participate in another narcissistic exercise like backing Ralph Nader. That didn't work so well for them in 2000.
I've argued before that Democrats are likely to do well in 2008 if the major issue that voters are considering is Iraq. If however, the US has significantly stepped down its presence in Iraq, voters are unlikely to attach much significance to the issue. (Consider how quickly Winston Churchill and George Bush 41 were dumped by the voters after WWII and the first Gulf War.)
Rather, the lasting effect of this debate is likely to be the same as was the effect of the fight over Vietnam: Democrats will have lost credibility on national security and military issues, and their presidential nominee will suffer significantly as a result. It's interesting that the persistent frontrunner on the Democratic side has prominently separated herself from the other contenders, with her continued efforts to seem like her party's 'hawk.' It is because she realizes that as the frontrunner, there is no reason to handicap herself in a general election.