Instead of drawing contrasts with Democrats, the president’s call for creating military tribunals to try terror suspects — a key substantive and political component of his fall agenda — has erupted into a remarkably intense clash pitting some of the best-known warriors in the Republican Party against Mr. Bush and the Congressional leadership....I think it is good for congressional Republicans -- however it affects them in the elections -- to think and debate independently of the President. And I wonder how much they really "concede" this is a "distraction" for them. It looked as though they wanted to spend this time distinguishing themselves from the Democrats and driving home the message that Democrats don't care enough about national defense. But if they'd all just gotten into line and done exactly what the President wants, it would firm up the Democrats argument that the congressional Republicans are just following the President, that they don't exercise any significant oversight, and that they've lost track of American values of fairness and decency.
Democrats have so far remained on the sidelines, sidestepping Republican efforts to draw them into a fight over Mr. Bush’s leadership on national security heading toward the midterm election. Democrats are rapt spectators, however, shielded by the stern opposition to the president being expressed by three Republicans with impeccable credentials on military matters: Senators John McCain of Arizona, John W. Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The three were joined on Thursday by Colin L. Powell, formerly the secretary of state and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in challenging the administration’s approach....
Republicans concede that the fight among themselves is a major political distraction, particularly given the credentials of the Republican opposition, led by Mr. McCain, the former prisoner of war in Vietnam who was tortured in captivity....
House Republicans say the Senate plan is misguided and will hobble the American military. Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it would lead to “the lawyer brigade” being attached to combat troops to counsel detainees.
Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said: “I just think John McCain is wrong on this. If we capture bin Laden tomorrow and we have to hold his head under water to find out when the next attack is going to happen, we ought to be able to do it.”
For the Republicans to debate among themselves should make a positive impression on people: it shows that they aren't mere puppets of the President, that they are taking the entire controversy seriously, and that they are not merely suckers for every national security argument that comes along but are capable of weighing the countervailing factors competently.
The Democrats, it seems to me, have to convince us that unless they gain substantial power in Congress, important values will go unserved. You know those Republicans. They'll lunge blindly forward at every mention of the phrase "national security." But if the Republicans themselves demonstrate their ability to weigh all the considerations in a sophisticated and mature fashion, there's much less reason to want to empower Democrats, who -- we may fear -- will only undervalue national security and fall prey to excessive enthusiasm for protecting the enemy.
So I think that despite the discord among the Republicans, a contrast between Republicans and Democrats is being drawn, and it may -- perhaps unintentionally -- make Republicans more palatable to moderate voters in the next election. And then there is '08... and McCain is inspiring respect right now.
ADDED: The linked article is attracting commentary, some bloggers are stating opposition to the President's proposal, and some, like me, address the political dynamics. Rightwing Nuthouse says:
[T[he fact that the debate is taking place almost solely and exclusively among Republicans and conservatives says volumes about the cynicism and lack of courage on the part of Democrats in both houses of Congress.It's hard to resists standing back and letting your opponents beat each other up, but, as I've said, you risk looking irrelevant or worse. Here's Matthew Yglesias:
[B]y relying on McCain et. al. to do the heavily lifting, Democrats are essentially denying themselves the possiblity of reaping whatever rewards may exist for standing up for basic decency and morality against Bush's depredations....There's also the fact that it means something different when Republicans stand up to the President and when they back off a step from national security. The Democrats can't do the same thing. They've been opposing Bush for everything they can think of for the longest time, and they have a reputation for undervaluing national security that they would only call more attention to. So they're keeping a low profile, and, as Yglesias says, looking pretty timid and scared.
[I]f you worry that liberals are timid and easily frightened, well, then this is some fairly timid and frightened-looking behavior....
CORRECTION NOTED: A commenter shames me out of using "forefront" as a verb, a problem I'd never given one second of thought to before. The dictionary doesn't support it, and Googling "forefronting," I get only 10 hits. But it should be a verb, and maybe if I'd left it, I'd get to be the quote in the OED for "forefront" as a verb, if the OED counted bloggers, I mean, which it'd be a fool to do. Anyway, "front" is a verb, and "forego" is a verb. QED.