The first Democratic primary

+ More

Never underestimate the Democrats' ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The war in Iraq is increasingly unpopular, as is the president–and the Republicans decided they needed to find a way to frame the debate.

The convenient, made-for-bumper-sticker slogan was easy: The Democrats want to cut and run; Republicans want to finish the mission. That's easy, all right, but quite misleading. Not all Democrats want to leave now, although some do. Others would like to see a timetable to begin withdrawal.

Welcome to campaign 2008. First, there's Sen. John Kerry, still fighting the last campaign in which he was pummeled as a flip-flopper. (Remember "I voted for the $87 billion...before I voted against it...") His vote for the war almost cost him the Democratic nomination, and he's not going to make that mistake again, no, sirree. So he proposed a plan to have the president bring most of the troops home within 13 months. It failed, getting a measly 13 votes. One of those who supported him was Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a liberal also pondering a bid in 2008. Maybe it wasn't a bad move for either of them–as they try to raise money and interest from the liberal party activists. Never mind that Kerry's proposal angered lots of his fellow Democrats, who felt he forced their vote in a way that only played into the hands of Republicans calling the Democrats the "cut and run" party.

But, hey, Sen. Hillary Clinton– also a 2008 contender – didn't follow Kerry. She voted for another Democratic amendment, which did not have a specific deadline for troop withdrawal. She's courting moderates in every arena–and this is no different. In fact, while Kerry has come out and said that his vote for the war was a mistake, Hillary has not gone as far. She wishes she'd had more information, she says, so she could have made a more enlightened decision. But she doesn't ever say it was a mistake. So watch for Dems to argue about that, too.

Then there's Sen. Joe Lieberman, an ex-Democratic presidential contender who is clearly not going to be one again. In fact, Lieberman supports the war–so much that he did not vote for either Democratic proposal. He is facing a tough antiwar primary opponent in Connecticut, and this vote will not help Lieberman in his efforts to retain his seat. Whether you agree or disagree, his decision was about belief....No wonder he'll never run again for president.