by E.J. Dionne Jr.
Washington - It's easy to understand why Democrats want Michael Steele to stay in the news. The Republican National Committee chairman is a wonderful distraction, a constant source of gaffes, laughs, clarifications and denials.
But Steele recently scored a victory of sorts, even though you wouldn't know it from the coverage: His comments on Afghanistan got Democrats to recite GOP talking points from the Bush era. Of course, those can be turned against anyone in either party who dares to question the direction of the war.
The most incendiary words came from the indefatigable Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic National Committee spokesman, who accused Steele of "betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan."
Woodhouse added: "It's simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement."
I have some empathy for Woodhouse, who must be weary of dealing with the other side's demagoguery day after day. He probably couldn't resist giving Republicans a taste of their own medicine. But this is dangerous stuff in a democracy and particularly perilous from a party that, less than two years ago, rightly insisted it could oppose the Bush administration's foreign policy on thoroughly patriotic grounds.
And Woodhouse's statement came shortly after 60 percent of House Democrats -- 153 in all -- voted for an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and two of his colleagues that would have required President Obama to present a plan by April for the "safe, orderly and expeditious redeployment" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The amendment, which drew support from nine Republicans, would also have allowed for a vote in Congress to stop additional war funding if withdrawal does not start by next July, when the administration has said it would begin reducing forces in Afghanistan.
It's thus not surprising that one person who took issue with Democrats who piled onto Steele was McGovern. "The reaction to Steele from some Democrats sounded like Dick Cheney," he said in an interview. "Democrats need to understand that our base is increasingly uncomfortable with this war."