The Tuesday, September 19, front-page New York Times article on the Maria Cantwell/Mike McGavick senate race doesn't quite get it right. The angle of the article is this: Antiwar voters and Senator Cantwell have both become less stubborn (as antiwar voters swallow their pride and support Cantwell, and Cantwell tweaks her position to satisfy the Democratic base) in a pragmatic compromise focused on beating Republican challenger McGavick.


The New York Times writes: "With a practical eye on... political reality, Cantwell and many of her antiwar critics have moved closer to each other, and the senator's lead over McGavick has increased to double digits in some polls."

I think the article overplays the compromise angle—at least as far as Cantwell is concerned.

As evidence that Cantwell's changed her tune, the New York Times cites the bill Cantwell sponsored with Senator Joseph Biden in early August prohibiting permanent bases in Iraq. That's a solid example. The New York Times also cites Cantwell's recent statement that if she knew then what she knows now, she wouldn't have voted for the war. That's not such a great example. First of all, it's a wacky hypothetical that doesn't say anything about her current position on Iraq. Second, McGavick said the exact same thing—before Cantwell did. (Cantwell wasn't about to get outflanked on the left by her Republican opponent's enticing sound bite.)

The New York Times also alluded to Cantwell's support for the Levin amendment (Michigan's Democratic Senator Carl Levin kind of sought a timetable for U.S. withdrawal). This is also a shaky example, because the Levin amendment is limp legislation (it doesn't mandate a thing). Plus, it's squishy—Cantwell could just as easily use the Levin amendment as evidence that she's not an antiwar lefty if she had to. And the fact is, Cantwell isn't an antiwar lefty.

I wrote about Cantwell's pseudotransition last month and concluded: "Senator Levin's own press release stated: 'The amendment... doesn't establish a timetable for redeployment and it does not call for a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.'" Indeed, neither does Senator Cantwell. But Democrats don't care about subtleties these days—they just want to win.

The liberal New York Times wanted a neat way to explain why a Democrat who has more in common with Joe Lieberman than Russ Feingold is A-okay in 2006—a weird phenomenon that doesn't live up to its conventional wisdom about the war and this season's supposedly backbone-enhanced Democratic Party. So the New York Times fudged the story to make it look like Cantwell is responding to antiwar critics.

The story—and it's been the story for months now, ever since Cantwell started racking up Democratic-organizational endorsements even before superficially adjusting her war stance—is this: Democrats are desperate to take back the U.S. Senate. That means they've been forced to ignore Cantwell's position on the war.

Covering Cantwell's race, I've had a chance to talk to Democratic voters on the campaign trail, and they all say the same sorts of things when I ask what they think of Cantwell's position on the war: "She's great on the environment"; "McGavick's worse"; "She voted on bad information"; "It's not the only issue."

The real story in Washington State isn't that Cantwell compromised with an outraged base; it's that Democratic voters are sucking it up on the war.

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Frankly, I think Cantwell's been politically smart to tinker with her rap, while not really changing her position. The New York Times should have gone off their 2006 script, and told that story.