Edit: Fixed link. Now my four remaining readers can enjoy it.
The problem, Ezra, is not which strategy on the war "wins elections"... it's that the discussion is couched in the rhetoric and terminology of elections at all. Digby sums it up nicely in saying that the main talking points needs to be: "Who lost Iraq? George W. Bush and the Republican party" and he's right that the American people need to be convinced, but both are missing something:
You can't just say that, you have to believe it.
It has to be justified not by any sort of discussion of politics or optics or polling whatsoever, even if it is: you need to have a completely seperate line of thought that leads to this same conclusion, and if you can't find it, you need to throw it out. It's odd that I'm saying this to Digby, who's made this point as well as anybody, but the politics need to be set aside, because it is the perception of the Democrats as craven opportunists that is the problem here. They need to build up their reputation as being principled, above all else.
(If this were Canada, the situation would be different, of course; there, the opposition is accused of being a little bit TOO zealous about their principles. Triangulation works in that case, but not in the American one.)
This comes down to a basic problem, and it's one that liberal blogs are prey to and that I've highlighted before. The discussion about politics needs to end, or at least be put on the back burner. Discussion about Republican politics and political maneuvering is fine, because they're even more opportunistic and that needs to be put out there, but the endless political discussions that you see in the left blogosphere and amongst Dem supporters in general is helping nothing and nobody.
And, yes, among other things, this requires consistency. "Triangulation" is the enemy of consistency, and the end-point of this kind of political gaming.
The other thing it requires? A willingness to stand up for said convictions. 2006 is not the end of the world, and it's clear that this Democratic party is not ready for it, no matter what positions they take. Better to take a stand and lose in 2006 than waffle and strategize and politicize and lose anyway like in 2002 and 2004. At least it would help the party's image in ways that actually matter.
Kerry was the strategist's choice. Kerry lost, largely because of strategists. It's time to put the strategy away, put the strategists away, and say "I advocate this because it's the right thing to do, and if you don't want to vote for me, so be it."
The time for playing the game of politics is over. Be the Loyal Opposition; the politics stem from that.