The Conservative Democrat | Dan Boren
Washington was buzzing over a heated meeting between President Bush and 11 moderate Republicans who told the president that their support for the war was slipping fast. That same day in May, Rep. Dan Boren and a group of fellow moderate-to-conservative Democrats made the trip to the White House to hear Bush out on Iraq. The tone, according to Boren, was quite different.
"Over the last six or seven years, he's really been knocked as someone who does not try to build bridges with Democrats, and I think over the last six months to a year, his office has really tried to reach out to members like me," Boren said. The congressman even has his own dedicated White House liaison officer, Marty McGuinness, whose phone line is always open.
The White House knows that Boren is a man trapped between the conservative constituents of his eastern Oklahoma district and a Democratic Party pushing hard to seize control of the war in Iraq and bring it to a close. As the young congressman weighs his options, Bush is eager to put his finger on the scales -- so far, with success. This year, Boren was one of only 14 Democrats who opposed their leadership's war spending bill that included timelines for withdrawing troops.
But a powerful skeptic is whispering in his other ear: his father, former senator David L. Boren, whose criticisms of the war act as a counterweight to Bush's wooing.
"I'm frustrated, like most of the American people, by progress in Iraq, but at the same time, I understand that I'm not a member of the military," Boren said. "I'm just a member of Congress, and there's a fine line there that really shouldn't be broken."
Trips to Iraq: A seat on the Armed Services Committee has taken Boren to Iraq twice and secured him face-to-face meetings with the top commander there, Gen. David H. Petraeus, most recently in March of this year. "Morale was high," he recalled of the first trip in March 2005. "On that second trip, morale was not so great."
What His Constituents Say: Boren has visited the families of each of the dozen constituents who have been killed in Iraq. "Family members I met with earlier were definitely 'Stay the course' and all of that. Now they are much more tepid in their support. They want to see the young men and women come home. That's influential on me."
Outlook: Regardless of Petraeus's report, the decision will be up to the next commander in chief. "We're already in a presidential election," Boren said. "I think this will rest on their shoulders."
Most Persuasive Argument From War Opponents: "We could be using our resources in other parts of the world on the global fight against terrorism."