From time to time, we will run excerpts from columnist Dick Polman's blog, "Dick Polman's American Debate." Watch this page for Polman high points - and check out the blog.

In their increasingly shrill attempts to rationalize the Iraq war, President Bush's defenders persist in thinking that if they choose to demonize a war critic as a white-flag-waving wimp, that most Americans, even at this point in the conflict, will simply accept the characterization as truth. Apparently these defenders somehow believe that it's still 2002 and that they still hold sway over public opinion, despite all empirical evidence to the contrary.

Consider, for example, the latest episode involving Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid. On Thursday, he said: "I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense [understands], and - you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows - that this war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq."

The Republicans and their allies instantly assumed they had hit the jackpot: Reid had uttered the phrase "this war is lost," and thus he could be fitted for cement shoes, destined for eternal demonization as an enemy- emboldening, troop- endangering defeat-o-crat. Everybody got into the act. Texas Sen. John Cornyn told CNN that Reid "is playing to the worst elements of the antiwar left." Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino characterized Reid's stance as "disturbing." . . . Conservative lawyer-activist Mark Levin wrote that Reid's remark was "so disgraceful and brazen that it could have been uttered by Tokyo Rose during World War II, or Jane Fonda during the Vietnam War."

The attacks continued Sunday on Fox News. Neoconservative war hawk William Kristol said that Reid was "a disgrace," and Fox political commentator Brit Hume said that Reid's comment was "laughable."

What's particularly ironic about these attacks - and the implication that Reid had marginalized himself as a lefty peacenik at odds with the American mainstream - is that the war apologists have totally misread their man. Harry Reid, far from being a left-leaning ideologue, is actually a cautious politician who hews to the middle of the road; one gets the feeling that most of his moves as majority leader were heavily poll-tested in advance. So when he suggests publicly that "this war is lost," one can assume that he is merely reflecting mainstream opinion. And that's precisely the case.

Three days before Reid's remarks, the latest ABC-Washington Post poll was released. It asked Americans whether we would win or lose the war. Fifty-one percent said we'd lose; 35 percent said we'd win.

In other words, it is Reid's critics who are out of the mainstream. We're long past the point where they can successfully demonize a Democrat simply by putting him in a tank with Michael Dukakis and parading him as an object of ridicule. . . .

So here's my question: Whom will the public choose to believe about the war - Harry Reid, or the people who are seeking to equate Reid with Jane Fonda?

And here's another: Who deserves to be more publicly maligned - the war planners and enablers who have precipitated and perpetuated the disaster, or the politician who merely addresses the reality of the disaster?

And a final one: A number of Republicans have indicated that if Bush's troop escalation doesn't yield "progress" by this autumn, they will bail out on Bush to save their skins in the '08 election. Will they hew to that promise? Or will they cave again, when the president inevitably pleads with them to sit tight and give him another six months to turn the tide?

Contact Dick Polman
See his blog at http://go.philly.com/polman.