Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2002 / 25 Tishrei, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It appears as if Howard Dean won't be getting his 15 minutes of fame after all. Dean, for the millions of you who have never heard of him, is the governor of Vermont and, until Al Gore's speech in San Francisco on Iraq, the leftward-most of the Democrats "exploring" a run for president in 2004.
In the 1970s, the Democratic Party was divided between a Jackson wing, domestic liberals who, like the late, great senator from Washington State, were nonetheless proud patriots, fierce anticommunists, and ardent supporters of Israel; and a McGovern wing, which was none of the above. The rift contributed mightily to the Nixon landslide in 1972, and the Reagan landslides in 1980 and 1984.
For most of his political career, Gore identified himself with the Jackson wing. He was one of the few Democrats in Congress to vote to take on Saddam Hussein in Gulf War I. As recently as February, he was making hawkish noises about Iraq. But alignment with the atrophied Jackson wing is not a good place to be in Democratic presidential primaries.
Polls indicate about two thirds of Americans think Saddam is a clear and present danger, and that if he does not quickly and completely comply with UN resolutions, military action to remove him is warranted. But most of the remaining third vociferously oppose war with Iraq, and they comprise a majority of those who customarily vote in Democratic primaries, and a larger majority of caucus-goers.
Al Gore's sharp left turn in San Francisco was not made for fear of Dean, whose Andy Warhol moment was destined to end after the Iowa caucuses. It's purpose is to crowd out Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass). Handsome, intelligent, articulate and filthy rich, Kerry is an ideal candidate to carry an antiwar message, because he won the Medal of Honor as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. No one can question his courage or patriotism.
Gore's speech has for the most part been panned. Here is JWR columnist Michael Kelly: "Gore's speech...was entirely dishonest, cheap, low. It was utterly hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of contructive ideas...It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in smarmy tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics."
But, perhaps for the reasons Kelly cited, it played well with Democratic activists. For them, Bush is the Devil incarnate, and opposition to war with Iraq by far the most important issue. This creates a problem for Democrats. The Democratic Party today is divided less by ideology than between those with safe seats and those who must run in competitive districts. Democrats who must face the voters this fall in races they could lose want to put Iraq behind them so they can refocus attention on domestic issues which work better for them. They want a quick vote on (and for) a resolution authorizing the president to use force, preferably after watering it down.
But the activists won't let this happen. And in Gore they now have a spokesman who can keep Democratic opposition to action against Saddam on the front pages, warming the cockles of Karl Rove's heart. Expect Gore to make more antiwar speeches in the coming weeks, and to escalate his rhetoric (if that's possible).
Democratic pros were unenthusiastic about another Gore presidential run before his San Francisco speech, and are more so now. He's going to cost Democrats seats this fall. But he's put Kerry on the spot. Kerry will have to vote on the Iraq resolution. If he votes for it, he's toast in the primaries. If he fights against it, he'll increase the angst of Democrats in the Midwest and South. And Gore will leave no room for Kerry on his left.
Gore's speech also was the proximate cause of Tiny Tom Daschle's outburst on the Senate floor. As Senate Majority Leader, Daschle has to vote for the resolution to authorize force, or he'll be Senate Minority Leader in January. But the South Dakotan has presidential ambitions himself, and felt compelled to reassure the Democratic Left that he hates Bush, too.
Like George McGovern, Al Gore has positioned himself well to win the hearts and minds of the antiwar Left. But like George McGovern...
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