Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2002 / 29 Kislev, 5763
'Tis the season to hope for the worst
The better things get, the more frustrated they are. The more frustrated they are, the more they reach backward, to familiar territory.
It was painful to watch Sen. John Kerry on NBC's Meet the Press, announcing the formation of his exploratory committee, the precursor for a presidential run in 2004. "On almost every issue facing the country, I believe there is a better choice for this nation," he intoned. Two-thirds of the country, who still approve of the way the President is doing his job, disagree.
Listening to Kerry, one can't help but believe that he is betting, indeed even hoping, that something will go wrong, badly wrong, on the domestic or foreign policy front. Then all those Wal-Mart shoppers who have been tricked into supporting President Bush will finally come to their senses and clamor for a Democrat rescue.
A decorated Vietnam veteran who returned home to become an anti-war spokesman, Kerry is most poignant when he speaks about his time in uniform, of the bond that only fellow soldiers can fully understand. Kerry knows that President Bush doesn't have similar stories to share. But then Kerry moves on to urge "no new tax cuts," and scaremonger about toxic waste dumps, and one is reminded that he's really just a better-looking Ted Kennedy, a richer Michael Dukakis.
Yet for a party betting on the leadership of Paleozoic liberals like San Fran Nan, what should one expect? Bold, new thinking and an optimistic outlook?
So it's back to the past, to an ideology that has been gradually eroding for more than two decades. Democrats promise they're cooking up their own version of the Contract with America, but so far one senses that they are doing little more than silently, maybe even subconsciously cheerleading against American successes at home and abroad. If the economic turnaround doesn't happen, if a U.S. invasion of Iraq causes more problems than it solves, and if Bin Laden pulls off another big one, if….
But even if the Democrats hit that trifecta, it's still not clear that the Bush juggernaut would be stopped. Let's not forget that Republicans won big in the mid-term election despite the economic slowdown, despite Enron, despite being told another attack is a certainty, and despite being somewhat divided on a war in Iraq.
Jim Carville was wrong. It's not just about the economy, stupid. Clinton's impeachment-era defenders were wrong. Character and trust do matter. The New York Times was wrong. President Bush is sharp, engaged, and tenacious. But this same crew may have a point when they collectively insist that the President's sustained popularity, and the recent election results, do not signal a major ideological shift in America. The conservative shift actually began in 1980 with Ronald Reagan.
During his two terms in office, Bill Clinton pledged to reinvigorate the Democrat party, which would then reorient the country politically. Instead, he left his party on life support and energized the country's conservative core. Even what Clinton claims as his notable accomplishments sound more like Republican ones--a balanced budget, a thriving business sector, welfare reform, NAFTA. For eight years, liberals were wrapped in duct tape.
This reality puts Democrats in an untenable position. The party's hard core left wants out of the ice box. They want to be unleashed on President Bush. But liberalism isn't selling. So they need a crisis. Yet in recent times of crisis, the country has rallied behind President Bush. So which way to turn?
The UN, the Ivy League and international conferences come to mind. Ho, ho, ho.
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