Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2002 / 22 Teves, 5763

Mona Charen

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Dems limp to bat to take on homeland security |
"It's time for us, without regard to party, to say what every American knows: Washington is not doing enough to make American safe." So spoke Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. "If the administration continues to do too little, it will be too late again."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., has warned that "the American people are only slightly safer today here at home than we were on Sept. 11, 2001." And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has charged the administration with negligence in making "the preparations necessary to properly deal with an obvious problem of growing terror and the threat at home."

The same theme is showing up in the statements of other prominent Democrats, notes The New York Times, perhaps signaling a new strategy for 2004: stress homeland security as a way of seeming tough on defense.

If the Democrats are trying to get to Bush's right on homeland security, they will have to start by explaining why they filibustered the homeland security bill and then delayed it for months because they were more concerned about ensuring full union rights for employees of the new department than ensuring domestic security.

The Democrats resisted giving the president the authority to hire and fire at will. But the Democrats weakness on defense long predates the war on terror. (In my book to be published in February, "Useful Idiots," I offer chapter and verse.) All of their instincts, all of their nerve fibers are anti-defense. Decrying American power comes naturally to them. Using it does not.

The Democrats recognize that they have a political problem in this newly sober era. When the only important questions before the nation concerned education, Social Security and suburban sprawl, it was easy to gloss over their traditional weakness on national defense and foreign policy, and get away with it.

President Clinton could pursue the customary Democratic approach to foreign affairs without paying any political price because the voters weren't paying attention. So he attempted (unsuccessfully) to bribe the North Koreans out of their nuclear program, turned down opportunities to arrest Osama bin Laden, weakened the FBI's terror-fighting capacity and pushed the Israelis to believe that Yasser Arafat was a "partner for peace."

But the Democrats are also the shrillest critics of any domestic security step that might involve actually spying on the terrorists who are here. Al Gore decried the homeland security law for moving us "towards a Big Brother type approach to government." Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wailed that its provisions are a "supersnoop's dream" and "make a mockery of our privacy laws." Note that the Democrats have been keening about a bill that merely permits the FBI to observe and eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. None of the information gathered for that purpose coul

d be turned over to ordinary prosecutors. And yet, they cavil. In another arena of homeland security, protection against biological terrorism, the Democrats have displayed a splendid talent for missing the point. Republicans had inserted a provision protecting vaccine manufacturers from extreme punitive damages awards. Clearly, such insulation is necessary if we are going to immunize almost the entire U.S. population against smallpox in the coming two years.

If vaccine manufacturers stand to lose huge lawsuits from the one in a million or so people who may die from the vaccine, there will simply be no vaccine. This is a matter of public health. We need the smallpox vaccine. We know there's a risk. But we've decided as a matter of public policy to push ahead in spite of the risk. The fear of lawsuits could upend the entire enterprise.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., didn't see it that way. Republicans, she argued, are telling families that "their children's health takes a distant second place to large corporations."

Even if the Democrats were able to overcome all of above, they would remain handicapped on this issue because they don't see the big picture. "Bush isn't protecting us," they cry. But the president has thought this through and decided long ago that defense is necessary but insufficient to protect this nation from terror. The war must be taken to our enemies if we are to be safe here at home. The president has an offense and a defense. The Democrats, so far, have neither.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate