' Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
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Jewish World Review Oct. 1, 2002 / 25 Tishrei, 5763

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

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Return of the San Francisco Dems

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In 1984, Jeane Kirkpatrick gave expression to a feeling of revulsion experienced by many of her fellow "Reagan Democrats" about their political party. Reflecting on the locus of its national convention that year, she described the party's dominant, liberal wing as "San Francisco Democrats" who were inclined to "blame America first."

It took the Democratic Party eight more years to learn that most Americans found this coloration objectionable. The party only regained the White House when Bill Clinton and Al Gore ran as "New Democrats" on a platform that was consciously centrist and, in particular, sharply critical of the then-incumbent President, George H.W. Bush, for his handling of Saddam Hussein. Although the Clinton-Gore Administration's foreign policy failed to deliver on the promised improvement over its predecessor's, in succeeding years, Democratic leaders have by and large eschewed public embraces of the sorts of policies that drove Dr. Kirkpatrick and so many others to vote Republican.

Until last week, that is. The Democratic Party's apparent reversion to form began with a speech given by former Vice President Al Gore -- delivered, appropriately, in San Francisco. As the crowd hummed "Hail to the Chief," Mr. Gore denounced President Bush for dealing with what the one-time-Veep believes is a less-than-immediate threat from Saddam Hussein in an unduly hasty, unilateral and politicized fashion.

Al Gore's sudden transformation from one of the few Democrats who bucked the San Francisco wing to vote for Desert Storm to their standard bearer vis a vis Iraq sent shock waves through his party's political firmament. In short order, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle caved to pressure from liberals in his caucus opposed to quick and favorable action on a war resolution against Iraq. He took to the Senate floor to deliver one of the most emotionally overwrought political appearances since 1972 when Senator Ed Muskie -- another darling of the Democratic left -- destroyed his presidential candidacy by weeping while campaigning in New Hampshire. The Majority Leader joined Mr. Gore in questioning whether President Bush was politically manipulating and exploiting the issue of war with Iraq.

Not to be outdone, the senior congressional champion of the Democrats' left-wing, Senator Ted Kennedy, took up the baton on Friday with a speech at Johns Hopkins University. Like Messrs. Gore and Daschle, the Massachusetts legislator wants it both ways, averring that Saddam is a menace, but declaring himself unpersuaded that the Iraqi despot is an imminent one. If the United States acts without the UN's blessing and cooperation, he suggests, the world will be justified in joining the San Francisco Democrats in blaming America.

Then there was the spectacle of three Democratic Representatives assailing Mr. Bush from Baghdad via Sunday television programs and other media outlets. Exemplifying what can most charitably be called the naivete of their wing of the party, Reps. David Bonior, Jim McDermott and Mike Thompson are confident that this time Saddam will live up to his promises of access for inspectors, obviating the need -- and foreclosing the opportunity -- for U.S. military action any time soon. In a vintage display of blame-America-firstism, Rep. McDermott went so far as to declare: "I think the president would mislead the American people" about the justifications for going to war with Iraq.

Taken together, these bellwether events suggest that the long-dormant, but never extinguished, left-wing of the Democratic Party has decided to make its bid for renewed dominance in the shadow of the 2002 mid-term elections. Al Gore is evidently going to run for President in the months that follow by positioning himself to appeal not only to his audience last week in San Francisco but to the leftist peace activists, Council of Churches types and environmental extremists that Jeane Kirkpatrick associated with that city for all time. Other Democrats with national aspirations are clearly tempted to follow suit.

There are, of course, Democratic leaders who have, thus far, resisted this temptation. At this writing, their numbers would include: Joseph Lieberman, Zell Miller, John Breaux, John Edwards and Evan Bayh in the Senate and Dick Gephardt in the House. It remains to be seen whether their centrist views are the product of conviction, rather than calculation and, if so, whether they will be punished for deviating from the party line the current San Francisco Democrats will try to enforce on Iraq -- as Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson was for his apostasy on Vietnam a generation before.

Alternatively, maybe the majority of the Democratic Party will finally conclude that aligning themselves once again with the blame-America-first crowd is not only bad for the national interest but bad for the party's bids to be entrusted with control of the Congress, let alone the White House.

Until the Democrats sort it out, President Bush would be wise not to make concessions to the San Francisco crowd -- either in Washington or at the UN -- in the hope of creating the appearance of broad bipartisan support. While such support would be nice to have, it must not be obtained at the expense of clarity of purpose and objectives on matters of war and peace.

Let the "Loyal Opposition" declare itself publicly on the need to deal swiftly and decisively with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Then let the chips fall where they may.

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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


09/24/02:The next crusader?
09/17/02: It is no accident that advocates of coercive inspections have opposed prez's goal of regime change
09/10/02: A model for Iraq
08/27/02: Beware 'consensus leadership'
08/20/02: To Iraq or not to Iraq?
08/13/02: Trading with the 'enemy'
07/30/02: Who's trashing Ashcroft?
07/23/02: Wall Street's 'poisoned apples'
07/16/02: Back on the China front
07/09/02: See no evil?
07/02/02: Rethinking peacekeeping
06/25/02: Political moment of truth on defense
06/19/02: Inviting losses on two fronts
06/12/02: Make missile defense happen
06/04/02: The next 'Day of Infamy'?
05/29/02: Bush's Russian gamble
05/21/02: The 'next war'
05/15/02: Ex-presidential misconduct
05/07/02: When 'what if' is no game
05/02/02: Careful what we wish for
04/24/02: The real 'root cause' of terror
04/02/02: First principles in the Mideast
03/26/02: 'Renounce this map'
03/20/02: The inconvenient ally
03/12/02: Adults address the 'unthinkable'
03/05/02: The Saudi scam
02/26/02: Rumsfeld's 'now hear this'
02/19/02: Where's the outrage?
02/12/02: Post-mortem on 'Pearl Harbor II'
02/05/02: Spinning on the 'Evil Axis'
01/29/02: A challenge for the history books
01/22/02: Who pulled the plug on the Chinese 'bugs'?
01/15/02: No 'need to know'
01/08/02: Sentenced to de-nuclearize?
12/18/01: Missile defense mismanagement?
12/11/01: Is the Cold War 'over'?
12/04/01: A moment for truth
11/29/01: Send in the marines -- with the planes they need
11/27/01: 'Now Hear This': Does the President Mean What He Says?
11/20/01: Mideast 'vision thing'
11/13/01: The leitmotif of the next three days
11/06/01: Bush's Reykjavik Moment
10/30/01: Say it ain't true, 'W.
10/23/01: Getting history, and the future, right
10/16/01: Farewell to arms control
10/05/01: A time to choose
09/25/01: Don't drink the 'lemonade'
09/11/01: Sudan envoy an exercise in futility?
09/05/01: Strategy of a thousand cuts
08/28/01: Rummy's back
08/21/01: Prepare for 'two wars'
08/14/01: Why does the Bush Administration make a moral equivalence between terrorist attacks and Israel's restrained defensive responses?
08/07/01: A New bipartisanship in security policy?
07/31/01: Don't go there
07/17/01: The 'end of the beginning'
07/10/01: Testing President Bush
07/03/01: Market transparency works
06/27/01: Which Bush will it be on missile defense?
06/19/01: Don't politicize military matters
06/05/01: It's called leadership
06/05/01: With friends like these ...
05/31/01: Which way on missile defense?
05/23/01: Pearl Harbor, all over again
05/15/01: A tale of two Horatios
05/08/01: The real debate about missile defense
04/24/01: Sell aegis ships to Taiwan
04/17/01: The 'hi-tech for China' bill
04/10/01: Deal on China's hostages -- then what?
04/03/01: Defense fire sale redux
03/28/01: The defense we need
03/21/01: Critical mass
03/13/01: The Bush doctrine
03/08/01: Self-Deterred from Defending America
02/27/01: Truth and consequences for Saddam
02/21/01: Defense fire sale
02/13/01: Dubya's Marshall Plan
02/05/01: Doing the right thing on an 'Arab-Arab dispute'
01/30/01: The missile defense decision
01/23/01: The Osprey as Phoenix
01/17/01: Clinton's Parting Shot at Religious Freedom
01/09/01: Wake-up call on space
01/02/01: Secretary Rumsfeld
12/27/00: Redefining our Ukraine policy
12/19/00: Deploy missile defense now
12/12/00: Sabotaging space power
12/05/00: Preempting Bush
11/28/00: What Clinton hath wrought
11/21/00: HE'S BAAAACK
11/14/00: The world won't wait

© 2001, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.