Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2003/ 1 Kislev 5764

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Heads in the Sand: The Dems just won't face reality


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Democrats and their supplicants in the mainstream media are in a state of bitter confusion and disarray. Those of unflappable optimism, who in polite conversation are forced to suppress a Machiavellian smile when the latest U.S. military casualties in Iraq tick on the AP wire, favor the cliche, "Oh, the sun'll come out tomorrow, so ya gotta hang on 'til tomorrow."

The growing number of realists, at both the local and national levels, who've already written off the South in the 2004 quest to send President Bush back to Crawford, TX, are humming Jim Morrison's ominous words from the late 1960s: "Strange days have found us/Strange days have tracked us down/They're going to destroy/Our casual joys."

Some stalwarts take succor in the conservative outrage over Bush's pushing for the entitlement-laden, enormously expensive energy and Medicare bills now before Congress. They point out that the Wall Street Journal's editorial board — that band of barbarians who applauded a bourgeois riot at a Florida recount office in 2000 — has, to slip into hiphop jargon, b-tchslapped Bush over this obviously politically motivated legislation, to say nothing of the president's disappointing flirtation with protectionism. Should the lockbox-pilfering Medicare bill become law, Democratic strategists chortle, the "seniors," traditionally part of their base, will read the fine print of the dubious measure and register their outrage at the polls next November.

Sure, and ZZ Top really does deserve a berth in Jann Wenner's silly Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pantheon.

In theory, I agree with the Journal (as well as National Review, the Weekly Standard and New York Post) that Bush is sacrificing principle for political gain. Last Thursday, a WSJ editorial about Medicare concluded: "Republicans are offering the certainty of trillions in new entitlements in return for the mere promise of future reform, and that's too expensive a gamble for principled conservatives to support."

So let's drink to the ideological purists who remind the president that he ought not imitate LBJ.

But back to reality. A year before the election, despite the typical polling that shows an incumbent president in a potentially precarious position, Bush will likely defeat his Democratic challenger by a slender margin, and unlike Bill Clinton, who selfishly hoarded money in his cakewalk against Bob Dole in '96 rather than spreading it around to down-ticket Democrats, could strengthen the GOP majorities in both the Senate and House. Debates over Medicare, energy, gay marriage, the environment and steel tariffs aren't insignificant, but they won't be the Democrats' lifeboat. The election will be decided primarily on three issues: the economy, the war on terrorism and Bush's personality. On the latter, flailing DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, who'd hoped to pick off a sliver of voters who opted for Bush in 2000, is in trouble. It may be there's a sizable, and noisy, percentage of Americans who are screwing up the establishment Democrats' hope of taking back the White House by Venting Their Spleen for Dean, but this group consists of lifelong Democrats and college kids. And most kids don't vote.

The cover of this week's Time shows a goofy-looking Bush with a black eye and lipstick on a cheek, to illustrate John F. Dickerson and Karen Tumulty's thumbsucker essay "The Love Him, Hate Him President." It's a gutsy cover — and a welcome relief from Time's usual soft "lifestyle" themes — that reminds readers of the classic photo-negative image of Bill Clinton the magazine featured a decade or so ago.

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Inside, one lazy paragraph was particularly irritating, as Dickerson and Tumulty echoed Beltway "conventional wisdom." They say: "Bush's approach to leadership has invited Americans to take sides. That's because he has resolutely swung for the fences in both domestic and foreign policy. Despite coming into office with nothing like a mandate, he has governed as if he has one." Spare me. JFK had no "mandate," nor did Nixon in '68, Carter in '76 or Clinton in '92, yet all four of them governed, properly, as though they'd won in a landslide. In a Nov. 16 Los Angeles Times article, reporter Stephanie Simon surveyed dozens of voters in Clayton, MO, a battleground state, and couldn't find much that'll cheer up McAuliffe. Gene Goldman's comment has to give Bush's detractors heartburn: "He's less phony than most of the candidates. He's more credible. And I can understand him. He speaks at my level." Dick McCoy, who's voted for Democrats in the past, and is opposed to Bush's tax cuts and position on abortion, nonetheless said: "I would have to give the guy high marks. As a leader, he certainly stands by his guns. He doesn't waver. I'm pleased to have him in there — and I think it will be hard to get him out."

Simon Shapiro continues: "Randy Catcher, 48, is more willing to consider voting Democratic. He's concerned about the spiraling budget deficit. And he's even more anxious about Bush's foreign policy. He fears the administration may be pushing too hard to project U.S. power and influence around the globe. He worries that 'we're in a no-win spot' in Iraq. So yes, he says, he'll take the Democratic nominee seriously.

"Then Catcher pauses, reflecting. He's opening a new restaurant in Clayton… If it's doing well this time next year, Bush will likely get his vote, despite his qualms. 'If the economy perks up again,' Catcher said, 'I think we probably shouldn't upset the apple cart.'"

Democrats in denial about the economy's upswing can fortify themselves by reading Paul Krugman in the Times twice a week, and after the election express astonishment over Bush's reelection. "I can't believe he won," Upper West Siders will bleat, in a reprise of past elections, "no one I know voted for him." Hyperbolic partisans can talk all they want about Bush being the worst economic president since Hoover, but as unemployment drops over the next eight months, they'll look as silly as the born-again anti-Semite George Soros.

As James Pinkerton pointed out in a Nov. 20 Newsday column, the more pragmatic Democratic presidential challengers now understand they won't get much traction by harping on the economy next fall. Pinkerton digs up a quote from Dick Gephardt from a Meet the Press appearance in January of 2002, a soundbite that, should the Congressman win the nomination, will surely appear in RNC ads next spring. Gephardt told host Tim Russert: "The purpose of tax cuts is to get the economy to grow. If you can get the economy to grow, you will start having more money coming into the government. It's a synergistic process that moves both budget forward and the economy forward."

Maureen Dowd, after a moving Times op-ed on Nov. 16 about how a niece gave part of her liver to the columnist's ailing brother, who'd contracted hepatitis C, which led to cirrhosis after a tainted blood transfusion, was back to her vacuous, petty and self-obsessed persona last week. On Sunday, taking Democratic talking points to heart about the unscrupulous nature of the first Bush ads aired for the upcoming campaign, Dowd pounced on the President for "fear mongering."

She writes: "'It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known,' Mr. Bush says in a State of the Union clip.

"Well, that's a comforting message from our commander in chief. Do we really need his cold, clammy hand on our spine at a time when we're already rattled by fresh terror threats at home and abroad? When we're chilled by the metastasizing Al Qaeda, the resurgent Taliban and Baathist thugs armed with deadly booby traps; the countless, nameless terror groups emerging in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia and elsewhere; the vicious attacks on Americans, Brits, aid workers and the supporters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey?"

Unwittingly, Dowd puts her clammy finger on the central debate between Bush and his eventual challenger. It's pathetic that Dowd, who lives in Washington, DC and remembers the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, would rather remain in a cocoon of denial, as if a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, fuzzy slippers and The Contender on the DVD player might keep her safe.

While it's an enormous credit to the Bush administration that there hasn't been another Ground Zero in New York, DC or Chicago in more than two years, complacent Americans do need a cold shower when it comes to the ever-present threat of another disaster on this country's soil. As Bush said in London last week, after the bombing of a British bank in Istanbul, terrorists — under whose command, we're not sure — are bent on trying to "intimidate" every single Westerner who doesn't subscribe to their warped 12th-century worldview.

I wonder how the French will react if, and possibly when, the Arc de Triomphe is blown to bits, along with a few thousand rush-hour citizens. Or what about if a "crate" gets by a napping security crew in Munich and kills 10,000 people? You'd hope, despite the likes of Dowd, that Europeans realize that terrorism is getting closer and closer to their own countries. Of course, a likely scenario is if a "vial" or "canister" is placed inside Grand Central Station or in the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan, causing one more day that Americans over the age of five will never forget.

Dowd's Nov. 20 column declared Bush's visit to London a failure, another example of his administration's isolationism, demonstrated by the heavy security surrounding the president. She writes: "Everything Mr. Bush did in London reinforced the idea that this was a trip made not so much to thank the British people for their friendship, but to send a message to the voters back home that he was at ease as a world leader… There was a dispiriting contrast between G.W.B shutting out the world and avoiding the British public, and the black-and-white clips this week of J.F.K. reaching out to the world and being adored by Berliners."

A few points. Maybe Dowd believes it'd be smart politics for Bush to mingle with the protestors — who, unlike Kennedy's rapturous throngs in Berlin a lifetime ago, weren't exactly friendly — even though such a foolish decision could've resulted in his assassination. Also, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, who exploited anti-American sentiment to win reelection a year ago, has now cozied up to the Bush administration, promising to cancel a huge debt that Saddam's Iraq owed his country. And Schroeder, while opposed by his parliament, has proposed tax cuts and a decrease in welfare benefits in his country, an indication that Germany wants a piece of the "special friendship" that Britain has long had with the United States.

Finally, Dowd might choose to believe that Bush did nothing on his trip except flub a toast with Queen Elizabeth and have a nonalcoholic beer at a pub in Tony Blair's hometown, but others will remember his extraordinary speech at Whitehall, in which he unabashedly explained his principles in the war against terrorism. In part, Bush said: "We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine in the past have been willing to make a bargain: to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability… [I]t is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it."

Dowd and her snotty Beltway companions may take solace that a number of conservatives are grumbling over Bush's compromises on domestic issues, but they're missing the big picture. A growing economy and steadfast foreign policy, despite rough patches, is why the Republican base will hold firm in 2004 and not disintegrate as it did for Bush's father in '92.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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