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Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 2003 / 18 Elul, 5763

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Sometimes not having any opposition in your own party can be a drawback | Five great thoughts after watching the nine Democratic presidential contenders debate for the umpteenth time:

1) How did George Bush get so dumb, so fast? It was just a matter of months ago that four of the Democratic candidates for president — Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman — all voted to give Bush a virtual blank check to go to war in Iraq. So they must have trusted his judgment then.

Now, however, Gephardt says Bush is a "miserable failure" and his Iraq policy is an "abomination." Kerry openly questions whether the president is a dummy, or as he puts it, "involved in decisions" regarding the Iraq war.

And Lieberman says Bush is "the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the United States of America." But how did Lieberman think Bush was going to pay for the Iraq war? With a debit card?

So it seems that as dumb as Bush was, he was smart enough to bamboozle four Democratic contenders. And if they are such easy dupes that a "miserable failure" can pull the wool over their eyes, why should they be president?

Just asking.

2) Speaking of the war, the Howard Dean camp has to be very worried about Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich and Dean both opposed the Iraq war, but Kucinich is now flanking Dean to the left by saying, "The best way to protect our troops is to bring them home!"

Why does Dean have to worry about this, since Dean is the front-runner and Kucinich has no chance of winning the nomination? Because Kucinich is going to take votes away from Dean in Iowa, where antiwar feeling runs high, and if Kucinich takes away enough votes, Dean could lose the state to Gephardt, who is running a close second to him in the polls there.

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Dean very much wants to begin his 2004 campaign with a "January Juggernaut," a double-win in Iowa on Jan. 19 and New Hampshire on Jan. 27. This will give him the momentum to crash through the "Stop Dean" movement. But Kucinich could threaten that.

3) Everyone has been wondering if Dean can take a punch, and now he is starting to feel them. I was in Santa Fe, N.M., last week at a small, relaxed, indoor rally in a coffee shop where Dean was asked about Israel, and he casually answered that "it's not our place to take sides" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Reporters asked Dean staffers, who were there in abundance, if this was going to cause trouble for Dean, and they shrugged it off.

Joe Lieberman, however, is not shrugging it off, and he is not going to drop it as an issue, claiming during the debate in Baltimore on Tuesday night that Dean is abandoning "a 50-year record of support for Israel" by this country.

Dean replied by claiming his position was the same as Bill Clinton's and, "It doesn't help, Joe, to demagogue this issue."

It doesn't? I thought demagoguery is what debates (and politics) were about.

4) Dean also got hit again on his gun control stand, as he did last week in Albuquerque by John Kerry, though few noticed then.

Though some in the Democratic Party want to abandon gun control as an issue in order to court the Bubba/NASCAR vote, they are kidding themselves. They are never going to get those votes. George Bush is the Bubba/NASCAR president. Why do you think he landed on that carrier in a flight suit? Why do you think he said, "Bring them on," to those Iraqis attacking Americans? Why do you think he likes to spend a month clearing brush on his ranch? This guy is a Bubba/NASCAR voter!

And the Democrats, in a vain attempt to win those votes, run the real risk of losing the support of suburban women who like gun control.

Dean has a "states' rights" approach to gun control, meaning let the 50 states decide about gun control without federal interference. He assumes that rural states like Vermont, with low homicide rates, will not want gun control and urban states like Massachusetts, with high homicide rates, will.

Trouble is, guns are portable. And if Vermont votes to legalize the private ownership of bazookas and Vermonters start blowing up people in Massachusetts with them, states' rights may not seem like such a good idea.

5) The Democrats have debated many, many times now, and they are getting good at it. I mean it. With the exceptions I noted above, they are showing themselves to be sharp, quick and savvy. I doubt President Bush is watching these debates, but I'll bet his political guru, Karl Rove, is.

Which is why I predict Bush will agree to no more than one debate against the Democratic nominee next fall. The Democrats will have had plenty of practice by then, and he will have had none.

Sometimes not having any opposition in your own party can be a drawback.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate