As pundits offered their traditional year-end appraisals of 2005, the near-uniform opinion was that President Bush set lofty domestic policy goals but fell woefully short of fulfilling them. Democrats would be wise not to be prematurely sanguine about this assessment.
We're reminded that upon his reelection in November 2004, the president promised that in his second term, he'd spend the political capital he had earned with the election. He assured us that his second term would be ambitious, including commitments to tackle Social Security and try to make "permanent" his tax cuts.
True to his word, and despite his laser focus on the War on Terror, he went after Social Security with a vengeance. For a man the left insists can't walk and chew gum at the same time, the president deserves enormous credit for his courage in taking on the perennially unpopular issue of entitlement reform while allegedly consumed by a monomania over Iraq.
Similarly, he has tried earnestly to reduce the tax burden on income producers and estates, notwithstanding the predictable demagoguery that issued from the left.
But with the first year of his second term having expired, we are no closer to achieving either goal. That he has so far failed in both should not be a source of pride for Democrats but a badge of dishonor.
Their own presidential role model, Bill Clinton, and his vice president, Al Gore, were adamant about the looming problems with Social Security. There was much talk of lock boxes and other schemes to "protect" this hallowed institution. And let there be no mistake both gentlemen, along with their entire political party, considered Social Security to be in "crisis."
Yet, when President Bush dared to take action to reform Social Security, instead of merely talking about the issue, Democrats obstructed at every turn and even denied there was a serious problem, much less a crisis. Let them continue to gloat about their obstruction, but let history reflect their dangerous deferral of a problem that threatens our long-term fiscal solvency, a matter they profess to be close to their hearts.
But there is another reason the Democrats ought not to be so smug about their efforts to reduce the president's policy focus to the War on Terror. We are at war and will be for the foreseeable future, well beyond 2008.
Barring unanticipated events, the major issue of the 2008 presidential election will be the war, and Democrats will go into the campaign season with a substantial handicap on that front. And they've earned it, in spades.
Voters were already skeptical of the Democratic Party on national security issues. But in the last few years, that skepticism may have ripened into full-blown distrust. And if not, it should have.
At the root of the public's lack of confidence in Democrats over national security is the party's ambivalence about the prosecution of the war and its absence of moral certitude about the nature of our enemy.
To this day, Democrats can't tell you whether it's a good thing we attacked Iraq. They were against the war in Iraq before they were for it only to be against it again, and now they're probably just waiting to see how things turn out to decide, ultimately, whether they should be for or against it.
They grudgingly acknowledge that Saddam was a bad guy but shift immediately into complaining about the intelligence problems that led us into war. When not obsessing over that, they emphasize the allegedly terrible things America has done, from accusations of torture, to rendition, to "spying" on its own citizens, to "occupying" an unwelcoming Iraqi people, to killing innocent Iraqis. If you didn't know better, you'd think they were talking about Al Qaeda.
When Sen. Richard Durbin compares America's treatment of terrorist detainees to Nazi and Communist captors, when Sen. John Kerry reprises his slander of U.S. troops as storming innocent Iraqi homes, when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has to remind us five times in one interview that Democrats believe terrorists are indeed evil, when untold Democrats deny that Iraq is an integral venue in the War on Terror, objective observers have a duty to question the Democrats' seriousness about national security issues.
Democratic leaders have gloated over frustrating the president's domestic agenda and said that the all of the eggs in the presidential basket are tied up in Iraq. They say his entire legacy hinges on the War on Terror and, specifically, Iraq. If they're not careful, come 2008, they'll get what they wished for.