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Jewish World Review Oct. 9, 2002 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

David Limbaugh

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Politics' proper role | How can Democratic leaders with a straight face accuse Republicans of politicizing Iraq, or any other issue? It is not enough for Republicans to deny this phony charge; they need to throw it back in the Democrats' faces.

It is the job of political parties to engage in politics; it is their function to elect their candidates. But in the Clinton-Carville era, the Democratic Party took politics to a new level by inaugurating the perpetual campaign.

Nearly every action was preceded by focus groups and sophisticated polling to gauge the public's likely reaction. Whatever statesmanship used to inhabit the party's leadership was thoroughly abandoned.

You would hope, however, that when our national security was threatened Democrats would give it a rest. Some are, but others are ratcheting up the politics, despite consequences to our national interests.

Their latest gambit has been to politicize the upcoming war against Iraq while accusing Bush of politicizing it. Al Gore, in his incoherent speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, charged Bush with politicizing the war by "pushing for a vote in this Congress immediately before the election" and "publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a 'no' vote."

Gore had it exactly backward. How is pushing for an immediate vote for authority to deal with an imminent threat political? What responsible leader would allow elections to interfere with the timing of such a grave decision?

Besides, if Democrats are unashamed of their position on Iraq they shouldn't fear a public airing of it before an election. If they extend bipartisan support to President Bush, they remove the war as an issue. It's only if they oppose him that it becomes political. And even then, it's only if they are out of step with public sentiment that their opposition hurts them politically. Of course it's their prerogative to oppose him, but they ought to own up to their position, before the election.

But as has also been their custom since the advent of the Clinton period, Democrats are playing word games again. By saying that Bush is "politicizing" the war, they mean to imply that political considerations are guiding his decision on Iraq rather than following it. That would be the case, for example, if he initiated bombing to divert attention from impeachment proceedings against himself.

But there's a big difference in instituting military action for political gain, which is reprehensible, and informing the voters about the opposition party's stance on a necessary war, which is obligatory. If Bush were planning an attack on Iraq for the purposes of acquiring more Republican seats in the House and Senate, he should be condemned in the strongest terms. But if he is convinced that it is in our national interests to attack Iraq and the Democrats are opposing him, he and the Republican Party would be irresponsible not to bring that to the attention of voters in the starkest of terms.

What in the world are elections supposed to be about, if not to afford voters an opportunity to elect representatives who will, in general, carry out their collective will? But Democrats, by trying to intimidate Republicans from discussing Iraq in the elections, seek to disenfranchise voters on the most important issue confronting this nation in over a decade. This, from the party that insists that "every vote must count."

You see, it is Democrats who are politicizing the war in the pejorative sense of that term by causing partisan calculations to interfere with policy decisions on Iraq. Outrageously, they want Bush to hold off on Iraq until after the election. We should attack Iraq, if and when we are ready to do so, not when it is least likely to put the Democrats at an electoral disadvantage.

During the campaign, Republicans should do everything they can to remind voters how vitally important it is to have George W. Bush as Commander-in-Chief during wartime. While they're at it, they should use every photo in sight that projects President Bush as the sober, statesmanlike war president that he has proven himself to be, including those from Air Force One on September 11.

This is the healthy and proper use of politics -- the kind that advances, not harms, the national interest.

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David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.