Jewish World Review April 30, 2004/ 9 Iyar, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Sometimes a war can ruin dinner | George W. Bush is entitled to think the rats are running out on him. First the Spaniards, then the Hondurans, then the Dominican Republicans. Even some of our British cousins — though not the doughty Tony Blair — are showing the first faint signs of going wobbly.

The polls, some of more dubious origin than others, show evidence of slippage at home. A poll taken for CBS-New York Times reveals that only 47 percent of those surveyed now think taking military action in Iraq was the right thing to do, down from 58 percent a month ago.

This sudden dent in sentiment is no doubt a reflection of grief over the casualties in Fallujah, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell correctly noted yesterday in Copenhagen that sentiment of support will rebound when the news gets better.

The good political news is that it's George W.'s enemies who are rattled, terrified that the pig they thought was in the poke they bought is turning out to be an inedible weasel. You can only find news this bad in The Washington Post:

"There was a surreal moment at a serious Manhattan dinner party Tuesday night," reports Tina Brown, who has succeeded Sally Quinn as the queen of Style at The Post, "when 12 power players who had all been talking at once about the mess in Iraq suddenly fell silent to listen to the waiter. He dove in shortly after he had served the coconut cake with lemon dessert — perhaps to give moral support to the only Republican present, who was beginning to flag. Or perhaps he just thought it might be helpful for the guests to hear from one of the Ordinary Americans whose unhappiness with the status quo they are in the habit of earnestly invoking.

" 'I'm from the suburbs,' [the waiter] announced, 'and I'm voting for Bush.

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" 'It might seem odd that a savvy New Yorker like me is voting for a guy in a cowboy hat,' [the waiter] went on, as he recklessly doled out ice cream to a network anchor, 'but what we want is stability. This Kerry guy — he's all over the place.' "

Well, what can you expect from a waiter reckless with ice cream, and to a network anchor waiting for his coconut cake with lemon. This was "a serious Manhattan dinner party," after all.

Serious Manhattan dinner parties seemed to be breaking out all over town. Over on the roof at the St. Regis more Beautiful People, including queens and counts and princes (some of whom may be afraid they'll be arrested if they go home) unburdened themselves to the New York Post about how awful George W. is as he finally gets wise to misunderstood Saudi billionaires and Palestinian terrorists on the scout for a school bus to unload another car bomb on. "I'll probably vote Democratic for the first time in 40 years," confided one famous former editor in chief trying to catch the eye of a waiter reckless with the ice cream.

No matter what he does, George W. will never win over serious Manhattan dinner parties. The Beautiful People, all paunch and mostly wrinkles now, have too much invested in hating the president. The larger risk is that by trying to please his critics, by demonstrating how nice and nuanced he is, the president could lose the suburban waiters and the millions who think like suburban waiters, who worry that this Kerry guy "is all over the place."

Monsieur Kerry has foolishly fallen into the trap of trying to make a war that ended 30 years ago his signature issue. His Democratic surrogates, unlikely war buffs all, fondly recall the heady days of the Vietnam quagmire and imagine they can reprise the war in Iraq as a humiliation for America, which can then be translated into Democratic victory in November.

Vietnam and Iraq are not remotely similar, either in origin or execution, but George W. and his administration risk falling into a trap nonetheless. Not into a quagmire, but of Vietnamizing the war in Iraq by making politics the battlefield strategy. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon tried that and it didn't work, and the military experience of the current generation of politicians was largely limited to listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Marine commanders know how to clean out Fallujah. If the president wants to see his poll numbers soar, he should turn the leathernecks loose. This would scuttle the Saddamite insurrection, save American and Iraqi lives, assure his re-election and ruin a lot of "serious Manhattan dinner parties."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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