Dems’ Dilemma

James Robbins:

The Democrats are on the horns of a dilemma. The war on terrorism, particularly the campaign in Iraq, is one of the most passionate issues on the American left. Yet while generating strident opinions among those who consider Michael Moore to be the country's leading liberal intellectual (and who am I to argue with that?), Middle America still gives George Bush high marks for his conduct of the war. So Kerry's supporters have to find a way to triangulate between the two and alienate neither.

Within the party, the Democrats are papering over the cleavage. The Democratic platform asserts, "People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq." The party leadership hopes that they will have the decency to disagree silently. They are trying very hard to ignore the 600-lb. gorilla in the room, fearing that should the issue flare up it will send the genuine antiwar voters to their more natural candidate, Ralph Nader.

Kerry is also avoiding controversy when it comes to defeating al Qaeda. He promised earlier in the day that he would "run a war that's more thoughtful and more effective" — not exactly a stirring call to arms. New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez asserted that John Kerry has "a plan to win the war on terror," and proceeded to list what sounded very much like the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission report. Among the revolutionary and innovative counter-terrorism techniques Kerry is proposing is that we identify, disrupt, and eliminate terror networks. Apart from simply begging the question, isn't that what the Bush team has been up to for the past three years? It is hard to distinguish the Democratic rhetoric from the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, except that the Bush plan is much more specific. With respect to operational approaches to fighting terrorism, Kerry has nothing new to say.


The second theme was global cooperation, which is half of the Kerry campaign's uninspiring slogan, "Strong at Home, Respected in the World." This is a safe issue even among the anti-war crowd, who one suspects would just as soon see the U.N. managing U.S. foreign policy. Most speakers praised John Kerry's unparalleled ability to reach out to foreign leaders and condemned the straw man of President Bush's foreign-policy unilateralism. Bob Menendez said alliances were useful because "you get a lot more firepower when you can organize a posse." That's kind of wild-west imagery that, if used by Bush, would be greeted with howls from the left. To hear the Democrats fuss you would think the United States has no allies whatsoever in the war on terrorism, instead of the 70 nations now part of the global Coalition. (Note that the "Allies" in World War II were comprised of 44 countries.)

The Dems believe that by having antiwar types in charge of the war and becoming closer to allies who opposed the war we will be stronger and we can do a better job of fighting it. That should be a tough sell.


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