America has big issues again. President Bush's doctrine of preemption is the sort of weighty issue that can define a political party for a generation. Think of the economic angst that Ronald Reagan tapped into in 1980; the row of tin pot dictators that Richard Nixon used to his advantage in 1968 and the sort of civil discord that defined John F. Kennedy in 1960.
So, how has the Democratic Party responded? The answer is clear. They haven't. Rather than galvanize around a broad overarching message designed to lead the nation into a new era, the Democratic primary is fracturing into several single issue campaigns.
JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Slow to mobilize, because of his commitment not to run if Gore entered the presidential race, Lieberman's name recognition still has him cresting atop the challengers. Widely admired for the breadth and depth of his legislative efforts, Lieberman's liberal domestic orthodoxy and hawkish stance on foreign affairs firmly entrenches him in the soft, gooey center. So far he's taken the lead on deconstructing the Bush tax plan. This is of absolute importance since the tax plan is Bush's domestic agenda. Sadly, even at this late date in the American empire, people still vote their prejudices. Some commentators feel this will hurt Lieberman, an orthodox Jew. More damaging is his inability to manufacture a good pseudo event. A capacity to marry power and glamour is essential to the modern politician, who must use image as well as words to solicit support.
RICHARD GEPHARDT: The conventional wisdom over the past year was that Dick Gephardt's labor connections and fund-raising ability made him the Democrat's most viable candidate. But the summer has just begun and already he has the scent of weakness about him. Why? Early stage campaigning is about potential force. Candidates aren't required to tell the public much and can get by on the ability to merely suggest greatness, or at very least seem more likable than the other guys (see George W Bush in 2000). Gephardt, by contrast, is a 2-by-4 with policy ideas. Like Lieberman, he fails the image manipulation test.