The Democrats need a scandal. With only 17 months until Election 2004, George W. Bush is riding high in the opinion polls. The economy looks to be on the rebound. Reconstruction in Iraq is underway.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is in flux. Its potential presidential candidates viciously attack one another in the hopes of gaining the nomination. The lead public relations organ of the Democratic Party, The New York Times, has entered full crisis mode with the resignations of executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd. The party's leading newsmaker, Hillary Clinton, is widely despised.
The Democrats have no place to turn. By opposing the president, they have painted themselves into a corner -- the better the country does, the worse they do politically. Only one avenue of escape remains: scandal.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, no scandal looms on the horizon. Why? Because political scandal requires that the public distrust the politician in question. People have to believe the politician is not a "nice guy." But George W. Bush has the anti-scandal vaccine: likeability. He might as well be called the Pam President. You can fry him, you can grill him, but nothing will stick to him.
It's not as though the Democrats haven't tried. They tried the Watergate-style scandal. For three years since the 2000 election, Democrats have claimed that Bush and his band of slimy Republicans "stole" the presidency. In language strikingly similar to that used by Richard Nixon's enemies during the 1974 scandal, Democrats continue to denounce Bush's "dirty tricks" of 2000. But this scandal-that-wasn't played itself out. The American public largely turned its back on this argument, especially after Sept. 11. Watergate worked with Nixon because Nixon, dubbed "Tricky Dick" in 1950, had assumed the image of slickster in the hearts and minds of Americans already. But Bush is widely perceived as good-natured Gallant with a touch of Goofus.
Realizing that the "Bush-as-Grinch, America-as-Whoville" strategy wasn't cutting it, the Democrats turned to the Whitewater-style scandal. The Democrats got the brilliant idea that since Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were both successful businessmen, the administration had to be funneling government cash to its friends. Most notoriously, the Democrats alleged that the Bush administration had knowingly overlooked Enron's corruption and had in fact aided Enron. Again, the Democrats failed. While Whitewater had substance to it, the Enron-Bush link simply didn't exist.