Bill Murchison

The Democrats' probable presidential nominee makes it as plain as day. "They're extreme; we're mainstream," says John Kerry.

Umm-hmm. "Mainstream," as in:

"This (the war in Iraq) was made up in Texas ... This whole thing was a fraud." -- Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy

"George Bush, a man who was AWOL ... " -- Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe

"He betrayed this country!" --Albert Gore Jr., sometime presidential candidate

"And what's more, anybody who disagrees with us Democrats and our campaign to rescue America from Bush-ite extremism is a vile extremist." Maybe it won't have come to that by September or October, but the way things are going, it just might.

The 2004 presidential election is in some ways the bleakest many of us have known -- and some of us (you can tell from the creaking of our joints) have known quite a few elections. The tone is not the entire problem. The problem is tone and context together.

Every presidential election sends out, far and wide, a message. The message the Democrats -- as of now anyway -- propose sending is a message of contempt for and rejection of the leader of the war on terrorism. We hear it over and over: He's bad, he's a liar, and we're making sure he goes -- without, as John Kerry likes to put it, the door's hitting him.

Welcome to the Disunited States of America.

Maybe, provided you believe polls produced nine months before the election, the president is about to retire in disgrace: a political Bernie Ebbers. Whatever the case, we should brace for the possibility of a campaign in which the leader of the war on terrorism is daily called, by many of his own constituents, a fraud and a betrayer.

If you were an Iraqi Baathist or a Shiite ayatollah, an American infantry corporal or a potential Islamic suicide bomber, a French foreign secretary or a United Nations diplomatist, how would you receive the news that Americans are fed up, potentially, with the president who started this war? Would this encourage or discourage you concerning prospects for the drip-drip of American hands being washed, Pontius Pilate-style, of a deadly and burdensome commitment?

Wartime elections are always problematical. It is the opposition's constitutional right to dare voters to jettison a war leader. Kerry proposes to exercise that undoubted right, as George B. McClellan exercised it in 1864 and Tom Dewey in 1944 -- both times unsuccessfully. Given the bitterness of the present moment, the potential consequences are immense.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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