The Democratic leadership is in a state of perpetual feigned outrage over charges that Democrats are soft on defense and national security. Until they muzzle their cast of characters the charges will continue -- and they should.
Just as the party was trying to heal from wounds inflicted by its titular head, Albert Gore, they shot themselves in the foot again this past weekend.
It wasn't three outcast members of some left-wing fringe group who planted themselves on foreign soil to denounce the United States and suggest that its president would "mislead the American people." It was three Democratic congressmen, including Michigan's David Bonior, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the House.
They didn't just go to any foreign country, and they weren't just talking about any old innocuous subject. They went to Iraq, an enemy of the United States, and criticized United States' foreign policy specifically related to Iraq from a script that could have been written by Saddam himself. They did this at the very time the United States is seeking support from other countries for its imminent action against Iraq. All of this is amazing when you think about it.
Washington State Congressman Jim McDermott said he believed President Bush was willing "to mislead the American people" about Iraq. "I believe that sometimes they give out misinformation," said McDermott, "... and they've shifted. First they said it was al Qaeda, then they said it was weapons of mass destruction. Now they're going back and saying it's al Qaeda again."
McDermott didn't stop at trashing President Bush and America's position. He also gave moral support to Iraq when he insinuated Saddam Hussein's regime could be trusted, on weapons inspections no less, notwithstanding its history of deceit over the past decade.
Listen to the following statement, which is not only disloyal but just plain stupid. "They said," McDermott said, referring to Iraq, "they would allow us to go look anywhere we wanted. And until they don't do that, there is no need to do this coercive stuff where you bring in helicopters and armed people, and storm buildings."
"Until they don't do that?" How many "don'ts" would suit you, Mr. McDermott? Or have you been in hibernation since Saddam first promised to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction following the Persian Gulf War? How can you stand there on his real estate (for now) and claim that Mr. Bush is a liar, and, in effect, that Mr. Hussein tells the truth? Don't deny it, congressman. You said we "should take Iraqis on their face value."
And what did Congressman Bonior do upon hearing these reprehensible statements from his colleague? Did he distance himself to make clear they were the rantings of a renegade who doesn't speak for his august party? Absolutely not. He looked on approvingly, then added his own vote of confidence for Saddam's murderous regime by implying a moral equivalence between the United States and Iraq. "We've got to move forward in a way that's fair and impartial," said Bonior. "That means not having the United States or the Iraqis dictate the rules to these inspections."
Why shouldn't we dictate the rules, especially since the United Nations hasn't? Didn't we win a war with Iraq and impose them as a condition, Mr. Bonior? Would you have us forfeit our victory and start all over as if we'd never fought that war?
If the Democrats really want to shed their dovish image, perhaps they should quit whining about Republicans' "unfair" charges and condemn their members' irresponsible comments. But that could be a greater undertaking than you imagine.
It won't be enough for Democrats to silence the three stooges, Congressmen McDermott, Bonior and Mike Thompson. To make a real difference -- one that the American people would likely buy into -- they will also have to figure out a way to suppress the carpings of their other major players, like Senators Byrd ("Bush's plans to invade Iraq are a conscious effort to distract public attention from domestic issues"), Clinton ("Byrd's remarks were the height of patriotism") and Kennedy ("Let's give Iraq another chance").
It's time for congressional Democrats to spend less energy being hysterical over their cratering credibility, quit stalling and get behind the president -- assuming they have spare moments when they're not blindsiding his judicial appointees.