The recent attacks by Congressman Richard Gephardt against fellow Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean underscore how difficult a position Democrats are in going into the 2004 election.
All of these hapless Democratic presidential hopefuls want to run because they want to be president, not because they believe they have a superior vision, at least where the War on Terror is concerned. But they're all scampering around in search of a foreign policy message that will resonate -- something, anything that will give the voters a solitary reason to switch horses in the middle of this stream of war.
John Kerry reminds us every other day of his military experience, as if that alone is supposed to negate his dangerous appeasement-oriented foreign policy outlook and his softness on terrorism. Senator Edwards, like Kerry and most of the others, mouths platitudes about the president's "unilateralism" or his alleged exaggerations about WMD. But none of these candidates offers any real alternative to President Bush's prosecution of the war. Their criticisms are smoke and mirrors, and aren't even being taken seriously.
Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt face a similar problem from a different position. They supported the war, so despite their artificial complaints, have nothing to distinguish themselves from President Bush either.
Only Howard Dean, among the serious candidates, purports to be anti-war, though lately he's backing away ever so slightly from that position, which would be political suicide in the general election. He has exploited this issue all the way to the top of the anti-Bush, anti-war hill of his party faithful. He hasn't even had to appear stable. The more indignant his demeanor, the more appealing to his grass-roots malcontents.
This Dean thing is just killing the other Democrat candidates. How dare this outsider be the front-runner when he has utterly no credibility on the one issue that will probably matter most in 2004? The Democrats are so rattled by Dean's success that they've started airing ads challenging his war credentials.
The TV ad has been aired over and over in the pivotal primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. The unmistakable message is that the American public cannot trust Howard Dean with their lives.
In the ad, the image of Osama bin Laden appears and the haunting announcer states that the American people "want a president who can face the dangers ahead. … But Howard Dean has no military or foreign policy experience. And Howard Dean just cannot compete with George Bush on foreign policy."