In launching these indirect assaults, they have all but tacitly conceded that Republicans are stronger on defense but insisted that they are nevertheless too inept, unsophisticated or immoral to conduct the War on Terror effectively.
These attacks have included condemnation of President Bush for "unilateralism," "going it alone" or "destroying our alliances" in the War on Terror. When we were celebrating our initial rout of Iraq in record time, they were saying, "Yes, but what at cost? You have toppled Saddam but at the expense of alienating Western Europe and driving up terrorist recruitment. You people might be great at making war, but you are miserable at international relations, and any gains you might have achieved militarily will be canceled by the destruction you are wreaking on America's image abroad."
They have carried this general theme forward in their politicization of the abuse and torture allegations of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, arguing, essentially, that we can never win the hearts and minds of terrorists -– and thus the War on Terror -– if we don't quit advertising our own inhumanity.
They've also engaged in the back-door attack of painting the administration as contemptuous of civil liberties, not just those sought-after civil rights of our al Qaeda enemy but of "innocent" Americans, as well. In this vein, they've depicted the Patriot Act as President Bush's and former Attorney General John Ashcroft's license to oppress and spy on their fellow citizens. Likewise, they've mischaracterized our "signals intelligence" as an NSA domestic spying scandal.
While these indirect attacks succeeded in damaging President Bush, and, ironically, even hurt his and America's image abroad, they never delivered to Democrats their coveted prize of being the go-to party on security issues.
The Democrats have also been impotent to exploit the president's one area of vulnerability on security -- immigration -- because they are even more lax on border enforcement.
But this latest Portgate effort by the Democrats is finally a frontal assault on the president's bona fides as Commander in Chief. While I think the president has some more explaining to do on this issue, the enormity of the Democrats' chutzpah in trying to depict themselves as national-security virtuosos is truly mind-boggling.
But to say they're ridiculously audacious is not to suggest that it's impossible they'll get away with it. I doubt they will, but no less a congenital dove than Hillary has been meticulously cultivating a hawkish image for several years now, with apparent success. Keep a sharp eye.