They should have picked Dean

Debra J. Saunders

8/1/2004 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders

BOSTON -- At the Democratic National Convention, the gulf between rhetoric and reality is breathtaking.

 John Kerry and his surrogates have spent the week telling America that if Kerry and John Edwards are elected, America will not go to war, as the script reads, "because we want to, we only go to war because we have to."

 But Sens. Kerry and Edwards did not have to vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Yet they did.

 They say they were misled -- which suggests that they now think America didn't have to go to war. Why should Americans listen to them now?

 Bottom line: The Democratic Party did not have to nominate a candidate who supported the war, but Democratic voters for some reason chose to do so.

 Item: According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, three-quarters of Democratic voters opposed the war.

 Item: The same poll found that 86 percent of convention delegates opposed the war.

 Item: One hundred percent of the Democratic ticket voted with GOP President George W. Bush on Iraq.

 Nonetheless, this convention is packed with politicians who are boasting about the tremendous party unity they see everywhere. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said that the party is more united than she has seen it in 40 years. Three in four Democrats disagree with the nominee on the biggest issue out there -- and that's unity?

 "It's not just a toning down of rhetoric, but a turning inside-out of reality," said Massachusetts GOP politico Todd Domke.

 No lie. Here's an example, a line from the Democratic Party platform chapter titled "A Strong, Respected America," which faults members of the Bush administration because "They do not understand that real leadership means standing by your principles and rallying others to join you."

 Au contraire, Bush understands leadership. He stood by his principles, he rallied Kerry and Edwards to join him, and he thereby brought the opposing party to his war.

 Kerry and Edwards followed.

 Bush led.

 Veteran Kerry observer Domke told me months ago the Democrats should have picked former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

 I now see how right Domke was.

 I see it as I watch a group of well-meaning delegates gush about how excited they are, how united they are, because they chose a man with whom nearly nine out of 10 of them disagree on the most fundamental issue -- the war.

 It must hurt. The delegates can't argue their most deeply held belief -- that the war was wrong -- because they nominated a man who voted to authorize it.

 Think: America is in the middle of a war, and speakers at the Democratic National Convention can't really address this war in an honest manner. Many can't say what they really believe.

 They have to pretend they will go along with positions they detest.

 For a campaign to succeed, Domke noted, its energy has to come from both the message and the candidate. "It turns out that with Howard Dean, (the Democrats) would have had not just a messenger they could believe but a message that they obviously do believe in."

 It's true that Thursday night showed America a man with a compelling story, a worthy biography and an admirable war record, but his story can't change the minds of those who disagree with his policies.

 If the Democrats wanted an anti-war nominee, they should have picked one.

 Instead, they chose a man who is committed to seeing the war in Iraq through.

 They threw out their principles when they picked John Kerry. They wanted to win so badly that they were willing to stake their party's future on a man whom they must attack in a matter of months, if he stays true to his words of today.

 And how united will their party be then?

 It's tragic -- I say, even though I support Bush -- to see committed people turn their back on their most cherished principles because they thought it was the clever way to beat Bush.