This pettiness preoccupies would-be presidents as the markets, responding to the fastest quarterly growth of the economy (7.2 percent) in 19 years, are ascending--NASDAQ up 55 percent from its low this year, the Dow up 30 percent and as of Tuesday just 142 points shy of recrossing the 10,000 threshold. The Democratic candidates seem not to understand that as the economy becomes a smaller issue, the election becomes bigger.
It does because the election becomes almost entirely about a single large question: What should be America's role in the world? The Democratic candidates' answers, other than Joseph Lieberman's, range from incoherence to ruinous clarity.
The incoherence is: We favored removing Saddam Hussein, but oppose having done it without the cooperation of other nations who made it clear they were never going to participate. We support the troops in the field but oppose the money for them to continue what they are in the field to do, which is complete the emancipation of Iraq from tyranny's aftermath.
The ruinous clarity is: Come home America. That is the pole toward which Dean, and the declining saliency of domestic issues, is pulling the Democrats, who are not having a happy autumn.
Until Oct. 7, 26 states with 46 percent of the nation's population had Republican governors. Then Californians remembered that they really wanted a Republican governor after all. Then on Tuesday Mississippi and Kentucky elected Republicans to replace Democrats. When all three are inaugurated, and if Republicans on Nov. 15 retain the Louisiana governorship, the GOP will govern 29 states with 60.6 percent of the population.
On Monday, Florida's Sen. Bob Graham joined South Carolina's Fritz Hollings, North Carolina's John Edwards and Georgia's Miller as the fourth Southern Democratic senator to announce that he would not seek re-election. Louisiana's John Breaux may be a fifth. That is one way for Democrats to avoid the shame of receiving votes from people with politically incorrect pickups.