George Will

"Were the expense of war to be defrayed always by a revenue raised within the year ... wars would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken." -- Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations"

WASHINGTON -- Evidence that a Democrat has read Smith's great treatise against meddlesome government is as gratifying as it is startling. But perhaps there the evidence was last week, when Wisconsin Democrat David Obey proposed a $150 billion war surtax on incomes, ranging from 2 percent to 15 percent.

Democratic leaders, leery of making their itch to raise taxes even more conspicuous, reacted to Obey's idea the way vampires react to garlic. But they are considering his proposal -- which as chairman of the Appropriations Committee he can execute -- to delay until next year action on the president's request for $190 billion supplemental funding for the war. Congressional Democrats have heard growls from their base.

Those menacing sounds were provoked by Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's responses, in the Sept. 26 debate, to this question: "Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term, more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?" Their dusty answers were clear enough: No and no.

Because those responses were more or less sensible, they infuriated the party's incandescent anti-war activists. Those activists thought that in the 2006 elections they had won for their party the power to end the war, but they have had to settle for increasing the minimum wage.

Surely it is not fanciful to imagine that in the fevered recesses of these activists' minds there are thoughts of running, or at least threatening to run, an independent anti-war candidate in the general election. Most political professionals discount this possibility, saying that restive Democrats learned their lesson in 2000, when Ralph Nader's 97,488 votes in Florida cost Al Gore the presidency. But another lesson of that episode is that a small number of intensely disaffected "progressives" can have momentous consequences. Hence they might have considerable leverage by threatening an insurgency.

Speaking of insurgencies, last week there were menacing rumblings from social conservatives about running an independent anti-abortion candidate if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee. Perhaps if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, social conservatives will be terrified back into the fold, their fury assuaged by Giuliani's repeated genuflections in the form of promises regarding what such conservatives care most about -- judicial nominations.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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