Linda Chavez
Don't expect the Democratic presidential contenders to let patriotism interfere with their political aspirations once the war with Iraq begins. Although it's customary to refrain from criticizing the commander in chief in time of war, the Democrats who want to replace President Bush can't afford to honor tradition. With the first caucuses and primaries less than a year away, those seeking the Democratic nomination have no time to waste being responsible. There is all that Hollywood peacenik money to be raised, not to mention the danger that Bush's popularity might soar once the fighting begins. Even if one or two of the Democratic contenders tried to do the right thing, the others would simply turn up the rhetorical heat to score points at their expense. Think this is simply paranoid, partisan fantasy? Not according to some well-respected Democrats. Top contender Sen. John Kerry's campaign manager, Jim Jordan, predicts, "You'll see for a certain amount of time an absence of criticism of the commander in chief. But just as it became incumbent for Democrats to offer observations and even criticism of the administration post-9/11, that will happen again here, I'm sure," he recently told the Los Angeles Times. "Everyone's going to support our troops," promises Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, but, he warns, "We will not sit on the sidelines while more people lose their jobs and more families are left without health care." Translation: The Democrats will say nice things about the men and women in uniform but won't hesitate to demagogue the fellow who sends them into battle. No one expects the Democrats to postpone their presidential nomination process for the duration of the war. But second-guessing the incumbent's foreign and defense policy as a means to win the nomination is bad for the country and could backfire on the Democratic Party as well, especially if voters think candidates are doing so primarily for partisan gain. The Democrats are already in danger of looking opportunistic with their criticism of the president's handling of the war on terrorism and the North Koreans. Democrats have accused the president of neglecting the fight against terrorism in order to pursue a war against Iraq. "It's the terrorists who represent the greater threat," claims Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who this week announced his presidential bid. The Democrats' case looks trumped up, however, in light of the apprehension last week of two top al Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, its alleged financier. Indeed, the war against international terrorism has been going well. This war is, by nature, slow and tedious, with much of the fight itself invisible. Nonetheless, the United States and its allies have arrested hundreds of al Qaeda-trained men, have interrupted the flow of funds used to finance terrorist operations, and have driven those leaders not already killed or apprehended further underground, where it is more difficult to accomplish their evil aims. Several key Democrats have also criticized the administration for its unwillingness to take a hard line against North Korea, implying that they think Kim Il Jong is a bigger threat than Saddam Hussein and that they would support military action against North Korea if the rogue nation keeps up its belligerence. These new Democrat hawks -- an oxymoron, if recent history is any guide -- point to Bill Clinton's handling of a similar crisis during his presidency. Contrary to revisionist claims that Clinton almost went to war when the North Koreans started acting up in the mid-1990s, in fact, Clinton took Teddy Roosevelt's dictum and turned it on its head. Instead of talking softly and carrying a big stick, Clinton talked loudly and carried a big carrot -- namely millions of dollars in U.S. aid and help in building two North Korean light-water nuclear reactors. The Democrats have their work cut out for them wresting control of the White House from a popular president. The way to do it isn't by undermining U.S. foreign policy.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

Be the first to read Linda Chavez's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate