Dean Barnett

I agree with Allah that the above clip is the most surreal moment from last night’s Democratic debate. And that’s saying something about a forum where the candidates spent five minutes arguing over whether boycotting the Beijing Olympics would be indicative of a too muscular foreign policy. (In the course of that argument, not a single candidate mentioned how Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow games brought the Soviet Union to its proverbial knees.)

Anyway, back to the clip. In it, Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland’s gift to American politics, says that he doesn’t want to kill Osama bin Laden. Even if he had the ability to do so, he would eschew killing him and try to drag him to a global tribunal where Osama would presumably face a very European form of justice.

But forget about that. That’s just Kucinich being crazy for peace. What’s really interesting is the part where Kucinich goes on to say everyone who has broken international law, as bin Laden did, should face justice in an international tribunal. Gosh, who do you think he could be talking about? Do you think President Kucinich would make a point of seeing his predecessor plod around The Hague wearing an orange jumpsuit?

Obviously, there’s a danger in criminalizing politics. One of the beauties of the American system is that the losers don’t have to worry about facing the guillotine. It was telling that while some of the candidates did try to respond to Kucinich by butching up and saying they would kill bin Laden (but with language a lot less flashy than “Ill follow him to the gates of hell”), none of the Democratic wannabes dared take issue with the implied promise to try George W. Bush as a war criminal.

What are we to make of this? First of all, the Democrats all sense that they have to cater to their fevered base, and any sentiment not sufficiently hostile to the president will play poorly. Secondly, the Democrats remain all about Bush. Last night’s debate could have very easily sprung from the 2004 campaign where at every similar forum all the candidates, even ole Joementum, jockeyed to be the most stridently anti-Bush person on the stage. It’s almost as if the Democrats don’t realize they won’t be running against Bush in ’08.

BUT THERE’S ANOTHER THING THAT THEY don’t realize, and it’s a bit counter-intuitive. In a way, this Spruce Goose of an immigration bill and the controversy that has followed it is a blessing in disguise because it has permanently separated George W. Bush from the Republican base. Until a couple of weeks ago, the Republican candidates had to pussy-foot around the issue of the incumbent. They all knew the base and the rest of the country wanted something different, but President Bush remained popular with core Republicans. Candidates who distanced themselves from the president or who criticized him did so at their peril.

The immigration bill changed all that. In the conservative media, the president now has few supporters. The base is furious. And, surprisingly enough, when the administration’s lackeys and media water-carriers call the bill’s critics bigots, it doesn’t help the president with the core Republican voters, the vast majority of whom happen to be among those critics.

In spite of this bill and Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers and a score of other disappointments, I still like the president and I respect and admire his leadership and steadfastness on the war. But the Republican base has moved on. In a matter of weeks, not months, the public face of the Republican Party will be an amalgam of Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Politically speaking, the leading Republican celebrities of the past eight years, namely George Bush and John McCain, will recede from prominence.

For Republicans who hope to hold the Oval Office and avoid a total calamity in the 2008 congressional elections, this is a very good thing. The president, like John McCain, has blundered into making himself irrelevant. The big question then becomes will the Democrats be able to adapt to this new reality. Let’s face it – as a group, Democrats are like a junky who can think of nothing but satisfying their jones for Bush hatred. If they spend all their time and all their energy focusing on a guy who stopped mattering 17 months before the election, they’ll look ridiculous. They’ll look like a bunch of Dennis Kuciniches

And ask Michael Dukakis – a presidential candidate can’t afford to look ridiculous.

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Dean Barnett

Dean Barnett blogs almost daily at He has also been a frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard's online edition, The Daily Standard. He can be reached for comment at

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