Under the old rules of debate, a spokesperson for one side of an issue would state a position and the opposing side would state its position. Rebuttals and surrebuttals would follow. The audience, or a panel of judges, would then declare a winner based on which side better presented the facts.
Those days are gone as feelings - not facts - are all that matter now.
Perhaps that is why the level of invective directed at President Bush has reached fever pitch. Each time his opponents have raised the bar for justifying war with Iraq, the president has followed their advice. When they raised it again, he met their new requests. Does this earn him points with his detractors? Far from it.
The president was told by his critics he should not act unilaterally. So he asked other nations to join in a "coalition of the willing. " About three dozen have offered either direct or indirect support. Critics said the president should get congressional approval. He did. He was told he should take his case to the United Nations. He did. There have been 18 U.N. resolutions, none of which have caused Saddam Hussein to comply.
What does the president get for doing what his critics have demanded? He is called names by those unwilling to forcibly deprive a mass murderer of his power to kill even more people.
The foreign press, especially in Britain where hundreds of people have complained to the BBC about its one-sided, anti-American reporting, has been particularly brutal. Many have called President Bush outrageous names, apparently as a substitute for sound arguments. Having lost the battle of ideas, the overseas press and increasingly the American press have resorted to a game of who can say the most disgraceful thing about the president. Because so many people form their impressions from the way "news " is delivered on TV, it is no wonder the level of support for war with Iraq has fallen.
Yet even in the midst of its criticism, the coalition of the unwilling is reluctantly concluding that the president's position on Saddam Hussein is right. During an angry attack on the president, columnist Richard Cohen concedes, "It's not that I don't think (President Bush) is right about Saddam Hussein and, if need be, the necessity to deal with him through war. "
Joe Klein, who regularly mocks the president, says that war "may well be the right decision. " At the conclusion of an essay filled with snide remarks about the president and his administration, Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic admits, "The war against Saddam Hussein is just, and it is truly a last resort. "
The Nation - which is about as left as you can get and still be on the planet - carries this concession by Eric Alterman: "I admit that the beefed-up containment policy vis-a-vis Iraq, driven exclusively by the Bush administration's obsession with the issue, has been a smashing success. " Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, who like other liberals is more concerned with "tone "
over substance, claims the president's tone has been "destructive to American interests, " but then declares, "But I now support military action. "
Bush critics hate it that he is sure of himself and is not "conflicted " as they are. They detest his "black vs. white, " "righteous vs. evildoers " view of the world. Klein blasts the president because his faith "does not impel him to have second thoughts, to explore other intellectual possibilities or question the possible consequences of his actions. " Columnist E.J. Dionne comes up with a new philosophy - "heroic ambivalence " - which he wants the president to embrace in the face of a grave and growing threat to our nation.
Ambivalence is not heroic. Neither is it leadership. The president's liberal critics fear he will succeed, win a second term and then name conservative justices to the Supreme Court. They know Saddam Hussein is evil. But they see President Bush as a greater evil because he will deprive them of their 40-year pattern of using the courts to make law and change culture. In their hearts they know he's right about Saddam. But in their heads they know the days of liberal domination of the courts are coming to an end, almost as quickly as Saddam Hussein's despotic regime.
(NOTE TO EDITOR: In the column distributed Feb. 19, THE (BIPARTISAN) CONGRESSIONAL MONEY TREE, the reference to Rep. Thomas A. Davis was incorrect. It should have read: "Rep. Thomas A. Davis (R-Va.) issued a press release trumpeting a $90,000 (sted $500,000) grant to improve a ballpark in his district. "