For the 2004 presidential election, it appears Democrats are putting all their presidential prospect eggs in just two baskets, anti-Bush and antiwar.
In a sense, you can understand their strategy. They are in a bit of a spot here. The war happens to be what's most important to people, and President Bush is leading it. They can scarcely avoid these issues, yet their complete and honest airing will inevitably hurt their chances. It would be like the Democrats decrying the demise of traditional values.
On the one hand, the public trusts Bush; on the other, there seems to be a bottomless reservoir of animosity toward Bush among the Democrats' rank and file, and we all know the axioms about playing to your party's base during the primary season.
Adding to this pressure is a recent New York Times report saying that honchos from both parties have begun to reassess presidential political strategy and now believe that the most important factor for each of the parties will be to turn out their core voters. "Americans who move between the parties -- known as swing voters," says the Times, "are being overshadowed by a growing and very motivated base of Republican and Democratic loyalists."
So by design and necessity, and recent news that the economy is picking up the pace, the Democrats are primarily targeting Bush and the war. If you were Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe, how would you like to be in that position?
Think about it: You have concluded that to win the White House you have to discredit and slander President Bush and undermine his performance in the War on Terror.
Note that I didn't say, "You have to show that your Democratic candidate could do a better job than President Bush handling the War on Terror." The Democrats can't credibly maintain that they could do better. They have no solutions, just endless, contrived complaints.
No, since Bush is doing an objectively good job and because people generally trust him, especially with national security matters, the Democrats have to find a way to undercut the public's trust in him. Do you realize what a tall order that is? It's not as though President Bush has a scintilla of those negative characteristics that defined Bill Clinton. Democrats have had to make them up, manufacturing out of whole cloth artificial issues and fairytales about Bush's deceit. In the process, they are unmasking their own deceit.
The more Democrats attack President Bush, the less credibility and likeability they have. But there's something else. The more they attack him specifically on the conduct of the war, the more they reveal their age-old Achilles' heel: They are rightly perceived as weak on defense and inept in national security matters. With every bogus charge about the war on terror the Democrats inflict on themselves dual wounds: They paint themselves as untrustworthy and -- dare I utter it? -- unpatriotic.
Democrats, then, are darned if they don't -- their base and their own genuine antipathy toward President Bush compels them to slam him on the war -- and darned if they do, for the reasons stated.
They've richly earned this conundrum. Consider their posturing during the past year. Think of all the fits and starts in their desperation to find some Bush pressure point concerning the war. Let me recite a few off the top of my head.
Remember: "We are going to get bogged down in a quagmire in Afghanistan ... Bush is a unilateralist, ignoring the United Nations and other countries ... There is no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq ... There's no concrete proof of WMDs ... We don't know in advance what the cost will be in money and lives ... We can't protect Iraqi oilfields ... Bush and Cheney only care about Iraqi oil ... The Iraqis don't want to be liberated ... we'll get bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq ... You can't fight Iraq and attend to homeland security simultaneously ... We don't have enough troops in Iraq, thanks to Secretary Rumsfeld ... we started the groundwar without sufficient air strikes preceding it ... ‘Shock and Awe' was neither shocking nor awful ... there are breaks in our supply lines ... We permitted museums to be looted ... Bush lied about WMDs with the 16 words ... War is one thing, but winning the peace is impossible ... Osama and Saddam are still alive."
They are consummate naysayers, who have yet to be held accountable. But November 2004 is looming and, unfortunately for Democrats, the public still vividly remembers September 11, 2001.