Democratic political strategist Pat Caddell is one angry man. His is not the anger, however, of a typical partisan, seething at his opponents and gloating in their defeat on November 7th.
Rather, Mr. Caddell is furious with the Republican leadership for allowing his party to win both houses of Congress at what he rightly sees is a desperate moment in our nation’s history. President Bush and what is left of the GOP on Capitol Hill and around the country would do well to heed this skilled operative’s critique – and the insights it provides for the way ahead in such a dangerous time of war.
On Sunday, before a capacity crowd at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, the former advisor to George McGovern and Jimmy Carter depicted the election as one the Republicans lost more than the Democrats won. Above all else, the GOP failed to run on the issue that resonated most effectively, not only with their own base but with independent voters and even some Democrats: the grave nature of the conflict we are in, and the extent to which the Democratic Party and its senior officials cannot be trusted to manage it.
Far from making this case forcefully, consistently and at every level of the 2006 campaign, the Republicans allowed their opponents politically to define the “war” strictly in terms of Iraq. Such a dumbing-down of the subject – largely ignoring the global threat posed to the entire Free World by Islamofascists and their enablers – had several undesirable effects.
For one, it allowed widespread public frustration with the Republicans’ management of the battle for Iraq to obscure questions about the Democrats’ competence on national security matters. For another, it created incentives for our enemies in Iraq (and, for that matter, Afghanistan) to ratchet up their bloodletting.
The Islamists and other “insurgents” knew that blowing up something in America during the run-up to an election would likely have the opposite effect it did in Spain in 2004 – clarifying the abiding danger and hardening our resolve. They calculated that making a concerted effort to blow up as many of our forces, allies and innocent Iraqi civilians as possible, though, would have a similar effect to the Madrid train bombings: It would encourage the coming to power of an opposition that would capitulate, rather than respond with a redoubled effort.Mr. Caddell noted that Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s victory demonstrates it did not have to be this way. Despite his loss in the Democratic primary, the Connecticut senator ran as an independent on a platform that unapologetically rejected cutting-and-running from Iraq. He offered his constituents a well-reasoned, and accurate, assessment of the larger war we are in and the implications for it of our loss of Iraq. As Mr. Caddell sees it, the failure of too many Republican Party leaders and candidates to do as Joe Lieberman did and “put the country first” out of a belief that “they could rely on getting out the vote and the hell with the issues” has led to our present pass.
The longtime Democratic operative’s rage is particularly intense because he knows the sort of people to whom our future security is now being entrusted. He expressed deep concern that Nancy Pelosi would be, as Speaker of the House, two heartbeats away from the presidency, saying she is someone who is no more prepared to be Commander-in-Chief than he would be to serve as an astronaut on a lunar mission.
Evidence of just how ill-suited Rep. Pelosi is for any position of responsibility for national security has become manifestly evident even before she has become Speaker. She campaigned aggressively for Jack Murtha to become the House Majority Leader. Although the most vociferous champion of swift abandonment of Iraq was overwhelmingly rejected for that post by the Democratic caucus, Mrs. Pelosi will make him the chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee – from which he will be able to do immense harm to the war effort.
Worse yet, as Pat Caddell pointed out, the Speaker-elect is intent on entrusting to Rep. Alcee Hastings the chairmanship of what many Americans regard as the House panel with the greatest responsibility for our security at the moment, the Intelligence Committee. Democrat Caddell observed that this is frightening on several grounds. To do so, Mrs. Pelosi had to reject the more-senior Rep. Jane Harman, ostensibly because she had not been sufficiently partisan in her role as ranking minority member.
Pat Caddell is right that the Republican failure during the campaign to frame the national security issue properly – including the horrifying prospect of a Hastings chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee – is substantially responsible for the fact that there will be an acute lack of security-minded leadership in the 110th Congress. Already, our enemies have taken heart from this turn of events. Worse yet, the lack of adult supervision raises real concern as eminences of both parties call for negotiations with them and their appeasement via sacrifice of Israel’s security.
The way ahead is for Republicans to join forces with sensible Democrats like Pat Caddell on a robust, bipartisan national security plan for waging the War for the Free World. Ben Franklin’s famous warning was never more true: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”