Democratic party turns French

Posted: Apr 04, 2003 12:00 AM

On Wednesday, right around the time U.S. forces were wading into the thick of the battle, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the sad-sack dashboard saint of the anti-war left and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, called for a halt to the war: "Rescue this nation from a war that is wrong, that is unjust, that is immoral."

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry, the nominal front-runner for the nomination, declared, "What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States."

Kerry and Kucinich are simply this week's poster boys for what we might call the Frenchification of the Democratic Party.

France's opposition to America bares a striking resemblance to the Democratic Party's opposition to President Bush. French President Jacques Chirac has overplayed his hand to the point where he is definitively anti-American.

Chirac has said that if the United States finds chemical weapons in Iraq, he won't take our word for it. Rather, France will operate on the assumption that the United States planted the weapons until it hears otherwise from the United Nations. And, when asked recently if he wanted the United States to win the war, France's foreign minister answered with a verbal shrug.

Part of the problem is that the France's leaders have spent so long cultivating widespread anti-American sentiment, they are now constrained by what their constituencies will allow. Indeed, a recent poll the French newspaper Le Monde found that only a third of the French were on America's side and a third wanted Saddam to defeat the United States and Britain.

The Democrats are suffering from a similar problem. While it's certainly unfair to call rank-and-file Democrats "anti-American," it's increasingly clear that a very active and important core of the Democratic and liberal base is so anti-Bush so as to make it difficult to tell the difference.

Pro-war senators Richard Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards have all been greeted by hecklers shouting things like "Shame! Shame!" at Democratic events. These people vote in primaries. And Hollywood liberals and other overly clever folk, who write big checks to Democrats, honestly believe that President Bush is invading Iraq to send profits to Haliburton or Big Oil or to distract from this or that domestic problem.

In other words, the political gravity in the Democratic Party is pulling everybody to the left. Gephardt and other pro-war Dems have to keep their heads down or weasel and waffle about their support.

Indeed, these gravitational forces have turned Kerry into a pretzel. He voted to authorize the use of force last fall but is now borrowing the protesters' favorite line and calling for "regime change" in Washington. Such flip-floppery may help Kerry scrounge up primary votes, but he's basically writing the script for Bush's 2004 campaign ads.

Meanwhile, polls are showing wide support from average Americans, many of whom are Democrats but are neither hyper-liberal nor reflexive doves. Indeed, roughly 50 percent of Democrats support the war, according to polls taken before and after the war started. Seventy-eight percent of white Americans are in favor of war and 93 percent of Republicans are pro, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Plus, twenty-nine percent of blacks, the most reliably Democratic demographic, are in favor of war. If that were to translate into equivalent support at the polls, Bush would win in a historic landslide.

Regardless, if the war ends well and the peace goes smoothly enough, this could spell huge problems for the Democratic Party as President Bush's approval ratings will soar once again. Of course, Democrats argue that the same thing happened in 1991 and the first President Bush lost to Bill Clinton. That's true. And that's why Gephardt &Co. are smartly getting in front of the war issue.

But the precedent breaks down for two reasons. First, not only are Democrats aware of the lessons of 1992, so are the Republicans. Talk to White House insiders and they will tell you how well they've learned the lessons of Bush I. This White House is much more in sync with domestic considerations than the former. And if the economy gets better by Labor Day 2004, domestic issues won't even be an issue.

But more importantly, the analogy to 1991 doesn't work because the times are truly different. We are not merely at war with Iraq, we are at war with global terrorism (a useful euphemism for Islamic terrorism). This will not go away when the battle in Iraq is over.

It seems that Democrats -like our friends the French -do not or cannot understand this, and so they assume bad motives on the part of President Bush. This might make their constituencies happy, but most Americans don't want to hear it.