Out of times

Posted: Mar 27, 2003 12:00 AM

There they go again. Despite a mountain of clear polling data, The New York Times still refuses to admit that the vast majority of Americans support President Bush's war to topple the dangerous regime of Saddam Hussein and liberate the people of Iraq.

In a front-page story on Saturday, reporters Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder unveil a Times/CBS News poll that finds 70 percent of Americans approve of Bush's handling of Iraq -- an increase of 19 percentage points in only 10 days. But the paper of record won't let it rest there.

Most of the story talks about "deep partisan divisions" surrounding the conflict. And this just in: According to the Times, Bush enjoys far greater support from Republicans (93 percent) than he does from Democrats (50 percent). This alleged political division is even more intense when it comes to the president's overall approval rating: 95 percent of Republicans favor the Texan, compared with only 37 percent of Democrats.

What Nagourney and Elder failed to report from that very same poll is that independent voters strongly favor Bush on the war (65 percent) and approve of his overall performance (66 percent). They didn't mention this once in their story. As we know full well, it is precisely these independent swing voters who now determine elections in America. Yet, in their infinite wisdom, The New York Times chooses to ignore this fact.

If the Times' reporters had dug a little deeper, they might have reached the conclusion that what the poll really shows is how isolated the wartime Democratic Party has become. On war, Democrats fall 15 points below independents in their support for Bush. On overall approval for Bush, that gap widens to an astonishing 29 points.

Unquestionably, the Democratic Party doesn't think much of George W. Bush. Why? Because the majority of grass-roots Democrats are antiwar and care little for national-security issues (they also dislike tax cuts). This is why the president was so successful in the GOP midterm election sweep. It might even be true that the Democratic Party has lost more ground since last November.

Certainly the specter of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle saying Bush "failed so miserably at diplomacy," rather than condemning the egocentric ranting and raving of French President Jacques Chirac, is nothing short of a self-inflicted political wound. Equally problematic for Democrats is the apparent popularity of antiwar presidential candidate Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who is wowing Democratic state conventions, and absorbing the political oxygen from more responsible candidates like Richard Gephardt and Joe Lieberman.

The Democratic Party is in deep trouble on the great issue of our time. President Bush has successfully made the case that war against Iraq specifically, and all manner of terrorism generally, is essential to our nation's security. But Democratic leaders have countered with a nitpicking and highly partisan strategy. Bush has made the case for overturning foreign Stalins to liberate oppressed peoples in the Middle East and elsewhere, and for assisting the liberated in moving toward a pluralistic human-rights era of freedom. But the Democrats have chosen to take a pass on just the type of issues they used to call their own.

As Lawrence Kaplan, the author (with William Kristol) of "The War over Iraq," put it in The Wall Street Journal, Democrats are now opposing democracy and liberals are now against liberalism. The party of Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman, JFK and Henry Jackson still suffers from McGovernite Vietnam syndrome. They are completely lost in the post-9/11 world of new politics and changing international relations.

The New York Times is overlooking this Democratic meltdown. It also refuses to recognize growing support for the war within the broader anglosphere. British wartime leader Tony Blair has seen his support nearly double to 56 percent from 29 percent. The same is true for Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Closer to home, Ralph Klein, the premier of Alberta, Canada, recently took the unusual step of writing to U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci in support of the American decision to forcibly disarm and remove Saddam Hussein. Klein joins two other Canadian premiers who have distanced themselves from the antiwar Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who claims the war has no justification. Both Ontario Premier Ernie Eves and British Columbia's Gordon Campbell have rebuked the prime minister for failing to put Canada at America's side in the Iraq war.

All of this is significant news. It shows considerable support for President Bush, not just partisan support. It leaves no doubt that that the size and scope of the coalition of the willing is growing daily. Regrettably, the great New York Times believes this sort of war news is not yet fit to print.