"It's time for us, without regard to party, to say what every
American knows: Washington is not doing enough to make American safe." So
spoke Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. "If the
administration continues to do too little, it will be too late again."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., has warned that "the American
people are only slightly safer today here at home than we were on Sept. 11,
2001." And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has charged the administration with
negligence in making "the preparations necessary to properly deal with an
obvious problem of growing terror and the threat at home."
The same theme is showing up in the statements of other
prominent Democrats, notes The New York Times, perhaps signaling a new
strategy for 2004: stress homeland security as a way of seeming tough on
If the Democrats are trying to get to Bush's right on homeland
security, they will have to start by explaining why they filibustered the
homeland security bill and then delayed it for months because they were more
concerned about ensuring full union rights for employees of the new
department than ensuring domestic security.
The Democrats resisted giving the president the authority to
hire and fire at will. But the Democrats weakness on defense long predates
the war on terror. (In my book to be published in February, "Useful Idiots,"
I offer chapter and verse.) All of their instincts, all of their nerve
fibers are anti-defense. Decrying American power comes naturally to them.
Using it does not.
The Democrats recognize that they have a political problem in
this newly sober era. When the only important questions before the nation
concerned education, Social Security and suburban sprawl, it was easy to
gloss over their traditional weakness on national defense and foreign
policy, and get away with it.
President Clinton could pursue the customary Democratic approach
to foreign affairs without paying any political price because the voters
weren't paying attention. So he attempted (unsuccessfully) to bribe the
North Koreans out of their nuclear program, turned down opportunities to
arrest Osama bin Laden, weakened the FBI's terror-fighting capacity and
pushed the Israelis to believe that Yasser Arafat was a "partner for peace."
But the Democrats are also the shrillest critics of any domestic
security step that might involve actually spying on the terrorists who are
here. Al Gore decried the homeland security law for moving us "towards a Big
Brother type approach to government." Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wailed that
its provisions are a "supersnoop's dream" and "make a mockery of our privacy
laws." Note that the Democrats have been keening about a bill that merely
permits the FBI to observe and eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. None of
the information gathered for that purpose could be turned over to ordinary
prosecutors. And yet, they cavil.
In another arena of homeland security, protection against
biological terrorism, the Democrats have displayed a splendid talent for
missing the point. Republicans had inserted a provision protecting vaccine
manufacturers from extreme punitive damages awards. Clearly, such insulation
is necessary if we are going to immunize almost the entire U.S. population
against smallpox in the coming two years.
If vaccine manufacturers stand to lose huge lawsuits from the
one in a million or so people who may die from the vaccine, there will
simply be no vaccine. This is a matter of public health. We need the
smallpox vaccine. We know there's a risk. But we've decided as a matter of
public policy to push ahead in spite of the risk. The fear of lawsuits could
upend the entire enterprise.
But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., didn't see it that way.
Republicans, she argued, are telling families that "their children's health
takes a distant second place to large corporations."
Even if the Democrats were able to overcome all of above, they
would remain handicapped on this issue because they don't see the big
picture. "Bush isn't protecting us," they cry. But the president has thought
this through and decided long ago that defense is necessary but insufficient
to protect this nation from terror. The war must be taken to our enemies if
we are to be safe here at home. The president has an offense