Democratic presidential candidates, from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, have begun to challenge George Bush at the core of his political strength, arguing that he hasn't done enough to prosecute the war on terror or protect the homeland.
It's a political tack with some promise, suggested by the master tactician himself, Bill Clinton, at a recent speech in New York City. After a year and half of simply deferring to Bush on the war and hoping voters wouldn't notice their abdication, the Democrats are apparently ready to develop their own distinct positions on the most important issues facing the country.
Good. Just one problem: What will those positions be? So far, there is some mumbling that Bush hasn't sent enough dollars to local law enforcement, but little substance to add heft to the political charge that Bush is mishandling the war.
During the past year, Democrats have occasionally been tougher on war-related issues than the president, in constructive ways. They hammered, for instance, the administration for its bureaucratic protectiveness of the FBI and CIA, demanding, and getting, an independent 9/11 commission.
There are plenty of other legitimate criticisms of Bush waiting to be made -- that he isn't truly reforming the FBI and CIA; that airport security makes no sense; that defense spending is still too low; that immigration laws remain lax; that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is too cozy.
But it is doubtful that liberal Democrats, with a dovish, multiculturalist base, can pursue any of these avenues of attack. So, how can the Democrats get tough on terrorists and assert themselves abroad, while staying true to the traditional concerns of their most fervent supporters?
It will require deft positioning and political imagination, toward which here are some suggestions:
--Issue ultimatum to Afghan President Hamid Karzai: Stop wearing the fur hat, or suffer the severest consequences.
--Make Tom Ridge's color-coded terror-alert scheme complete by inserting pretty magenta between the orange and red.
--Wage campaign to convince Islamic clerics that, their radical and noxious preaching to the contrary, abstinence is not a realistic option for Muslim teens.
--To be fair, immediately extend Immigration and Naturalization Service fingerprinting program to visitors from Greenland, Wales and Belize.
--Sue Nike, Reebok and Adidas for their role in providing material for deadly shoe bombs.
--Sign deal with North Korea submitting to nuclear blackmail by showering Pyongyang with economic and fuel aid (oops, sorry -- already been tried).
--Double tax the dividends of terrorist financiers.
--Insist that, after all these years, the Saudis end their intolerable, indirect arms-length support for American SUVs.
--Institute intensive program of counseling and 1-800 help lines for suicidal bombers.
--Divert weapons inspectors in Iraq to more important question: Does Saddam pay palace help a living wage?
--Offer Mullah Omar's son a Rhodes scholarship.
--Demand that Osama bin Laden license and register the AK-47 he brandishes in al-Qaida training videos.
--Jail "dirty bomber" in perpetuity, with no access to a lawyer or chance for appeal, for dastardly plot to commit massive and unprecedented violation of Clean Air Act.
--Award Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize (second time could be the charm).
--Undertake massive sensitivity campaign in clannish tribal areas of Pakistan, aimed at convincing locals that "hate is not a family value."
--Make National Endowment for the Arts grants available for Wahhabi "performance artists" (their specialty: truly transgressive, "outside the box" shows featuring the destruction of Shia shrines and mortar attacks on ancient Buddhist statutes).
--Offer hardball deal to Iranian clerics: an easing of economic sanctions in exchange for keeping the fatwa on Jerry Falwell.
--Increase fuel efficiency of the gas-guzzling M-1 Abrams tank from roughly 3 miles per gallon to 6 mpg by 2008.
--Apply hard-won perspective from Clinton impeachment to defusing Iraq crisis: What's the fuss? Everyone lies about weapons of mass destruction.