The Great Right Hope

Posted: Aug 19, 2005 12:00 AM

There’s little doubt today’s Democratic party is destroying itself. It seems unable to come up with any ideas or solutions, so it spends its time filibustering conservative judges and blocking Republican proposals. However, for a two-party system to work you need -- well -- two parties. So in the spirit of encouraging competition, here’s what the Democratic party needs to save itself: its own George W. Bush.

The left’s problems today oddly mirror the right’s problems 10 years ago.

Back then, conservatives thought their opposition to President Clinton would be enough. We didn’t like him, we didn’t trust him, and we expected the rest of the country would agree. “I think trust is a very important issue just from the response we have had from the people who show up at rallies,” Sen. Bob Dole told CNN in October of 1996.

During one of those rallies, Dole sounded almost like a car alarm: “Who do you trust, who do you trust, who do you trust?” he asked. The answer probably didn’t please him -- enough people trusted Clinton to make him an easy winner.

At the same time, 94-year-old Strom Thurmond was running for re-election to the Senate from South Carolina. Republicans considered it an important seat, and Thurmond did manage to win and serve out his final six-year term. However, the fact that the GOP needed to depend on a nonagenarian didn’t portend well.

Today, though, the roles have reversed. Liberals hate George W. Bush, and assume that will be enough. “I don’t like the son of a bitch that lives in the White House,” Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hackett told USA Today.

Hate didn’t help. Hackett went on to lose to Jean Schmidt in a special election on Aug. 2.

But even though he won’t be coming to Washington, Hackett declared victory. “This was a success. We should all be proud,” he told supporters. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois also drew the wrong lesson from the election. “There’s no safe Republican district. You can run, but you cannot hide,” he announced. But there’s no need for Schmidt to hide. You can find her in Congress.

Now that Hackett has failed, some liberals have latched on to Cindy Sheehan, a mother whose son died in Iraq. She wants a few choice words with President Bush. “You get that maniac out here to talk with me in person,” is how she put it.

James Moore, co-author of the book “Bush’s Brain” (hint -- Moore doesn’t think the president has one, and instead suggests Karl Rove is the brains of the operation) says Sheehan “is becoming the symbol of our American Tiananmen.”

Sheehan is a mother who has lost her son. That’s a tragedy. But it’s nothing like Tiananmen. President Bush will probably ignore her, but he won’t send in a line of tanks to break up her protest. Besides, Sheehan is playing up her tragedy and turning it into comedy. “You get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you’ll stop the terrorism,” she told Veterans For Peace this month.

Of course, terrorists were at work long before the U.S. invaded Iraq. Leaving before the job there is finished would only embolden them to strike again. And by bringing up the Palestinians, Sheehan is just roasting an old liberal chestnut.
Israel is voluntarily pulling settlers out of Gaza this week, but nobody (except, apparently, Sheehan) thinks that will stop Islamic terrorists from targeting the United States or Israel.

Meanwhile, 88-year-old Sen. Robert C. Byrd is already running campaign ads, which certainly suggests he’ll run for re-election next year in West Virginia. Maybe he’ll even win, as Thurmond once did. But if he’s the best man his party can field in a traditionally Democratic state, a Byrd victory would be a Pyrrhic one.

What the left needs is a George W. Bush -- a candidate who will come out and be positive.

Recall that during 2000, Bush seldom mentioned Bill Clinton at all. He certainly never called the president a “liar” or a “loser,” as current Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid has called Bush this year. Instead, candidate Bush focused on what he would do differently as president, not on the perception that he was somehow a better person than Clinton.

That strategy was frustrating to some conservatives. We wanted more red meat. But it worked.

If Hackett, Byrd and Sheehan are the future of the Democratic party, it won’t be long before it completely disappears. To be successful, a Democratic candidate will need to be relentlessly positive. It may be frightening to conservatives -- but that’s why if Hillary Clinton is as smart as she’s alleged to be, we’ll see a permanent smile etched on her face from now until 2008.