Katrina, Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, and Harriet Miers sent the national Democrats into paroxysms of joy. George Bush and the Republicans were history, as good as gone, dead meat.
Cindy Sheehan and Congressman John Murtha et al. piled on - citing the 2,000 mark of Americans killed in Iraq and launching a bring-the-boys-(and-girls)-home campaign reminiscent of nothing quite so much as the Communist-front enterprises of the 1950s and '60s. Bush's numbers plunged, and with it his own credibility and his administration's ability to accomplish anything during the next three years. And let us not fail to mention the dissolving Republican prospects at the polls.
Then came Veterans Day. Bush launched a rhetorical offensive to take back ownership of the Iraq question. Nearly half-a-dozen speeches laid out the issue - defending both the decision to go in and the determination not to fold 'em and get out before the dealing's done. The third successful Iraqi election in a year helped - big-time. Bush's numbers have turned. Happy days soon may be here again.
The ever-lovin' Democrats helped, too - as they have become so practiced at doing. They were determined to exploit Iraq finally to bring him down. But their incoherent performance regarding Iraq, so driven by their insatiable hatred of a good and decent man, is serving to bring him back.
The Democrats have fractured into essentially three camps on Iraq.
The Dean-Pelosi-Reid-Kennedy-Murtha-Kerry-Gore camp believes it's time - well past time - for the U.S. to confess to everything the terrorists require, declare defeat and vacate the premises in wide-eyed caterwauling.
The Rahm Emanuel/Steny Hoyer camp - Camp No. 2 - stands several steps toward the center from the fever-swampish Camp No. 1. Emanuel is a former senior White House aide to Bill Clinton. These days, he is the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman - and as such worries a lot about fund-raising and electing Democrats to the House next year.
Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip, shares with Emanuel the view that the group featuring his boss Nancy Pelosi and others could prove calamitous to the party: "I believe that a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation's security and credibility." This camp houses the currently stealthy Hillary Clinton, about whom more below.
Camp No. 3, close to the true middle of the nation's ideological spectrum, boasts but one prominent Democrat - Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. (He has grown oh so much since his years of leftist intellectual extremism in the class behind me on our shared collegiate newspaper.)
Of late, Sen. Lieberman is saying about Iraq these things:
(a) What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory. And
(b): History will judge us harshly if we do not stretch across the divide of distrust to join together to complete our mission successfully in Iraq. It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril.
Most Democrats profess themselves appalled at Lieberman's deviationist moderation; some might prefer him out of the party. Yet his position on Iraq blends nicely with - these days - Sen. Clinton's. She voted to go in, yet: "If Congress had been asked (to authorize the war) based on what we know now, we never would have agreed." Now, in her programmed rightward rush, she rejects "a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it."
It is impossible to know where Sen. Clinton really stands - whether her position du jour is grounded in principle or politics. She alternates between sounding almost Liebermanesque and recalling John Kerry's incomprehensible remark a year ago that he voted for the war before he voted against it.
Kerry's latest pronouncement: "There is no reason . . . that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of th - of - the historical customs, religious customs."
Party Chairman Howard Dean is out screaming again, with some in his own party speeding away from him as fast as they are from Bush. The House emphatically has rejected calls for withdrawal twice in as many months. These two Washington Post page-one headlines reflect the Democrats' Iraqi disarray:
Dec. 5 - "Democrats Fear That Anti-War Remarks Could Backfire"
Dec. 7 - "Democrats Find Iraq Alternative Is Elusive."
No wonder Bush's numbers have turned. He is making the case for steadfastness at last. And what Republican Chairman Ken Mehlman terms the "retreat and defeat" Democrats, with no alternative plan in the realm of right reason, offer nothing but idiot teemings; next they may start groaning low about one, two, many Iraqs. Their reigning intellect may be James Carville, who has noted: "Sometimes, the problem with being a Democrat is being a Democrat."
Correct. And perhaps not least among the factors in the reversal of some of President Bush's numbers is this: Many Americans, however weary and impatient they may be about Iraq, are not lying awake at night thinking how much happier they would be with President Kerry or President Gore.