Them dems

Posted: Apr 16, 2003 12:00 AM

If Saddam had been joined by Congressional Democrats on the barricades in Fortress Baghdad, the 3rd Division would be calling for reinforcements to take the city. Stonewall Daschle, Black Jack "Pershing" Kerry, Ted "Stalingrad" Kennedy, Nancy "the 'Frisco Enforcer" Pelosi and the rest of the last-ditch Democratic gang may be wrongheaded, but they are tough as nails. They would have put a little steel in the spine of Saddam's Republican Guard. Our own domestic Senate Republican Guard better be prepared for a grinding, often seemingly pointless, war of attrition on the floor and in the corridors of the Senate between now and November 2004. Not until after the election will the surviving Democrats likely decide to play the part of Syria, and learn from recent experience to be more cooperative with President Bush. Which is a long way of saying that following the swift and heroic war leadership of the president, his supporters should brace themselves for a year and half of legislative disappointments.

The Democratic Party leadership is in a strange mental place right at the moment. Their activist base, big contributors and major party interests are more deeply misaligned with the American public than at any time since 1972. Just consider what Harold Meyerson, the editor of the liberal American Prospect, wrote in the Washington Post yesterday about the Democratic presidential race: " ... for labor's constituents -- as for those of every major institutional player in the Democrat's orbit -- the Bush presidency has proved an unmitigated disaster, so defeating Bush trumps every other consideration. 'This will be one of the least ideological battles that we -- the party's institutional powers -- have ever had,' said a (big labor) consultant." Mr. Meyerson went on to characterize the Democratic Party activists' view on the Iraq war as "a kind of exasperated ambivalence." Let me emphasize, Mr. Meyerson is one of the leading intellectual gurus of the Democratic Party -- he's their friend. He knows them well, and, it is my sense, he has got their mood about right.

At a time when polls show 80 percent of the public (and over 60 percent of self-identified Democrats) approves of Mr. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, the Democratic activists are feeling an "exasperated ambivalence." At a time when three out of four Americans approve the job the president is doing overall as president, "every major institutional player in the Democrat's orbit" believes his presidency is "an unmitigated disaster." Putting aside what Daschle, Kerry, Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership actually think about issues, no party leadership -- of either party -- can stray too far, for too long from the strong feelings of their party's activists, contributors and special interests. In military terms, they can't outrun their supply lines -- unless they are prepared to be a guerrilla band and live off the land. And Tom "the Dakota Indoorsman" Daschle, Jack "57 Varieties" Kerry and Ted "Another Chivas" Kennedy don't strike me as natural born guerrillas.

But they are tough competitors who will carry the fight of their party's activist base to the floor of the Senate. That base doesn't want to parley or cut deals with President Bush. They want him skinned alive at the next election. Moderate Democratic senators, who might be induced to support some of the president's legislative initiatives such as tax cuts, will be pressured to the point of agony by their leadership, contributors and special interests never to support the president. The best way -- so they judge -- to beat President Bush in 2004 is to make him seem a legislative failure for the next year and a half. That, plus their devout prayers for a bum economy next spring, is their theory of victory and their reason for living for the next 18 months.

Nonetheless, President Bush and the congressional Republicans need to fight hard -- and be seen by the public to be fighting hard -- for their legislative agenda. There are 19 Democratic senators up for re-election next year. The Democratic activist base -- in their demented fury with President Bush -- is in a mood to make those senators walk the plank on popular Bush legislation all summer, fall and spring. With any luck, next November we can scoop up a large catch of Democratic Senatorial political corpses. Only thereafter, in 2005, can we expect what is left of the Congressional Democratic Party to become Syrian Democrats -- and modify their voting behavior under duress from the president. The current crop -- the Nebuchadnezzar wing of the Democratic Party -- seem intent on ignoring the president's request to give up their weapons of liberal destruction.