The sky is not falling

Posted: Sep 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Our Founding Fathers got it almost completely wrong. They worried about an uninformed and easily excitable public losing its mind and demanding shortsighted government actions that would undercut our long-term interests. They feared mobs running wild in the streets. So they designed a form of government -- and particularly the Senate -- that would be slow to act or react to the passing public tempests. But it turns out that the public is the cool, mature and stoic element of our society, while the Washington politicians -- particularly the senators -- and the media that cover them, are running wild, shrieking "all is lost" in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

In Senate hearings yesterday, Senator McCain -- who once upon a time in a Vietnamese sky above and prison below, showed such courage, patriotism and noble patience during his heroic service to our country -- couldn't have been more rude and interruptive during the testimony of Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz. He would cut off the Deputy Secretary in mid-sentence to try to distort the meaning of the testimony. But then, the television cameras were running at the time. The senator is known to be gracious with prospective witnesses in private, before their testimony, only to rip them apart in the nationally televised portion of the event.

In a particularly inane and demagogic legislative maneuver, 75 Democratic congressmen are supporting a bill written by Congressman Rahm Emanuel (one of Bill Clinton's former political operatives) that would require the administration to spend the same amount on rebuilding schools and hospitals in the United States as it spends in Iraq. Whether he wants to spend another $70-$80 billion here or not spend it in Iraq is unclear. Either alternative is irrational to the point of dementia.

But the Democrats' major legislative contribution to the war effort appears to be a plan -- described yesterday by the ranking House Democrat on the Budget Committee, that would roll back at least part of the Bush tax cuts as the price the president would have to pay to get the needed war funds. This would have the added advantage, from the Democrats' point of view, of tipping the economy back into a recession just before the election (the good congressman did not mention this part of his plan). We need a new term to describe such legislative blackmail. I would call it political war profiteering. In the good old days in China, they used to summarily crucify war profiteers. Today, all we can do is inject them with a lethal dose of public scorn.

But beyond the cynical political exploitation of a dangerous moment, the larger measure of the Washington political class (with the exception of the president and a few others) is that it has simply lost its nerve. Both Democrats and Republicans are desperately turning to the United Nations to save our skins. (While Bush merely wants to use the U.N. as a fig leaf for some countries to contribute troops and money, most of the politicians want to use the U.N., as a fig leaf for the U.S. to extract ourselves from Iraq). If our fate is to be in the hands of Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, it's time to cash in our T-bills and move to Saskatchewan.

While the political class is coming down with a bad case of cowardice in the face of the enemy, the American public, according to the latest polls, remains calm and determined. According to yesterday's ABC poll, the public supports U.S. military presence in Iraq by 67 percent to 30 percent. Sixty-eight percent support the troops and the Bush administration policy on Iraq. Only 29 percent support the troops but oppose Bush policy. By 52 percent to 45 percent the public believes that the U.S. is doing a "good" or "excellent" job restoring order. And by an impressive 65 percent to 31 percent, Americans believe that the Iraq war is part of the war on terrorism.

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, released Sept. 5 and Sept. 8, while the percentage of Americans worried about being personally a victim of a terrorist attack has gone up from 30 percent to 41 percent, they nonetheless approve of Bush's anti-terrorism policy by 66 percent to 31 percent. And overall, they give him a high 59-percent job approval rating expressly because of his performance on Iraq and foreign affairs. These numbers reflect a strong vote of confidence in the president, especially in light of the last few months of terrible media coverage and mixed results in Iraq.

The American public clearly understands we live in hard and dangerous times. They understand that this president, or any president, will not always judge future events presciently or execute policy flawlessly. But they trust him overall. If the Democrats hope to defeat him next year, they are going to have to offer something more than their current cynicism, defeatism and fear in the face of the enemy. The polling suggests that the American people will demand a commitment to victory.