Democrats without a home

Posted: Oct 07, 2006 12:01 AM
Democrats without a home


Democrats concerned about the 2008 elections will of course be looking closely at the midterm elections one month away. Hard thought upon the upcoming elections tells us interesting things, salient among them that there is no policy extant, among Democratic leaders, on which strategic political building can be done with any confidence.

Peter Beinart, shining young light of The New Republic, scolded Democratic leaders in Congress recently for carrying on stupidly when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq came to town. What provoked the Democratic leadership was Maliki's rebuking Israel for the extremity of the war in Lebanon.

What Maliki had done, Beinart explained in The Washington Post, was to speak as a Middle Eastern leader of a predominantly Shiite country. Maliki's criticism of Israel's war against Hezbollah had several objectives, but one of them was to voice a position on U.S. foreign policy a little less slavish in the matter of Israel than that of the Anti-Defamation League.

Beinart was objecting to the threat by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid to rescind the invitation to Maliki to address Congress. The Democrats were purporting to instruct Maliki on how to "play a constructive role" in the Middle East. But Sen. Reid's letter, writes Beinart, "wasn't really about strengthening the Iraqi government at all; that's George W. Bush's problem. It was about appearing more pro-Israel than the White House and thus pandering to Jewish voters."

The flurry is one of many that will happen before there is anything that can be classified as consolidated Democratic policy on Iraqi leadership. "The Democratic Party's single biggest foreign policy liability is not that Americans think Democrats are soft. It is that Americans think Democrats stand for nothing, that they have no principles beyond political expedience."

The final public evaluation of our Iraq venture probably will not be fully illuminated until the 2008 election season. But coming very soon is a clue to national Democratic orientation. It is the election contest in Connecticut next month featuring Joe Lieberman, deposed Democratic standard bearer, and Ned Lamont, who opposes the entire Iraq undertaking.

What can't easily be foretold is how exactly the Democrats in 2008 will get around to formulating a foreign policy on the shaky legs of their pronouncements as enunciated in the years since 9/11. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards have problems absorbing the postulates of policies-gone-by, when they encouraged going into Iraq.

Consider just one derivative problem they face. If the defense of Israel is accepted as an inflexible commitment, then the health of the American military in the Mideast is a concern that goes beyond merely the replacement of Saddam Hussein. If Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq evolve as a support system of radical Islamist mobilization concentrating on the elimination of Israel, friends of Israel can't be expected to ignore the consequences of U.S. inertia in the Mideast.

Democratic policy for 2008 has to go a step further than mere expressions of disapproval of President Bush. Yet anti-Bushism is about the only plank of existing Democratic policy at this point. Critics can counter and say that the Republican Party is itself without strategic definition, and that indictment is better winced at than denied. The Universal Emancipation Proclamation of President Bush, as enunciated in his second inaugural address, is going to leave candidates for political office in great difficulty when explaining what it is the GOP wants to accomplish.

Add to this problem the great big hole in Republican domestic orientation. The record of the Bush administration in spending and in advancing the social agenda leaves the Democrats with not much room to position themselves as the party of social concern. There isn't much left to advance after the GOP policies of No Pimple Left Behind. The result is that Democratic strategists, warming up this time around for the major stakes in 2008, haven't any clear goal to associate themselves with. That's why we hear nothing much more that clings to memory than that Bush and his legions must be replaced.

So? Hate Bush. Is that truly enough as the agenda of the Democratic Party?