The Democrats have been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism lately, not only from Republicans, but from allegedly objective observers, for failing to come up with their own proposed solutions for various problems currently afflicting the body politic. "You can't beat something with nothing," the complaint goes. It's all very well to complain that the situation in Iraq is a mess, and that President Bush doesn't seem to have any idea what to do about Iran (other than say that its manufacture of nuclear weapons would be "unacceptable"), and that the GOP's disarray on the issue of illegal immigration leaves us with no effective policy there, but where and what are the Democratic alternatives?
These are fair questions, but I cannot persuade myself that the Democrats must be faulted for failing to come up with answers of their own. On the contrary, I think it is strategically wise for the Democrats to leave their responses to them shrouded in ambiguity.
In the first place, it's the Republicans who are running the country, and it's first and foremost their obligation to come up with policies that solve the nation's problems. It would be nice if the Democrats would make constructive suggestions from time to time, which the Republicans could then implement -- and, of course, take credit for implementing. But when a party has controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for nearly eight years, it's pretty hard cheese to demand that its rival come up with ideas to bail it out of trouble. If the Democrats did have any useful ideas, they would no doubt rather implement them themselves.
In the second place, the harsh truth is that the Democrats don't have any very hot ideas. Or, more precisely, they are themselves deeply divided, or at least in grave doubt, about the solution to almost every major problem afflicting the country.
Take Iraq. It's a safe bet that, in a free vote, the delegates to the next Democratic national convention will (like the delegates to the last one, in Boston) long to vote for a prompt bug-out. But their presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, like her predecessor John Kerry (and, for that matter, such rivals as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and John Edwards), knows very well that this would be suicidal. So she is already strapping on her ceremonial sword, planning to swamp the stage with uniforms again, and practicing that snappy Kerry salute. Meanwhile, she reminds everyone that she voted for the invasion, and continues to support the war. What hope is there for a unified Democratic policy on Iraq?
Or what about Iran? The Democrats are positive they don't want the United States to undertake military action against that large and dangerous nation in the present state of play in the Middle East. But do they, then, recommend letting Iran build nuclear weapons? Well, no, not exactly. What, then? Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi haven't told us.
Or what about illegal immigration? The Democrats can read the polls, and they are therefore all for beefing up the patrols along the Mexican border. But they are also convinced that they will get the votes of the lion's share of those 11 or so million illegal immigrants who paraded through our major cities on May 1, if only they can contrive to turn them into citizens. So you can bet they aren't going to back any effort to expel them, or confine them to "guest worker" status. Net result: No Democratic policy on illegal immigration worth mentioning.
But I repeat: Why should the Democratic Party twist itself into knots trying to come up with real solutions to these problems? The Republicans wanted the country -- OK, so they got it. Let them carry the can. The handwriting is already on the wall, as far as this fall's off-year elections are concerned: The American people have temporarily had it with the Republican Party, and unless it can come up with a whole string of miracles before November it is going to get a handsome drubbing. Then, with the Democrats in possession of one or both houses of Congress, they can accept co-responsibility with the GOP for devising the policies that will govern America.