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The Old Democratic Game Continues: Bash the President

by David Winston

Democratic leaders last week, headlined by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, reaffirmed why Republicans still are likely to hold the House and Senate in this fall’s elections: They never met a President Bush attack they didn’t like.

Just when you thought the hotheaded Dean had learned to control his rabidly partisan rhetorical impulses, Dean went off on Republicans at a Florida appearance like a Katyusha rocket — long on noise, short on accuracy but designed for saturation bombardment.

But inflicting maximum political damage on this president, without regard for its impact on the country even at a time of international crisis, appears to be at the core of the Democrats’ Congressional election strategy this year. It also is what recently has led me to say that the Republicans’ best asset this fall is the Democratic Party itself.

Voters don’t like the kind of drive-by partisanship that increasingly has characterized how Democrats operate in Washington, D.C. So, despite the grim poll numbers for the president and Congress, the numbers in individual races show that while Americans may be unhappy with how things are going, they are turned off by the Democrats’ endless attacks on Bush.

“Do you hate Bush as much as we do?” is hardly an inspiring message, but that’s the gist of what people are seeing and hearing from the Democratic Party. And they don’t like it.

Dean’s most recent rhetorical antics offer a case in point. This past Wednesday, the DNC chairman took Bush bashing to new heights of hypocrisy when he called “for an end to divisiveness” and then proceeded to give one of the nastiest, most divisive speeches in recent memory — and that’s saying something when it comes to Dean.

He told a group of business people in West Palm Beach, Fla., that Bush was “the most divisive president probably in our history” and took pot shots on a range of issues. Dean finished the speech by implying that the actions in the 2000 presidential election by then-Florida Secretary of State, and now-Senate candidate, Rep. Katherine Harris (R) were in the mold of one of history’s most vicious tyrants, Josef Stalin.

And Dean wasn’t alone when it came to the kind of partisan behavior that leaves the American people scratching their collective heads. Voters witnessed the regrettable display of Democratic Members of Congress publicly condemning the new Iraqi prime minister on the eve of his speech to Congress because this ally of the United States had criticized Israel and failed to condemn Hezbollah. Some even boycotted the historic speech.

Most of us would have liked to have seen a strong anti-Hezbollah statement from Nuri al-Maliki — but where were the howls of outrage from this same choir of Bush critics when the murderous Yasser Arafat, who openly called for the destruction of Israel, got more invites to the White House from former President Bill Clinton than any other world leader? The answer is simple: it wasn’t George W. Bush doing the asking in those days.

Earlier in the week, as the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah heated up and the Bush administration was involved in the most delicate forms of diplomacy, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) could have chosen to be a statesman by offering words of support at a very difficult and dangerous moment for this country and the future of the Middle East.

Instead, he used the crisis as an opportunity to take a partisan shot of his own at Bush. Campaigning in Michigan for Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Kerry — who clearly has seen “Superman Returns” one time too many — actually boasted, “If I was president, this wouldn’t have happened.” In another of those moments of high irony that seem to plague the Massachusetts presidential wannabe, Kerry made the claim during a stop at Honest John’s bar and grill in Detroit.

The seriousness of the situation in the Middle East last week didn’t deter Democrats from their charted course to regain control — to attack Bush at every opportunity regardless of the long-term consequences. When it comes to a problem facing the country, the first question they ask is not, “What’s the solution?” Rather, it’s, “Can we use this to hit Bush again?”

For months, if not years, Democrats have employed a kind of guerrilla war against the president, using the age-old tactic of a quick and often personal hit followed by a run for cover hoping they won’t be asked to offer substantive alternatives.

An opinion piece in Friday’s Boston Globe by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), titled “Room for Diplomacy in the Middle East,” provides a perfect example of the vacuous proposals Democrats are trying to peddle as serious policy.

After taking the usual hits at the Bush administration’s “failures” in the region, Biden offered up three almost comically obvious objectives. First, he urged “deploy[ing] the Lebanese Army to the border with the possibility of an international/UN force in the interim to augment it.” Then, he said, disarm Hezbollah of missiles and rockets. Finally, build up the Lebanese government and shift the balance of power from Hezbollah.

Are any of these ideas substantively different than the broad goals the Bush administration has outlined to help solve this crisis? Of course not. They’re just repackaged with a little history, Biden’s usual bravado and the obligatory Bush reproach. If Biden had gone on to offer any kind of real-world ideas that actually would achieve these objectives, he could be taken more seriously. But, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details, and Democrats seem to view details as a luxury in which they don’t want or need to indulge.

That attitude is why I say Democrats are the Republicans’ best asset. Americans want their presidents to succeed, Republican or Democratic, for the good of the country. But unless the Democrats can convince voters that they are putting the country ahead of partisanship, they aren’t likely to win in November.

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