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Shooting at the Wrong Target

When Will The Democratic Party Realize That George W. Bush Won’t Be On The Presidential Ballot In 2008?

By Russ Smith | Posted 8/31/2005

It’s a necessity of modern politics that White House aspirants begin their campaigns the day after the most recent election, an exercise that’s encouraged by media interested in—and entertained by—handicapping the odds of the multitude of senators and governors who start visiting early primary states on “exploration” trips. The Republicans, who control all three branches of the government, are vulnerable on any number of issues, some of which are self-inflicted, and the party conceivably could be flattened in the crucial midterm elections next year. But liberal partisans are helping the GOP’s chances with a relentless barrage of anti-Bush rhetoric.

The cause of the month is Cindy Sheehan’s assault on Bush at his vacation home in Crawford, Texas, a once-lonely vigil that’s now not only being financed by left-wing machines such as MoveOn.org, but hogging valuable media space. Sheehan, a bereaved mother whose son was killed in Iraq (after re-enlisting, an uncomfortable fact for supporters of “Mother Sheehan”), is being manipulated by activists who’ll gladly toss her into the historical footnote bin once her notoriety is no longer useful.

One sympathizes with someone who’s buried a child—including the other “Gold Star” parents who continue to support Bush’s Iraq policy—but Sheehan’s train wreck of a crusade, one that’s led her to embrace the exploitation of fringe activists, has decreasing value even for those who relish the sport of rubbernecking.

It would help the Democrats if they had a national chairman who was less interested in talk show time and tossing off ill-considered bromides, and more intent on targeting vulnerable Republican senators and representatives in states across the country. When Howard Dean says that Iraqi women will be worse off under a fledgling democracy than during the days of Saddam Hussein, he satisfies the small portion of voters who feed on any attack against Bush, but it certainly doesn’t help, for example, U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, a moderate Democrat, in his expected Maryland senatorial race against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Should Dean continue mouthing off, it’s doubtful Cardin, a smart pol, would invite him to Maryland.

Other Democrats still revert to the past in a desperate attempt to win the swing voters who usually determine elections. Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator and presidential candidate, published an op-ed in the Aug. 24 Washington Post that typifies the myopic view of “establishment” Democrats. He yearns for a candidate from his party who will go public now and apologize for supporting Bush’s invasion of Iraq, obviously thinking of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Kerry. Hart writes:

At stake is not just the leadership of the Democratic Party and the nation but our nation’s honor, our nobility and our principles. Franklin D. Roosevelt established a national community based on social justice. Harry Truman created international networks that repaired the damage of World War II and defeated communism. John F. Kennedy recaptured the ideal of the republic and the sense of civic duty.

These are noble words that might have resonated with Democrats two decades ago. Today, however, just imagine the left wing’s denunciation of Truman for bombing Japan. Would the forever-martyred JFK withstand criticism from the MoveOn.org acolytes for his Bay of Pigs disaster, tax cuts, or escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam? It’s doubtful.

Democrats, almost in unison, are quick to vilify Bush strategist Karl Rove and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman for “dirty tricks”—a tactic that soothes their ironclad base of voters. But instead of railing against the Republican apparatus to any reporter who’ll listen (and most do), the party’s leaders would be smart to quietly examine their advantages, state by state, district by district, and use the vast amount of money at their disposal to defeat Republicans in next year’s elections.

While Al Sharpton is gaining more headlines by joining Sheehan’s anti-war carnival, Mehlman is trying to chip away at the Democratic lock on black voters. If the Democrats are to be successful in recapturing first Congress and then the presidency three years from now, they’ll have to avoid preaching to the converted and attempt to replicate Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Otherwise, not only will the GOP prevail next year, but also Bush’s successor in 2009 won’t be Clinton, Mark Warner, or Russ Feingold, but another Republican.

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