I've argued that the Democratic opposition to Bush is incoherent, and has no real answers of its own. You'd expect me to argue that. But when ardent and loyal Democrats like Frank Rich are saying the same thing, then Democrats should really note their electoral peril.
As soon as President Bush rolled out his new war on Iraq, the Democrats in Washington demanded a debate, and debates they got, all right. There was the debate between Matt Drudge and Barbra Streisand about the provenance of an antiwar quote she recited at a party fund-raiser. There was the debate about whether Jim McDermott, Democratic Congressman from Washington, should have come home from Baghdad before announcing on TV that we can take Saddam Hussein's promises at "face value." There were the debates about why Al Gore took off his wedding ring, why Robert Torricelli took a Rolex, and why Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson took noisy offense at so benign and popular a Hollywood comedy as "Barbershop."Of course, Frank Rich is convinced that the Democrats can win by presenting a different agenda; the Democrats in office clearly are not. It would certainly make the debate more interesting if the Democrats were willing to actually engage in it -- but it wouldn't change the outcome. Perhaps Rich is confused because Jimmy Carter was just honored, but he should think back and remember this: telling Americans what we can't accomplish was not a winning strategy for the peanut farmer, and it isn't a winning formula now. Maybe it will turn out that the so-called hawks are wrong about Iraq -- but at least they offer hope. Rich wants Democrats to tell us that we can't fight Afghanistan and Iraq, that we can't beat Iraq, that we can't make the world a safer place for America. Is it any wonder that they're scared to tell us that?
But as for the promised debate about Iraq, it became heated only after Congressional approval of the president's mission was a foregone conclusion. Though the party's leaders finally stepped up, starting with Mr. Gore, most of them seemed less concerned with the direction of the nation in 2002 than with positioning themselves for the White House in 2004 (or '08). They challenged the administration's arrogant and factually disingenuous way of pursuing its goal, then beat a hasty retreat to sign on to whatever fig-leaf language they could get into the final resolution. (Mr. Gore, after his Sept. 23 Iraq speech, dropped the subject altogether.)