How can the Democrats win if the party is scared of its own shadow? A good therapist, we know, can sometimes help a person who’s lost his confidence or mental balance. But what do you do when an entire party needs therapy? You’d think the Republicans would be the ones in need of professional help. This is a party burdened with a president so unpopular he barely has a base to stand on—Bush seems to be bypassing the lame-duck stage and heading straight for dead duck—a Vietnam-scale quagmire in Iraq and a post-Katrina rot of incompetence and corruption that is infecting the very foundations of the presidency and the GOP’s control of Congress.
But at least the GOP is engaged in a war over real policy choices. It is an emotional debate, often a hysterical and ill-informed one, but it is a fight among adults who know what they believe in and who have the guts to battle for it. By contrast the Democrats, ostensibly the party poised to exploit this GOP civil war, don't seem to remember what it is like to behave as adults. They resemble nothing so much as ill-adjusted adolescents, afraid of their own shadows, much less the presidency. What are they afraid of? Themselves, essentially: their past, their own left, the populist rhetoric of their leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Al Gore), the left-wing loony stigma represented by “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore (every Dem’s favorite bugaboo). Above all they fear seeming and looking soft. They are all afflicted with varying degrees of megalophobia, a fear of assuming power. Even Dr. Melfi of “The Sopranos” wouldn’t take this case.
The “strong” ones are actually the most timid. They are the ones who so fear that a leftie like Nancy Pelosi will become speaker of the House, they actually question whether it would be a good idea for the Dems to take control in 2006. They are the ones who think they can outhawk Bush on Iraq and promotion of democracy around the world, but they are mainly driven by a fear of criticizing the premises of his foreign policy, which is to say, his war on terror. While nitpicking and nattering over Bush’s “errors of execution,” they still embrace his fundamentals. In other words, they all continue to sound like unreconstructed John Kerrys, frightened of seeming soft. When they get together, this fear is virtually all they talk about. It is a fear that reeks from the party’s new draft platform for 2006, causing Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to crack to liberal hawk Peter Beinart recently: “If you have to say you’re tough, you’re not.”
The champion of this “new” breed of Dem tough guys, of course, is Hillary Clinton, who every week, it seems, finds some new way of pandering to the right in her long, stealth march to the 2008 nomination. All in an apparent effort to escape her own shadow, her supposed liberal excesses from the early '90s.
No one looks like a wimp when he or she tells the truth. And the public is crying, pleading for someone to tell the truth. The Democratic hawks seem to think that if they confront Bush over the fundamentals of his foreign policy, they will be forced to admit it was wrong to go into Iraq at the moment and in the way we did. And if they have to admit that, then they must back immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Nonsense. Most Americans now know, without being told, that American prestige is on the line in Iraq. And that any withdrawal will be slow and painful. This is now settled U.S. policy, and it will be followed by whoever the next president is, Democrat or Republican.
The country is desperate for adult leadership, for competence and authority—above all, for an honest reckoning with all that’s gone wrong. And the country isn’t getting it. Maybe that helps to explain the Al Gore revival under way. Here, at least, was someone who can remember what adulthood was like—what it was like to hold power. Most of his Democratic colleagues appear to have forgotten.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
"Fear of Failing"
Commentary (snipped here and there by Howie) by Michael Hirsh, Senior Editor, Newsweek-