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Know When to Fold

Democrats insist on playing bad hands while the White House has all of the good cards.

12:00 AM, Jun 13, 2002 • By RICHARD STARR
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ANY FAIR-MINDED OBSERVER would have to agree that the Democrats have been dealt the lousiest of all political hands: We are in the midst of a high-stakes war, and the Republicans control the executive branch. It doesn't get any worse than that for the opposition party. This means that President Bush will enjoy a deep reservoir of public support--as well as the benefit of the doubt on all sorts of close calls.

The thing to do when you're dealt a lousy hand is to suck it up, keep a straight face, and wait for better cards. What you shouldn't do is whine and stamp your feet and place bigger and bigger bets on the theory that somehow you can bluff the guy holding the five aces (this is a game with wild cards).

Take all the speculation this week from the Bushophobes that the administration is timing its war-on-terror progress reports for political advantage. Well, maybe they are. Every White House tries to organize its communications efforts to make itself look good. Why should this one be any different? But the obsession over timing misses an obvious point: the White House doesn't really need to time anything. Short of another terrorist attack, the war is going to work in the president's favor. Meanwhile, the incessant wag-the-dog theorizing by the Democrats makes them look like cranks.

Plus which, they haven't managed to settle on a consistent line of attack. Here's Chris Dodd complaining about Monday's dirty bomber announcement (as quoted by the Washington Times' Dave Boyer): "'I wonder if they have anybody else [in custody],' Mr. Dodd said. 'Everything is secret. They've got to hold people in secret. We've got to have secret meetings about homeland security. I'm getting concerned that this [announcement of a suspect] is a little hype here.'"

Let's get this straight. Dodd thinks the administration is guilty of keeping secrets until it quits keeping them, at which point it's engaged in politically motivated hype. Well, fine. Keep this up, though, and people will start to get the impression that while the White House is mainly interested in fighting terrorists, Congress is mainly interested in fighting the White House. This is not a flattering comparison to invite.

The trick with losing hands is not to get enraged by them and bankrupt yourself, but to minimize your losses so as to stay in the game. Who knew when the social poker game went into decline, how high a price we'd pay in political ineptitude?

Richard Starr is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.