The Magazine

The Democrats' Tantrum

Oct 7, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 04 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
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MR. DURBIN: As I return to Illinois, people tell me over and over again: Senator, when you go back, please go to the floor of the Senate and express our feelings that we do need a coalition of force, not just for the principle and value of it, but for the military significance of it . . .

MR. REID: Will the Senator yield for a question?

MR. DURBIN: Yes, I am happy to yield.

MR. REID: I ask my friend from Illinois, is it true, when you returned to Illinois, people were asking about things other than Iraq?

MR. DURBIN: Exactly true.

MR. REID: Are people concerned about the stumbling, staggering, faltering economy?

MR. DURBIN: I say to the Senator from Nevada, that is where I was headed next. This chart, which I have brought to the floor, talks about the lost private sector jobs in the last 50 years . . .

--Debate about "Iraq" on the Senate floor, September 20

FOR WEEKS on end already, while the Bush administration has been attempting to rally international support for a drive to depose the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, congressional Democrats have been laboring to direct domestic attention away from this looming conflict and toward our "stumbling, staggering, faltering economy," instead. They have not been especially subtle about it; that little piece of low-rent vaudeville quoted above is perfectly typical of the project. Nor have Democrats been all that secretive about what motivates them. They say so themselves, almost daily, in the newspapers and on the talk shows: Having weighed Iraq as a potential political issue in the coming midterm elections and--most of them--having adjudged it a "loser," congressional Democrats are trying to change the subject.

But President Bush is not cooperating. He remains preoccupied, not unreasonably it seems to us, with the military and diplomatic requirements of a pending U.S. land invasion in the Persian Gulf. And for some reason, ordinary Americans, too, likely November swing voters very much included, are more inclined to observe the unfolding of a major war than they are to watch Dick Durbin and Harry Reid discuss long-term private-sector employment trends. In other words: The subject is not changing. Consequently, Democrats are frustrated. No, more than frustrated: They are hot. They feel themselves wronged. They are even beginning to suggest that this whole Iraq business has been timed for the convenience of Republican campaign strategists--that bombs will fall and people will die primarily to ensure that Denny Hastert stays speaker of the House.

"I have not raised those doubts, but many have," says the new, new, new, new Albert Gore, ex officio leader of his party, promptly seeing those doubts and raising them a hundred. "The president is publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a 'no' vote" on the use of force against Iraq, Gore complains, "even as the Republican National Committee runs pre-packaged advertising based on the same theme." Could it be that Bush is acting in what he sincerely believes to be the national and global interest? No, that's not how the former vice president reads the White House: "From the outset," Gore concludes, "the administration has operated in a manner calculated to please the portion of its base that occupies the far right."

Majority leader Tom Daschle, in turn, has now put on his reddest face and huskiest voice for a "spontaneous" trip to the Senate well, where he has bitterly denounced both President Bush and Vice President Cheney for having "politicized" the war by impugning the "patriotism" of Democrats who resist or question its prospect. "Outrageous," pronounces Daschle, careful to choke on the word for maximum effect. The president "ought to apologize."

No, the president oughtn't.

In their particulars, the Daschle and Gore complaints merit only a moment's consideration and even quicker dismissal. Daschle's are a transparent contrivance. Early last week, stumping for a Republican challenger in New Jersey, the president did let pass his lips a rather eye-opening subordinate clause about how the incumbent Senate is "not interested in the security of the American people." Granted, the remark was coarse, undignified, excessive, what have you. But it was not about Iraq, not a bit of it; in fact, it was immediately followed by an explicit appeal to bipartisanship in the struggle against terrorism and terrorist regimes. Nor was Dick Cheney speaking of Iraq--the word appeared nowhere in his speech--when, at an earlier appearance in Kansas on behalf of Republican House candidate Adam Taff, the vice president innocuously predicted that Taff "will be a fine partner for us in the important work ahead."