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The Dems' Week from Hell

From the February 14 / February 21, 2005 issue:They're in a hole, and they keep digging.

Feb 14, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 21 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Apparently, there are pro-and anti-democracy wings not only in the Democratic party but in the Kennedy family, though those on the pro side are sadly no longer with us. Unlike his late brothers, Ted Kennedy has negative moral authority, and is not the man you put out there to win hearts and minds, abroad or at home. A moral exemplar such as Edward M. Kennedy selling defeat is hardly what you want when you're trying to grow a political party that's been shrinking like a wool sweater in a tub of hot water largely because of its shortfalls in moral authority and its weakness in foreign affairs. He is the ideal spokesman to make the argument--from the point of view of the Republican party. Mark this down as strike number two.

(3) Evan Bayh joins the jihad.

On the morning of Thursday, January 27, the Washington Times ran across the top of page one pictures of Democrats Boxer, Byrd, Kerry, Kennedy, and the 9 others who voted against confirming Rice. What was wrong with this string of pictures? It was made up of 12 hacks, has-beens, never-weres, and certified losers--and Evan Bayh, one of the four main sponsors of the Iraq war resolution and until Wednesday a real star in his party, one of the few with a shot at being president, because of the trust he had amassed on the right and in the center, and the chance he could have had to peel off some red states. As of Thursday morning, that trust was gone.

"Say it ain't so, Evan," wrote Andrea Neal in the Indianapolis Star a week later. "After six years of building your centrist credentials . . . causing even hard-core skeptics like me to brand you the genuine article, you turn around and vote against a distinguished, conservative nominee for Secretary of State. After backing President Bush in the Iraq war, and presenting persuasive arguments for ousting Saddam Hussein, you take a stand against the only administration official who can seamlessly pick up [President Bush's] foreign policy. . . . After boasting on your web site to be someone who cares more about doing the right thing than the expedient thing, you become one of 13 senators to vote against President Bush's nominee."

Neal quotes a former Bayh backer who calls the senator "self-serving" and says further, "I am appalled." So are the many who formerly saw Bayh as the one Democrat they could possibly vote for, and right now are changing their minds. This is a vote that will not be forgotten: As we speak, some Republican doubtless is running up spots morphing Bayh into Boxer and Teddy. "In 1991, defense-hawk Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga) caught the presidential bug, abandoned his record, and opposed the first Persian Gulf War--a big mistake," writes Morton Kondracke in Roll Call. "Has the same thing happened to Sen. Evan Bayh?" Nunn lost his chance for a place on the national ticket when the Gulf War succeeded; just as Bayh may have lost his gamble when the Iraqi election went well. Would he have done this had he known what would happen? The answer is probably "no."

Bayh tried to recoup on This Week by claiming that he was for war, but not this war, a smart war, a sensitive war, a war backed by both France and Belgium that lasted three days at the outside, and in which no one got hurt.

But Kerry tried that line in 2004, to no effect whatsoever, telling Rolling Stone that when he voted for the war (before, of course, voting against it) he had no idea Bush would f--it up as he did. Bayh should have looked hard at both Nunn and Kerry, and, failing that, he should have bided his time. It is now three years to the Iowa caucus, plenty of time to find other ways to make nice with the base. And time, too, to see if Rice--and Iraq--are a failure. If you vote against someone as the architect of a failed foreign policy, it helps if the policy first fails. Bayh better hope now Iraq becomes a disaster: If it succeeds, he will look worse than ever, having thrown away his name and his future to protest a success. Paris may be worth a mass, and the White House may be worth a boot-licking gesture, but a boot-licking gesture that costs you the White House is something quite different. The only thing worse than an obvious opportunist is an inept opportunist with a bad sense of timing. Say good night, Evan. And mark this down as strike three.

(4) John Kerry goes on Meet the Press.