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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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If Evan Bayh has learned nothing from Kerry and Edwards, it seems clear enough that Kerry has learned nothing either. He isn't a statesman, but he plays one on TV, and so there he was on Meet the Press the Sunday morning of Iraq's election, looking properly somber and careworn, saying a great many words to no purpose, and displaying too much of the cluelessness that went far toward helping him lose. In fact, as to losing, he seemed in a state of denial, talking up the (fairly) close race in the state of Ohio, and claiming he came so near to winning that it hardly was losing at all. He won the popular vote in the battleground states, he said proudly. A mere switch of 60,000 votes in Ohio, and he would have been writing the State of the Union. (Never mind that Kerry lost the national popular vote by nearly four million, while Bush was gaining four seats in the Senate; and that if he had managed to pull out Ohio, people now would be saying what a fluke it had been, and wondering how he would govern with a Republican Congress and a public that had so clearly voted for Bush.)

But Kerry was much more enthused about his campaign than about the Iraqi elections, which he grudgingly referred to as barely legitimate, while implying the worst was ahead. He declared us less safe than when the war started, although Saddam's capture had made us much safer: a perfect example of the kind of coherence he had brought to last year's campaign. And of his tone-deafness. "Whoever is advising him politically made a terrible mistake," Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said later on Fox News. "He should have said . . . this is a magnificent outcome, and now that we've had this . . . let's begin the process of getting our troops back home. . . . I don't get why any Democrat would want to dump on this election when in fact it's the beginning of the end." But Kerry seemed perfectly content with himself and his comments, and eager for more in the 2008 cycle. "Bring it on," doubtless reply the Republicans. Put it down as strike four--this is politics, not baseball.

EVERYTHING THAT HAS BEEN WRONG with the Democrats in the past several years was on vivid display during Hell Week: the teeth-grinding shrillness; the race card, misplayed with such gusto; the self-interest so blatant it defeats its own purpose; the crippling dearth of ideas. With a few brave exceptions (a faction of one named Joe Lieberman), the Democrats split into two major camps: the wingnuts--Dean, Boxer, and Kennedy--who know what they think, which alas sets them at odds with the rest of the country; and the caucus of cowards--Bayh, Edwards, and Kerry--who believe in nothing so much as their own career prospects, and change their minds on the gravest of war and peace issues on the basis of what serves their ends.

For the Democrats, this is not a new problem, and has been with them since the war in Iraq first emerged as an issue. "More than a dozen Democrats, who requested anonymity, have told the Post that many members who oppose the president's strategy . . . are going to nonetheless support it because they fear a backlash from voters," the Washington Post reported on September 26, 2002, in the run-up to that year's midterm elections, which made history when the Democrats lost. Five weeks later, "The Note," the widely read blog of ABC News, reported: "Voters may not know this explicitly, but if there were a secret ballot vote, Democrats in the House and Senate would vote overwhelmingly to repeal the Bush-Baucus tax cuts, and to stop the president from going to war in Iraq." From here, it is a straight line to Bayh, Kerry, and Edwards, surfing their way around public opinion, and getting upended by shifts in the wind.

And there you have the real vision gap between the two parties: Republicans want to win wars and spread freedom; Democrats want to save their rear ends. Bush thinks freedom is better than terror and tyranny; Democrats think they themselves are better than Bush. In 2004, Bush made it clear he was willing to lose on the basis of his convictions--and won in spite or more likely because of this. Democrats had no convictions beyond the end goal of winning, and therefore quite properly lost. No party deserved to lose more than the Democrats did in these past two elections, and unless they make changes, they stand to lose many more.

Since Black Tuesday last November, Democrats have spent hours of airtime, gallons of newsprint, and billions of words trying to find out why wonderful people such as they keep on losing. They'd be better off taking a hard look at Hell Week. All of the answers are there.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.