The Magazine

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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THE DEMOCRATS' WORST WEEK AND a half since Black Tuesday (November 2, 2004, when the U.S. election returns came in) began on January 18, when Barbara Boxer took on Condi Rice in the Senate, and ended on Black Sunday (January 30, 2005, when Iraq held its first free election). In one comparatively short window of time, the Democrats managed to exhibit all of the class, grace, wisdom, presence, good sense, and strategic and tactical brilliance that had allowed them to move from absolute parity after the 2000 election to the loss of the House, Senate, and White House in the 2004 election, and left them apparently poised to lose even more. You too can turn yourself into a loser if you study and follow their recent behavior, and the cases to look at are these:

(1) Barbara Boxer and allies assault Condi Rice.

For mysterious reasons best known to themselves, a small diehard clique of old-line insurgents hiding out in the depths of the U.S. Senate decided to make confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice the venue of a bomb-throwing session, on the basis of two cherished liberal theories: one, that the war in Iraq is an utter catastrophe; and two, that while criticism of liberal nonwhites and women is always racist and sexist in nature, nonwhites and women who are right-wing or centrist are less than "authentic," and therefore deserve what they get. Thus, Margaret Carlson in the Los Angeles Times found nothing amiss in Boxer's calling Rice a liar and a lackey, but insisted Boxer's critics were somehow attacking all women.

This followed by weeks an unprecedented onslaught from liberal cartoonists and columnists, who compared Rice to a parrot, a house slave, Aunt Jemima (with one hell of a weight loss), and Prissy in Gone With the Wind. It did not help that one of Boxer's main allies was Robert A. Byrd of West Virginia, who in a prior life had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. As a method of expanding the vote of an ever-shrinking minority party, this tactic stunned some observers, who concluded the scheme had been cooked up by Karl Rove.

"I wouldn't think having a former kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan lead a futile floor fight against the nomination of the first black woman to be secretary of state is a good way to enhance the appeal of the Democratic party to swing voters, but maybe that's just me," opined Jack Kelly. No, Jack, it's not just you. It's you and Andrew Young, a partisan Democrat and genuine civil rights leader; it's you and Dorothy Height, head of the National Council of Negro Women; you and C. DeLores Tucker, former chair of the Black Caucus of the Democratic National Committee; you and Ron Lester, a Democratic pollster quoted by the New York Post's Deborah Orin as saying, "A lot of African Americans are watching this and they're wondering why [Democrats] are going after her so hard."

It's you and Colbert King, the liberal columnist for the Washington Post, who has little use for Bush but even less for the Boxer-Byrd style. King asks us to ponder a key Boxer statement: "I personally believe--this is my personal view--that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell the war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth." Writes King, "It's hard to imagine a more demeaning and offensive caricature of a prospective secretary of state." What a great tactic! What a keen way to appeal to white moderates, as well as to stop the leakage to Bush of black social conservatives, which at the moment has the left in a panic.

A former kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan berating a cultured black woman, one of whose childhood friends was blown up in Birmingham: This is the image you want to create for your party? Call it strike one.

(2) Ted Kennedy calls Iraq Vietnam.

"Defeat is an orphan," Ted's big brother the president once famously said, but this fails to apply when Ted is in the neighborhood. He preemptively embraced failure in Iraq, declaring defeat three days before the election, just in time to demoralize American troops and Iraqi voters (and calling to mind another JFK comment, that his youngest brother was not "terribly quick"). But it wasn't the first time Ted had stumbled over his feet in his rush to proclaim a defeat for the United States. In 1990, he wanted to leave Kuwait and its oil fields in Saddam's possession, proclaiming a war would kill 50,000 Americans and become a new Vietnam. But things lately have been confusing for Teddy, what with George W. Bush morphing into JFK, while he himself turns into something rather more like his father, famous in 1940 for saying democracy was finished in England and attempts to save it would lead us into a quagmire--call it FDR's Vietnam.