That’s what Al Sharpton promised to do in the Saturday night Dem debate. The best speaker among the nine would-be presidential candidates, Sharpton had all the good lines, leaving the rest looking mighty dull. Big Al wants to light a fire under the Dems: “I will slap the donkey until the donkey kicks and we kick George Bush out of the White House.” Directed and prodded by a preening George Stephanopoulos, the Nowhere Nine quickly divided themselves between those who are busy hauling their party back into McGovernism and those who actually think there’s a chance they could get elected.
If the nine were a baseball team, the manager would be fired for not trading for stronger hitters and pitchers. The hitters — Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun and Dennis Kucinich — all displayed a deep-seated ignorance of the real world, swinging hard against the war in Iraq, yearning for a chance to give the U.N. command of our foreign policy. The rest — John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Bob Graham, Dick Gephardt, and Howard Dean — tried to pitch their electability, and nothing they threw seemed to nick even the outside corner of the strike zone.
Florida’s Sen. Bob Graham, the only moderate among them, claimed to be from the “electable” wing of the Democratic Party. He said the Congressional authorization of military action in Iraq was too weak, not authorizing action against Hezbollah and other terrorists in the area. Oh, really? When the debate on that resolution was on, Graham argued against it, saying removing Saddam was a distraction from the war on terror. The links between Saddam and terrorist networks such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad — not to mention al-Qaeda — were proved a hundred times over during the Iraq campaign. Graham now finds himself in the illustrious company of Wesley Clark, Barbra Streisand, and the many other Dems who were proven comprehensively wrong. Graham is trying to play to both sides of the war issue and it isn’t working. His party will still turn him into political road kill. No room for moderates under the Dems’ Big Tent.
Lieberman and Dick Gephardt made some half-hearted defenses of the Iraq campaign. Gephardt said he was convinced that Saddam had WMD and that the weapons could have found their way into terrorist hands. Lieberman insisted that Democrats who send an anti-defense message cannot win in ‘04. He’s right, but none of them — not even Vichy John Kerry — could sound credible on the issue. How can candidates who don’t disagree strongly with the likes of Kucinich and Sharpton ever be credible on defense? None of the nine disagreed with Big Al or Little Dennis.
Sharpton said that we don’t have enough money to occupy the states we now have, far less Iraq. He apparently believes that the American government holds the fifty states by military force. Kucinich — identifying the only government program that the far left wants to cut — asked if we can afford a military budget climbing to $500 billion (which will only happen in Mr. Rumsfeld’s wildest dreams) and demanded that the “bloat” be cut out of the Pentagon budget. That we are in a global war against terrorism is no reason to spend taxpayers dollars on defending ourselves.
Howard Dean and Kerry scratched at each other’s eyes over a statement that Dean had made that America should prepare for the day that we’re no longer the preeminent military power. Dean — who opposed the Iraq campaign — said that all he meant was that unilateralism was a mistake. Kerry — who has done nothing in his entire political career to strengthen the military, and everything to weaken it — attacked Dean but could only say he was wrong, not why. What Kerry left unsaid — that America cannot afford to give up its military primacy — is a message no Dem can carry. Not that any would.
John F. Kerry — a Vichy version of JFK — waited for his closing statement to display his deep-seated contempt for our troops and the flag they serve. Recalling Bobby Kennedy’s “don’t ask why, ask why not” speech, Kerry asked: Why can’t America have a strong military that advances our values around the world? The outrageousness of that statement cannot be overstated. Vichy John said this on 3 May — only days after the end of major operations in the most humane war ever fought, a war that saw American troops perform with bravery, skill and mercy, a war that was conducted with such precision and care that know-nothing liberals can only find a way to criticize the war plan by saying it failed to protect artifacts in a museum — proving redundantly that his hatred of the military has not lessened since Vietnam. He believes our troops now represent values antithetical to those of our nation. The more I see of this man, the more I dislike him.
The rest — Bob Graham, Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean and John Edwards — had little to speak of other than to argue about Gephardt’s health care plan. This $200 billion a year boondoggle is the centerpiece of Gephardt’s campaign. I almost felt sorry for him when Stephanopoulos asked him why people shouldn’t think of him as a Dem version of old, tired Bob Dole. As tired as Gephardt and his ideas are, he’s not the most shopworn. Joe Lieberman is. Ol’ Joe always had a sorrowful tone. Now add to that the look of an old Labrador retriever whose days afield are over. That the others seem intimidated by Gephardt’s health care idea says two things. First, health care gadgetry will be one of the Dems big issues next year. Second, there is an almost pitiful paucity of ideas among them. They flailed around, grasping at old liberal nostrums.
Stephanopoulos asked if any of them thought South Carolina had the right to outlaw sodomy, and of course none did. Kerry went them one better and proclaimed his support for legalizing gay marriages. None took the bait to demonize Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for his remarks on the Supreme Court case on the Texas anti-sodomy law. Even Edwards — whose trial lawyer slickness doesn’t include speaking authoritatively on anything — didn’t take that one on.
Only Sharpton said he was for regulating gun possession, though whoever wins the Dem nomination will support it. Moseley Braun thought (and I use the term loosely) that Messrs. Bush and Ashcroft are embarked on an assault on civil liberties. She favors repealing the Patriot Act because people in America are “disappearing.” No, Carol dear. Terrorists trained abroad are being arrested and held as unlawful combatants. You can look it up.
Kucinich wants to cancel NAFTA, and base our international trade policy only on workers’ rights and human rights. Someone please send him a copy of Wealth of Nations. Gephardt wants tougher CAFE gas mileage standards for cars. All of them want to repeal Mr. Bush’s tax cuts. Again, the best line was Big Al’s. He said that the President’s tax cuts were like Jim Jones lemonade: it tastes good, but it’ll kill ‘ya. If he weren’t such a complete fraud and scoundrel, he’d make a terrific candidate.
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