Washington -- Time has been passing since Congress approved its genial bipartisan resolution on war with Iraq, and the Democrats' resolve for "regime change" in faraway Baghdad has declined with every tic of the clock. Ever the reasonable chief executive, President George W. Bush has been dutiful about consulting all the assembled dignitaries and dictators at the United Nations. He has sent his diplomats to every foreign capital that mattered to explain the obvious, namely, that Saddam Hussein has remained defiant of United Nations Resolution 1441. Our President repeatedly conferred with the Congressional leadership.
What has been the President's reward? With the passage of time, the peace movement as it is called metastasized from a small band of anti-American Americans led by the idiot savant Noam Chomsky into a growing national movement, albeit still heavily drawn from the left. Yet time passes, and the peace movement of 2003 has grown rampant among Democratic Party activists. Where not long ago there was wide support among Democrats for removing Saddam Hussein there is now Democratic presidential candidate Dr. Howard Dean setting off warm murmurs of approbation when he intones his irenic solemnities. And when his solemnities are not about peacemaking, they are about Complexities, the Complexities of statecraft. Before declaring his presidential candidacy Dr. Dean was governor of Vermont.
Of all the Democratic hopefuls to address members of the Democratic National Committee at their winter meeting, it was Dr. Dean who elicited the loudest applause. The applause erupted when he uttered this enravishing line: "What I want to know is, why is the Democratic Party leadership supporting the President's unilateral war on Iraq?" That the line is obviously a lie perhaps added to the Democratic National Committee's pleasure. Truth be known, the President has a score or more countries lined up in support of war against Iraq. But being a liberal Democrat one operates on the assumption that one is never wrong, no matter how foolish.
The steady drift of Democratic activists away from war with Iraq, despite the President's every effort to accommodate their concerns, is another demonstration of a phenomenon of American politics that I only became aware of in the Clinton years. The phenomenon is this: a sizable proportion of the politically committed in America today are not propelled by principle or by fact but by the deep emotional satisfaction, indeed the peace of mind, that they derive from beating hell out of an opponent. To be sure, it is commonly heard that the politicians, at least those of the finest flower, long to put partisanship aside; but the truth is that without partisanship politics would lose much of its attraction for many politically active souls. Frankly, many of them are itching for a fight and grateful for every perceived enemy.
At some point during the past few months many Democratic activists got to thinking about the company they were keeping in the campaign against the Iraqi Hitler and misgivings accumulated. George W. Bush was the fellow they had accused of stealing the White House. The Hon. Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay were Newt Gingrich's kind of people. For all their political lives most ardent Democrats have considered Republicans haters of the poor and poisoners of student lunch programs. Dr. Dean, Sen. John Kerry, the Rev. Al Sharpton and all the other Democratic hopefuls have long considered themselves the moral and intellectual superiors of W. and his silk-stockinged colleagues. These prejudices are personally very satisfying; indeed they are a Democratic activist's source of identity.
The wellspring of American politics, at least Democratic politics, is contempt, contempt for the wretches who call themselves Republicans. As I say, I first noticed this phenomenon during the Clinton scandals. Every time the Boy President would be suspected of a truly egregious breach of ethics or of the law, the ardent Democrat would heave up something to the effect "Well, if he did that he's finished." Almost every time it turned out he did "do that." Yet never did the Democrats wash their hands of him. One Congressman did, Paul McHale of Pennsylvania, but that was about it (and soon the White House was lying about the distinguished veteran's military service)
What happened was that the Democrats contemplated the gloating Republicans and stuck with their Bill. Yes, he had misbehaved; but his accusers were so much worse, viz. those federal prosecutors or Lucianne Goldberg. This is the phenomenon behind the peace movement's spread into the Democratic ranks. Democratic activists are not fetched into the peace movement by the cool rationality of the United Nations or humane sympathy for Saddam. They just cannot stomach a protracted alliance with the Bushies. A few days after Iraq goes the way of Afghanistan they will join with Dr. Dean in celebrating their good judgment in effecting the liberation of Iraq.
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