Any additional evidence one might need that the prospect of war with Iraq has Democrats nervous around election time was on display in Iowa on Saturday night, when Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards and Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont spoke before the state party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Dean, who probably doesn’t have a prayer of finishing in the top seven in the caucus there, was the most outspoken of the bunch, lambasting the Bush administration for not making the case for war against Iraq, for not detailing for the American people the financial costs of a long-term Iraqi policy (overthrow, destroy, rebuild), and for generally not doing on Iraq what he would do (nothing?).
Kerry told the crowd that he’d gladly go fight Saddam in a second, but was quick to add that Bush needed to be clearer about the mission. That said, Senate Democratic leadership staffers believe Kerry will sign on to a pro-attack resolution: “As long as he can claim a seat at the table in shaping the language, he’ll sign off,” says a Senate staffer.
Then there was Edwards, who is actually a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution on attacking Iraq. He was sure not to mention that while attacking Bush and his team for stripping Americans of all their civil liberties in pursuit of justice for the terror visited on America.
Of course, much of what was laid out in Iowa was red meat for the true-believer diners who had paid as much as $1,000 to hear their Democratic heroes attack Republicans. And the speakers didn’t disappoint. Left unsaid was that with the exception of Dean, almost all of the potential Democratic candidates for 2004 are backing to some degree or another the Bush team’s take on Iraq.
“What are they going to do?” asks the Senate Democratic leadership staffer. “For all of their complaints that Bush hasn’t done enough to make a case, they certainly aren’t in a position to argue against what Bush has laid out. They’ve seen and been told things that they can’t necessarily share with the American people, which further buttresses Bush’s position in Iraq. Deep down, they know he’s right. Any doubts are simply to keep their hard-left constituents happy.”
Secondary to the actual speeches was the list of speakers, all of whom essentially paid the Iowa Democratic Party for the privilege. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had offered to speak at the event, but declined to pay the more than $60,000 the state party was asking from those who wanted to spout off to the party faithful. In return for the fee, the candidate got to sing for his supper and received the full state party mailing list, which they could use for direct mail appeals and such.
Republicans in the Senate are giving their oft-criticized leader Trent Lott a big thumbs-up for his handling of the Iraq resolution. “So far he’s kept his head down and left the squirming to Daschle,” says a Republican Senator. “And he’s kept us all in line, even [Sen. John] McCain seems happy with the way Lott has dealt with the issue up here.”