Looking for a Democratic Tough Guy, or Girl
Looking for a Democratic Tough Guy, or Girl
By MAUREEN DOWD
The Democrats were throwing haymakers at the White House this week, but they will never succeed as long as they're perceived as the party in skirts.
Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton called the Bush administration on its apparently bottomless store of imperial sins. They made a lot of good points. They just didn't score any.
This trio, apparently jockeying for '08, are not the best messengers. They're loaded down with baggage.
Two of them, who could have stopped W. and Dick Cheney before they undid 230 years of American democracy, didn't, because they allowed themselves to be painted as girlie men. The other, a manly girl, has been so cautious and opportunistic about weighing in on everything from Schiavo to Alito and Iraq that when she finally sang out on Monday and railed against W., she sounded more soprano than basso profundo.
It was easy for the Republicans to play their usual gender games and dismiss the three Democrats as whiny, shrill and ineffectual.
After Mr. Gore and Senator Clinton went on the attack, Scott McClellan rebutted: "I think we know one tends to like or enjoy grabbing headlines. The other one - sounds like that the political season may be starting early." He rubbed Mr. Gore's nose in the fact that he is not the president fighting the terrorists, noting: "If he wants to be the voice for Democrats on this debate over national security, we welcome it."
To lead, and not just conduct campaigns that parrot the liberal elite's editorial pages, you have to shape your own identity and political destiny. And ever since the 2000 race, the Democrats have let Republicans caricature them as effeminate. The Democrats have let the G.O.P. give them their shape, and it's an hourglass.
There are moments in campaigns and policy debates when it's possible to knock the sword out of your opponent's hand. Al Gore and John Kerry whiffed. Mr. Kerry and Senator Clinton held the president's coat as he rushed to war.
This all allowed the Bushies to use 9/11 as a shield and a bludgeon. They made their own rules and cast themselves as renegade heroes.
If the Democrats are like the dithering "Desperate Housewives," the Republicans have come across like the counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer on "24": fast with a gun, loose with the law, willing to torture in the name of protecting the nation. Except Jack Bauer is competent.
The Democrats' chronic impotence led to the Republicans' reign of incompetence.
U.S. News & World Report features a menacing Dick Cheney - looking like a man who just swallowed a country - on the cover this week, with the headline "Tough Guy."
The story recounts how Mr. Cheney, as Bush I's defense secretary, derided lawmakers as "a bunch of annoying gnats." Maybe that's why he doesn't feel the need to pay attention to those silly little laws they make.
How many things do you have to mess up in the country and the world before you lose your reputation for machismo?
Al Gore, belatedly perhaps, made an uncharacteristically bold move. He made the completely valid point that "the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently."
"To eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?" he told an audience on Monday, denouncing Bush's power grab. He warned Republicans that they should be wary of setting these extralegal precedents because someday a leader with values abhorrent to them could put all that power to use.
Mr. Cheney, lumbering around in unreality, continues to be unapologetic as the chorus of Democratic complaints gets louder. Above the law is exactly where he wants to be. Even when he can easily - and retroactively - get snooping warrants, he doesn't want their stinking warrants. Warrants are for sissies.
"When we get all through 10 years from now," he told U.S. News, "we'll look back on this period of time and see that liberating 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq really did represent a major, fundamental shift, obviously, in U.S. policy in terms of how we dealt with the emerging terrorist threat - and that we'll also have fundamentally changed circumstances in that part of the world."
Yeah. But not necessarily for the better. Whatever else you can say about the Bush crowd, they stick to their guns, even when they can't shoot straight.