Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 2003 / 2 Mar-Cheshvab, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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Soft-on-defense stereotype — no wonder | Americans might elect a president they might not trust alone with their daughter or whose intellect they question, but not a commander-in-chief who makes them feel insecure.

You'd think, given the political history, Democrats would have learned that lesson from George McGovern and Walter Mondale.

But the opposition of most of their presidential candidates to approving the postwar-Iraq-cleanup funding indicates that Democrats didn't major in history.

There's a reason why the party's symbol is the donkey, known for stubbornness and stupidity.

Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996 despite a widespread perception that he had an alley cat's morals and had ducked the draft. But that was when national security was not a front-burner issue.

Millions of Americans were also skeptical about President Bush's intellectual capabilities in 2000, but they didn't worry about trusting him with the nuclear football.

As Clinton himself has advised his party, no Democrat can win if viewed in middle America, not in Cambridge coffee bars, as squeamish about flexing U.S. muscle when the issue is on the public's mind.

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No matter Democrats' excuse, the votes against postwar funding provide more evidence that they don't understand, or don't care, how skeptical voters are about trusting them with the national defense.

The Democratic candidates can't seriously believe that explaining their votes as an effort to force Bush to raise taxes on the wealthy, or to give the United Nations more control of the postwar effort, convinces anyone that their motives are pure.

Instead of providing funding to U.S. troops putting their lives at risk in Iraq daily, the candidates are pandering to the loony left that controls the party's presidential-nomination machinery. The voters in these primaries allowed McGovern in 1972 and Mondale in 1984 to earn the opportunity to lose 49 states in the November elections.

I am not questioning the patriotism of Howard Dean, John Kerry, Wesley Clark or John Edwards.

I am questioning their judgment.

The American people should, too.

It would be irresponsible for the United States not to finish the job in Iraq, not just because it would sacrifice the opportunity to transform the Middle East but because of the signal it would send to terrorists fighting our troops in Iraq.

Ironically, Sens. Kerry of Massachusetts and Edwards of North Carolina, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, bucked their party's dovish wing last year and backed Bush on the war.

But, as the primaries near, among Democratic candidates, only Lieberman and Gephardt backed Bush's $87 billion request, although three-quarters of the party's U.S. senators and roughly 40 percent of its House members did so.

Unfortunately, because he is a decent man too imbued with common sense to survive the Democratic primaries, Lieberman's odds of winning the nomination are only slightly better than mine.

Gephardt has a chance, but his vote will clearly hurt him with Democratic primary voters, many of whom equate Iraq with Vietnam.

Former Vermont Gov. Dean, former Gen. Clark, Edwards and Kerry all have demonstrated what can be only described as remarkable political flexibility.

One could at least give Dean credit if he'd stuck to his guns. He was a vocal opponent of the war before it began. But in September, he acknowledged there was "no choice" but to approve the postwar funding because doing otherwise would endanger the troops.

He then realized how badly backing the funding played with primary voters and decided that there was a choice after all, deciding that because Bush wouldn't raise taxes on the wealthy Dean should oppose the funding.

Please explain to me what tax fairness has to do with national security.

Kerry, whose every step since kindergarten seems calculated for political impact, also offered some mumbo jumbo about taxes, as did Edwards.

The prize for political expediency, however, goes to Clark. He not only has waffled about whether he would have supported the war in the first place (no one cared what he thought last year when he was an armchair general) but now says that how he would vote on postwar funding isn't relevant.

"I'm running for president, not for Congress," he responded in one of the most inept attempts to duck a question in political history.

The next time a Democrat whines about being unfairly labeled as soft on defense, tell him or her that this stereotype exists for a well-deserved reason.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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