Bill Clinton frustrated Republican critics. He passed welfare
reform, waged a preemptive war against Slobodan Milosevic without
either the approval of the Congress or the United Nations, and
reined in federal spending. And so anguished conservatives had a
hard time proving that, despite these accomplishments, he was a
tax-and-spend bleeding heart.
Instead, they finally charged him with being a lothario who lied
about his sexual antics. But he ended up with higher approval
ratings than the Republicans who impeached him.
In the same sort of way, a detested-by-the-left George Bush has
driven Democrats even crazier.
Take the economy. In Bush’s first term, the president ballooned the
federal deficit. But that red ink wasn’t because of too little money
coming in. In fact, the ensuing growth of the economy produced more
annual adjusted revenue for the Treasury than had been produced
before the Bush tax cuts. This year there has been a whopping 14.6
percent increase in federal income over last.
No, the real culprit was overly liberal federal spending in Bush’s
first term. Not counting the war and domestic security, the
president still increased discretionary federal entitlements on
average by almost 9 percent a year signing big-ticket items
like the No Child Left Behind Act and a Medicare prescription drug
bill. The president did not veto a single spending proposal.
So how does a big-government Democrat score points against a
president who outpaced Bill Clinton 3 to 1 in increasing the rate of
Democrats have tried the “tax cuts for the wealthy” approach. But,
then, how is it that almost every American got some tax relief
and that most in the upper brackets still pay over 50 percent
of their salaries when federal, state, local and payroll taxes are
considered altogether? Furthermore, unemployment and interest rates
remain low, while consumer spending and the gross domestic product
The Democrats face the same sort of dilemma in regard to Iraq, even
though the war is currently unpopular. They are not traditional
Lindberg isolationists who want to stay home. To their credit, most
aren’t grim realists who believe we should worry only how thugs
abroad treat us, rather than how they treat their own.
So, privately, Democrats concede that, while going to war may have
been naive or widely idealistic, it was not done simply out of
And since gas prices skyrocketed after Iraq, Democrats can hardly
use “No Blood For Oil” sloganeering. Since Israel got out of Gaza,
so much for any claims of a surrogate war for Israel. And since U.S.
troops left Saudi Arabia, so much for the argument the
administration is after perpetual hegemony in the oil-rich Persian
As progressives, are Democrats cynically to say that Arabs, unlike
Eastern Europeans, Asians or Latin Americans, aren’t ready for
democracy? As admirers of John F. Kennedy, are they now to complain
we need to deal with the world as it is not as we dream it
We can best understand the Democratic dilemma on both domestic and
foreign issues by looking at growing criticism from the president’s
conservative base. For those on the hard right, he is getting
uncomfortably liberal and idealistic in other words, acting
too much like a Democrat.
At home, many supply-siders and libertarians charge he is a big
spender who is deluded for thinking the federal government can solve
social problems by throwing more money at them.
Abroad, paleo-conservatives like Pat Buchanan think Bush is a
neoconservative imperialist, and realists like George Bush Sr.’s
nation security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, allege he is a dreamy
But as George W. Bush oddly seems to be doing many things a Democrat
might have done, his base supporters stay with him. They see
progress in Iraq (a war most Democrats in Congress once voted for).
They know that the economy is strong and that the deficit is
starting to decline. And they have nowhere to go anyway.
So, what are the flummoxed Democrats faced with? They’re demanding
peace, but have no real future peace candidate. Democrats praise
Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha’s courage, but don’t vote to
follow his lead. They talk withdrawal, but neither offer a timetable
nor cut off war funding.
Some still cry that the rich have become richer and the poor poorer,
but there is little actual demand by Democrats for more taxes and
more federal entitlements.
That’s why instead of a real debate or an alternative agenda, we get
more of the same old, same old: flushed Korans, federal blame for
floods in New Orleans, or purported fibs by Scooter Libby
always on the outside chance that some misdemeanor might still turn
into a Monica-like felony, and thus make up for Democrats’ inability
to provide a comprehensive alternative agenda.
If Karl Rove has copied former Clinton adviser Dick Morris’s
playbook, then the frustrated Democrats of the House and Senate in
turn have modeled themselves after the crabby contrarian Republican
Congress of 1998 and we all know who ultimately won that
Meanwhile the economy keeps chugging along, the Iraqis keep voting,
and the exasperated Democrats keep digging.