Jewish World Review Sept. 30, 2002/ 24 Tishrei, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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No politics, please:
We're campaigning | Ah, the headline writer's cliche comes to life: "The Democrats stumble in disarray."

Put it down to war fever. Not the war on Saddam Hussein, but the war on George W. Bush.

Al Gore, with a breathtaking feat of spinning (once called "lying") that would have made his old boss proud, sounded the keynote in a week of cacophony with a speech in San Francisco accusing George W. of not doing anything about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and trying to do the wrong thing about Saddam Hussein. Michael Kelly described it in The Washington Post as "dishonest, cheap, low hollow [and] breathtakingly hypocritical," but had to concede that he was understating how bad it really was.

Al Gore's speech was a study in contradictions, in which he repudiated himself and his previous belief - stated forcefully as recently as February - that the war on terrorism would stall unless there was "a final reckoning" with Saddam Hussein.

But Mr. Gore, like his party's congressional candidates, has been unable to get any traction in his resurrection campaign, and he's desperate to separate himself from the pack of aspirants of '04. Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt and others have supported George W. with varying warmth, and making a political issue of the war is, like Gerhard Schroeder's cultivation of anti-American sentiment in Germany, not very nice, but maybe very necessary.

Then Tom Daschle, desperate to gain a little traction of his own as the congressional election campaigns are about to enter the October homestretch, lets fly with venom of his own, of the kind almost never thrown against a president on the eve of war. He accused the administration, particularly Dick Cheney, of doing what Al Gore had just done - "politicizing" the war by suggesting that the president needs friends in Congress. He demanded an apology from George W. Suggesting that what Tom Daschle needs to stop the momentum against Saddam Hussein is more allies in Congress is not "politicizing" the war, of course.

When Joe Lieberman, a Democrat with impeccable partisan credentials, rose to defend the president - "I'm grateful that President Bush wants to [move against Saddam Hussein] and I don't question his motives" - it was inevitable that the Democrats would roll out Big Bertha.

So here was Barbra Streisand, the famous movie star, aging bombshell and one-time intimate of Bill Clinton, with reassurance and marching orders in a memo to Dick Gephardt: "Saddam did not bomb the World Trade Center." Not only that, the Democrats should not "ignore the obvious influence on the Bush administration of such interests as the oil industry, the chemical companies, the logging industry to name just a few. Many of these industries, run by big Republican donors and insiders, clearly have much to gain if we go to war against Iraq." The party should "publicly convey this message to the American people."

Barb is worried that taking Saddam on now will divert the troops from their assignment to "fully dismantle the al Qaeda network." Barb's insights into military strategy always amaze even Hollywood, a hotbed of geostrategic wisdom (Barb, Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine and Susan Sarandon comprise the nation's strategic reserve of deep policy thinking), and she frets that "the country's domestic problems" will suffer if the nation goes to war in the Middle East. All those SUVs in Beverly Hills need as much gasoline as Saddam and the Saudis can pump.

If this confusion in the Democratic ranks were not enough, there was news from London that Tony Blair, trying to muscle the Nervous Nellies of his Labor Party into line, had imported Bill Clinton, of all people, to help.

Mr. Blair, the staunchest trans-Atlantic friend George W. has, goes to Blackpool this weekend for his party's annual five-day conference of partisan blabber and blubber, and many of the Laborites are balking at the notion of bopping Baghdad before Baghdad levels London or New York (or both) with bugs, bombs or clouds of nerve gas. Mr. Blair is counting on Mr. Clinton's argle-bargle charm, however stale it has become on this side of the sea, to dazzle his dissidents one more time. The boy ex-president sent a pre-conference message to the delegates praising his "good friend Tony," conceding that the prime minister has "plenty of critics" but allowing as how he finds it "strange that some on the left join in with relish."

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Democratic worthies in Congress face the ordeal every politician dreads, taking a stand on an important issue. The Democrats egging Al and Tom on will in the end vote for the war resolution, which will be immensely popular, and some of them want to do it in the way Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas did it in 1991: "I would have voted for the resolution, but I agreed with those who voted against it."

The Democrats offer a fat and stationary target, but the president's party, as usual, is loath to return fire. The first instinct of a Republican under attack is always to run, shouting over his shoulder that "I'm not as bad as you think." Then he shoots his buddy to prove it.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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