The party of a lame-duck president, having presumably spent much of its momentum, is expected to lose seats. The only question is: how many?
When the incumbent president is not the most eloquent of speakers, when the armed forces are bogged down in the quagmire of an unpopular overseas occupation, when little of the president’s domestic agenda -- think private Social Security accounts -- has been achieved, history tells us the Democratic leadership should be poised on the edge of their seats today, waiting to leap to their feet with high-fives in celebration of their return to legislative power a mere six weeks from now.
But something is wrong.
The primary defeat of incumbent U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- one of the few Democratic supporters of President Bush’s war in Iraq -- tells us the core Democratic constituency favors isolationism and withdrawal.
Those didn’t used to be dirty words. Staying out of foreign entanglements has a proud history -- it was urged by no less a leader than George Washington, and, as recently as 1916, Woodrow Wilson won election on the slogan that he “kept us out of war.”
(OK, Wilson was lying. He was a politician, a Democrat, an Ivy League professor, the man who gave us the income tax, the Federal Reserve Board, and the War on Drugs ... and you’re surprised?)
Problem is, today’s core Democratic constituency can’t award their party a working majority. To gain ground outside its core “blue” areas in the inner cities, in New England and along the Pacific coast, Democrats must appeal to independents and even some Republicans. But a mere five years after depraved Muslim zealots destroyed the largest towers in New York, those independent and Republican voters stand appalled at the notion of Nancy Pelosi and her pathetic gang of posturing social workers running the War on Terror.
If Democrats decline to campaign as the “run home and pull up the drawbridge” party, their only other viable option would seem to be a claim they’re actually stronger on terrorism than George W. Bush, that they currently have a more effective plan for conquering al-Qaida, all drawn up and ready to go.
But they don’t.
Moving down the proverbial depth chart, Plan “C,” apparently, is to claim the Democratic party was, at least, “tougher on terrorism” six years ago than anyone is today.
And that’s the main reason former President Bill Clinton is back out on the stump in this election season, taking substantial public umbrage at recurrent assertions -- including those in the recent TV dramatization “The Path to 9/11” -- that he didn’t do enough to forestall al-Qaida back before Sept. 11, in part because he was distracted by the matter of Monica Lewinsky’s stained blue dress.
This is the context in which we must view the former president’s verbal explosion during a recent interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News -- taped Sept. 22 and aired Sept. 24.
After leading with several innocuous questions about Clinton’s charitable work since the end of his presidency, Wallace asked, “Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and al-Qaida out of business when you were president?”
“I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked, ‘Why didn’t you do anything about the (attack on the USS) Cole,’ ” a furious Clinton retorted. “... You didn’t ask that, did you? Tell the truth, Chris.”
Wallace, Mr. Clinton added, was just doing the bidding of “all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now.”
Wallace told the Miami Herald “I was knee to knee with him, he was wagging his finger, glaring at me. This was genuine raw emotion, Bill Clinton unplugged. As soon as he spun out, his press secretary started jabbing my producer hard in the shoulder, saying to end the interview immediately -- which my producer refused to do. Then, when it did end and they went out the door, we could hear him out in the hall, yelling at his staff.”
In fact, the Cole was attacked in October of 2000, three months before Clinton left office. FBI Investigations on the ground in Yemen, led by the now legendary bin-Laden hunter John O’Neill, were frustrated not only by uncooperative authorities there, but also by the interference of Mr. Clinton’s ambassador, Barbara Bodine, who seemed more concerned with not ruffling local feathers, and who eventually barred O’Neill from the country.
Meantime, other Clinton statements on Fox have also drawn scrutiny. The ex-president said that after the bombing of the Cole, “I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan.”
But the Sept. 11 commission found no plans for an invasion of Afghanistan or for an operation to topple the Taliban -- only more limited scenarios such as plans for attacks with cruise missiles or Special Forces. And nothing in the panel’s report indicated that a lack of basing rights in Uzbekistan prevented a military response.
Democrats almost certainly know Mr. Clinton is lying, again. But darn it, he does it so WELL. He looks so STRONG. Why can’t we have OUR liar back pretending to have a foreign policy?
Criticize George W. Bush for not doing enough in his first eight months in office to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, for looking like a dork in that “Heather Has Two Goat Mommies” Florida classroom, for invading Iraq when the real support and financing for the Sept. 11 attacks probably came from Pakistan and Arabia? Fine.
But rewriting history to pretend that Bill Clinton, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, and a revolving door of mighty-warrior defense secretaries from Les Aspin to William S. Cohen spent the 1990s taking dramatically effective scorched-earth action to isolate, neuter, or crush the burgeoning threat of al-Qaida terrorism?
As the lady from Texas used to say, that dog won’t hunt.