So, you’re a Democrat-watcher?

Yes – from a seat deep in the bleachers, far beyond the Beltway. It’s part of the job. It’s also a compulsive lifelong fascination, sort of like watching the Chicago Cubs.

And how are they doing?

The Democrats? They just can’t seem to get their game together.

That’s not what the polls are saying. The polls have Bush in the pits and the Republicans right down there with him. The mid-term congressional elections could be a Republican bloodbath.

They could, and they still may be. But don’t forget that maxim about trying to beat something with nothing. The Democrats delayed their fall platform seven months, until this month. And even now it doesn’t amount to much. They fought endlessly over their 2006 motto – a revival of John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign slogan, “Together, America Can Do Better.” As noted in a Washington Post story:

“It was the last line of Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine’s response to President Bush’s State of the Union address, and (Sen. Harry) Reid, (Rep. Nancy) Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean have used it in speeches. But there is an effort afoot to drop the word ‘together.’ It tests well in focus groups and audiences, Democratic sources said, but it makes the syntax incorrect.”

Speaking of mainline newspapers. …

Yes, let’s do that. The way The Post and The New York Times, etc. – particularly The Times – are undermining the success of the American enterprise against jihadist terror is unconscionable, notably news stories on the monitoring of international telephone traffic and the tracking of international financial dealings. Now the enemy knows …

But what about individual rights?

Hey, we’re at war. Our enemies exploit our open system in their efforts to destroy us. Sometimes in war short-term exceptions have to be made – just as Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. In these cases key members of Congress evidently were informed, and the courts evidently had provided authorization.

Don’t you see a public interest in these stories?

Of course. Yet I also see the determined interest of the left in crushing the Bush administration before the Iraqi enterprise succeeds. We know from captured al-Qaeda documents that the longer we persist, the better the prospects for the survival of freedom in Iraq. E.g. – from a captured document: “Time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance.”

Hatred of Bush

Leftist dissent doesn’t necessarily translate into hatred of the Bush administration or a preference for pulling the plug in Iraq, does it?

It can. In a May graduation speech, The Times’ publisher – arrested twice during the 1960s in protests against the American enterprise in Vietnam – boasted, “My fellow students and I ended the Vietnam War and ousted President Nixon.” Who’s to say he, through The Times, is not still at it – trying to get the U.S. out of Iraq and cripple President Bush?

But what does all this have to do with the Democrats?

It’s ammunition for them to fire at the Republicans and the administration, but they don’t seem to be blasting away with a coherent strategy. Fresh on the heels of the death of al-Zarqawi and the beheading of two captured American soldiers, the Democrats’ Great Debate on the American presence in Iraq produced these numbers in the Senate: six Democratic votes on a measure to pull out all American forces by January 1; 12 Democratic votes and one independent vote for the Kerry-Feingold bill to pull out within a year; and 37 Democratic votes – plus one independent vote and one Republican vote – for the Levin-Reed resolution to begin pulling troops out sometime this year, with no timetable for completion.

The vast right-wing conspiracy must be alive and well.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist saw the Democratic measures as far less than forthcoming – even “intentionally misleading”: “They don’t use such terms as ‘retreat’ or ‘withdrawal,’ but instead call for ‘redeployment’ of our armed forces from Iraq. … (It would dishonor U.S. forces,) to say nothing of their fallen comrades, to cut and run at a time as promising as now.”

“Cut and run” – how fair is that usage?

It’s the usage of John Kerry himself. In December 2003, he said he feared that “in the run-up to the 2004 election, the (Bush) administration is considering what is tantamount to a cut-and-run strategy. Their sudden embrace of accelerated Iraqification and American troop withdrawal dates, without adequate stability, is an invitation to failure. The hard work of rebuilding Iraq must not be dictated by the schedule of the next American election.”

At least, as Hillary Clinton has said (“We’re not blindly united like the other side is”), the Democratic debate demonstrates the health of the Democratic Party.

That’s one way to look at it. Another way, from out here in the bleachers, is to see the Democrats’ failure to formulate a unified message as a measure of Democratic disarray – and corresponding good news for the Republicans.

Ross Mackenzie is the editorial page editor at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. Readers may write to him at Richmond Times-Dispatch, 300 E. Franklin Street, Richmond, Va. 23219.

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