With no shortage of important matters to discuss, why do Democrats insist on talking about trivia? They are determined to spew piffle even when they plainly pay a political price for doing so. Consider what our leaders should be grappling with.
Israel's popular Prime Minister is incapacitated by a massive stroke. Iran's President believes fervently in an imminent apocalypse. He and his colleagues repeatedly threaten Israel and the West with annihilation even as they put the finishing touches on their capacity for a nuclear first strike. The 'international community' wrings its hands; when the bombs start to fall it will wash them.
Any novel premised on this situation would probably remain unpublished. Who would believe it? But this isn't a novel, it's reality. The war that began in earnest on September 11, 2001 is about to take a dramatic turn.
Our political leaders should be doing their best, during the calm between the storms, to prepare the nation for the challenges that lie ahead. Instead, the Democratic Party gives us hysterical irrelevance.
What are Democrats doing as the clock ticks down to Armageddon? They are fighting renewal of the Patriot Act and trying to manufacture a scandal out of the Bush administration's efforts to gather intelligence about terrorist activity inside the United States. They are falling all over each other to get in front of cameras so that they can malign a decent and talented man who will soon be sitting on the Supreme Court. In any spare moments that remain, they are attacking President Bush's decision to liberate Iraq as they desperately try to transmute manifest success into failure.
Democrats know that the important parts of the Patriot Act will be renewed indefinitely, that George W. Bush will not suffer politically or otherwise because he keeps close tabs on terrorists, that Samuel Alito will be confirmed, and that we are succeeding in Iraq. Not one of their favorite hobby horses is ever going to take them anywhere. Their contributions to the public debate are so much verbal flatulence.
The flatulence is bound to drive voters away in disgust. Whining about civil rights for terrorists will only convince even more people that Democrats are too soft—headed to deal with a dangerous world. Slandering Samuel Alito will only make Democrats look mean and extreme.
Carping about Iraq is particularly foolish as open war with Iran looms. Positioned as we are in Iraq, we can bring tremendous force to bear on Iran very quickly. We might even be able to seize most of the Iranian oil fields at the outbreak of hostilities and prevent war from throwing the international oil market into chaos. A hostile Iraq under Saddam Hussein would make the Iranian situation still more dangerous than it is. A little more hindsight will probably make the wisdom of eliminating Saddam clear even to the dimmest among us.
So why can't Democrats talk about something that matters? Why do they keep blasting away at their own feet?
There is no rational explanation.
The conventional theory is that Democrats have to appeal to the lunatic fringe because that's where their money comes from. But money alone doesn't win elections. Besides, if their lunacy were a considered fundraising strategy Democrats would have abandoned it by now. The crazier they talk the more their funding dries up. Moveon.org doth not a major political party make.
These days the Democrats aren't rational. Instead of trying to win the next election they are primarily focused on dealing with the ghost of losses past. Most of what they say isn't calculated to appeal to the electorate. It is calculated instead to help heal the festering wounds they still carry from 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2004.
They are practicing therapeutic politics.
The subject of homeland security always sends the Democrats into full therapy mode. Republican strategists do back flips every time a Democrat complains about 'domestic spying.' Even so, the complaints keep coming. They are politically damaging but psychologically soothing.
The Clinton administration made a conscious choice to fight terrorism blindfolded in the name of civil liberties. This may have been the most costly dereliction of duty in the history of the United States. Democrats can't take responsibility for that dereliction. That would entail acknowledging that Bill Clinton's sidekick Al Gore couldn't be trusted with national security and that the best man won the agonizing 2000 election. Instead they attack George W. Bush for stepping up and doing what Clinton should have done. The more successful the Bush administration's counter—terrorism efforts are, the more powerfully Democrats will feel compelled to portray them as illegitimate.
Another example of therapeutic politics is the Democrat crusade against any judicial nominee who might threaten the precious constitutional right of predatory men to use abortion as a last line of defense against child support. That crusade isn't going to change anything. No matter what Democrats do, their favorite constitutional holding is going overboard and it won't even make much of a splash.
The doctrine that grew out of Roe v. Wade is in an advanced state of decay. That doctrine has no intellectual underpinnings. For most Supreme Court Justices not named O'Connor, that's a serious problem. A majority consisting, at a minimum, of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts will soon begin tossing Roe's debris over the side.
Democrats have absolutely nothing to gain politically by making jackasses out of themselves in an effort to save a doomed doctrine. Dismantling Roe will be a gradual process. Most voters care only about practical things and, as a practical matter, Roe's demise won't change much. When all the dust settles, abortion will be restricted everywhere but available under most circumstances almost everywhere. Nobody will be terribly pleased by this state of affairs, but nobody is going to be marching about it either. Very few voters will give Democrats any credit for standing by Roe in its final years.
But Democrats will give themselves credit for it and that's enough for them. They are willing to look like jackasses so that, years from now, they can hark back to the golden age of constitutional rights and tell themselves that they fought the good fight to preserve it. When you're a Democrat you have to take self—esteem wherever you can find it.
The Democrats' Iraq obsession is therapeutic politics at its most self—destructive. That obsession is another byproduct of the Democrats' need to paper over Bill Clinton's many failures.
Iraq is, of course, Bill Clinton's war. He determined that we had to remove Saddam from power. He even took military action to move toward that goal. But that action was as feckless, ineffectual and politically motivated as everything else Clinton did. If Democrats were honest with themselves about Clinton's despicable war with Iraq, they would all have to slink out of public life in humiliation.
George W. Bush committed the unpardonable sin of completing the project Clinton started but lacked the courage to finish. He showed the Democratic Party up for the collection of poltroons that it is.
There is nothing a coward hates more than a hero. Democrats will say and do anything to tarnish Bush's victories, at whatever cost to their country, because the alternative is to acknowledge their own shameful weakness.
Therapeutic politics may make Democrats feel better in the near term. But politicians who focus on feeling good about themselves aren't going to win hard—fought elections. Turning your back on reality never works.
Reality always bites you in the butt.
J. Peter Mulhern is a lawyer in the Washington, DC area, and a frequent contributor.