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Jewish World Review May 24, 2002 / 13 Sivan, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Democratic self-destruction | The only way the Democrats can gain in the congressional elections of 2002 is to take the war on terror out of national politics. By agreeing with President George Bush and avoiding any appearance of daylight between the Democratic congressional leadership and the president on any aspect of the war, international or domestic, Democrats can keep the president's popularity out of their contests for Senate or Congress and run their campaigns only on domestic issues.

It is only "yes" which disarms the GOP and makes it impossible for Bush to deploy his enormous job approval on behalf of his chosen candidates for Congress. Anything less than yes opens the door for the war on terror to intrude on these local contests and permits Bush to transform them into a referendum on his international policies - a vote the Democrats are sure to lose.

It is the right of any political party to make inadmissible the strengths of its opponents by embracing their positions and offering total agreement. It was thus that Bill Clinton kept the Gulf War out of the 1992 election and welfare reform out of the 1996 presidential contest. But the minute a party disagrees with its opponent on any part of his strongest issue, they "open the door"- as a trial lawyer would say - to the issue and it has the potential to dominate the political dialogue.

So far the Democratic strategy of agreement with Bush is working well. Despite presidential popularity approaching 80 percent, Democrats and Republicans are about even in polls testing generic party preference in senatorial and congressional races. They have managed so well because of the innate popular preference for divided government to check and balance the spenders in one party and the zealots in the other and because of the Democratic skew of most domestic issues of the day - environment, campaign finance reform, healthcare and Social Security.

But now, the Democrats are endangering their position by their intemperate criticism of Bush on the war. The spate of attacks last week from the likes of hot- headed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and others on the Hill were self-destructive and injurious to the Democratic Party and its chances in November. The heated question - "What did Bush know, and when did he know it?" - is one which can only be asked in a nonpartisan environment with cool and detached statesmen pondering the answer.

Like children watching their parents argue, voters are viscerally opposed to partisan infighting in the aftermath of Sept. 11. In a recent online poll conducted by, voters were read 15 statements of their attitudes after the tragedy and asked how much they agreed with each. Fifty-two percent said that it was "very true" and 33 percent said it was "somewhat true" that they are "less tolerant of partisanship and political infighting" in the wake of Sept. 11. This reaction to the disaster was higher than for comments that might seem more applicable such as "I am more afraid for my personal safety (32 percent)", "I am more suspicious of strangers, particularly people from the Middle East (27 percent)", or "I am more respectful of people in uniform like police and firefighters (42 percent)."

Voters see partisan politics and sniping as dividing the nation and weakening us in the face of an external threat as surely as they did during World War II.

But, by bashing Bush, the Democrats free him to campaign for his candidates for the Senate and House on a platform of "give me the support I need to win the war." By criticizing his actions, Democrats permit Bush to use his strongest argument in pursuing congressional majorities in 2002.

Hillary Clinton has terrible political instincts when she is out from the control of her advisors and handlers. She is the same person who ran healthcare reform into the ground when she doesn't listen to cooler heads and acts on impulse.

Her reactions to the intelligence revelations reflects that intemperance against which she must always guard. Under wraps during the Senate campaign and thus far in her tenure, she could stand it no longer and lashed out. With luck, Democrats can rely on her to remain quiescent until the votes are counted in November.

JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris