The defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman by the upstart antiwar Democrat Ned Lamont has sparked a firestorm of debate about the direction of the Democratic Party. My own heart is with those Democrats who worry that just calling for a pullout from Iraq, while it may be necessary, is not a sufficient response to the biggest threat to open societies today - violent, radical Islam. Unless Democrats persuade voters - in the gut - that they understand this larger challenge, it's going to be hard for them to win the presidency.
That said, though, the Democratic mainstream is nowhere near as dovish as critics depict. Truth be told, some of the most constructive, on-the-money criticism over the past three years about how to rescue Iraq or improve the broader "war on terrorism" has come from Democrats, like Joe Biden, Carl Levin, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Bill Clinton.
But whatever you think of the Democrats, the important point is this: They are not the party in power today.
What should really worry the country is not whether the Democrats are being dragged to the left by antiwar activists who haven't thought a whit about the larger struggle we're in. What should worry the country is that the Bush team and the Republican Party, which control all the levers of power and claim to have thought only about this larger struggle, are in total denial about where their strategy has led.
Besides a few mavericks like Chuck Hagel and John McCain on Iraq and Dick Lugar and George Shultz on energy, how many Republicans have stood up and questioned the decisionmaking that has turned the Iraq war into a fiasco? Had more of them done so, instead of just mindlessly applauding the administration, the White House might have changed course when it had a chance.
Not only is there no honest self-criticism among Republicans, but - and this is truly contemptible - you have Dick Cheney & Friends focusing their public remarks on why Lamont's defeat of Lieberman only proves that Democrats do not understand that we are in a titanic struggle with "Islamic fascists" and are therefore unfit to lead.
Oh, really? Well, I just have one question for Cheney: If we're in such a titanic struggle with radical Islam, and if getting Iraq right is at the center of that struggle, why did you "tough guys" fight the Iraq war with the Rumsfeld Doctrine - just enough troops to lose - and not the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force to create the necessary foundation of any democracy-building project, which is security?
Cheney, if we're in a titanic struggle with Islamic fascists, why have you and President Bush resisted any serious effort to get Americans to conserve energy? Why do you refuse to push higher mileage standards for U.S. automakers or a gasoline tax that would curb our imports of oil? Here we are in the biggest struggle of our lives and we are funding both sides - the U.S. military with our tax dollars and the radical Islamists and the governments and charities that support them with our gasoline purchases - and you won't lift a finger to change that. Why? Because it might impose pain on the oil companies and auto lobbies that fund the GOP, or require some sacrifice by Americans.
Cheney, if we're in a titanic struggle with Islamic fascists, why do you constantly use the "war on terrorism" as a wedge issue to frighten voters away from Democrats? How are we going to sustain such a large, long-term struggle if we are a divided country?
Please, Cheney, spare us your flag-waving rhetoric about the titanic struggle we are in and how Democrats just don't understand it. It is just so phony - such a patent ploy to divert Americans from the fact that you have never risen to the challenge of this war. You will the ends, but you won't will the means. What a fraud!
Friends, we are on a losing trajectory in Iraq. We need to reassess everything we are doing in this "war on terrorism" and figure out what is worth continuing, what needs changing and what sacrifice we need to demand from every American to match our means with our ends. Yes, the Democrats could help by presenting a serious alternative. But unless the party in power for the next 2½ years shakes free of its denial, we are in really, really big trouble.
© 2006, New York Times News Service