With Plamegate dominating the day, the table is set for the Democratic Party to seize the moment. The scandal has reignited a national debate about the White House lies and deceptions that led us to war in Iraq, public support for the president's handling of the war has hit an all-time low, and the 2,000th soldier killed in action has put the human cost of the war back on page one.
So how have the Democrats reacted?
You be the grand jury (Warning: have some Zoloft or other suitable anti-depressant handy):
Exhibit A is the story NPR ran on Tuesday in which Senate Dems were asked if they regretted their votes to authorize the war in Iraq. Ben Nelson was among those who defended his vote, saying, "You just don't look back." Really? Why not? Afraid you might actually learn something from your mistakes, Senator?
Hillary Clinton refused to even address the question, telling reporter David Welna, "I really can't talk about this on the fly, it's too important." As with everything Hillary says and does these days, you could hear her and her consultants doing the math: Expressing regret = too soft for the Oval Office. Continuing to express support of the administration's Iraq policy = risking being overtaken by the post-Plamegate reassessment of the war. (So would offering a glowing assessment of progress in Iraq, as Clinton did during her visit there in February when she explained that suicide bombers are "an indication" of the "failure" of the insurgency, and that much of Iraq was "functioning quite well").
Clinton and Nelson should get a copy of the NPR segment and listen to the responses of Sens. Dodd, Feinstein, Rockefeller, and Harkin who all said they would not have voted the way they did. They should also listen to the speech John Kerry gave today in which he said that "knowing what we know now" he would not have voted to give the administration the authority to go to war.
Exhibit B was Chuck Schumer's disheartening appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday. When Tim Russert asked him if he regretted having voted for the war, Schumer replied: "No, Tim, because my vote was seen -- and I still see it -- as a need to say we must fight a strong and active war on terror" (a ludicrous response he echoed on NPR). The senior senator from New York really ought to have gotten the memo by now that the Iraq-al Qaeda connection was just a Bush fantasy. Until we invaded Iraq, that is. And far from leading to "a strong and active war on terror," his vote has helped turned Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorists while making us far less safe here at home.
Exhibit C was the report I got from the intimate Democratic strategy session held at Ron Burkle's house in Los Angeles to discuss the Dems' need for a united message. Those present included Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid's chief of staff, Susan McCue, pollster Doug Shoen, Haim Saban, Rob Reiner, Steve Bing, and Warren Beatty. Among the highlights was the Hollywood unveiling of the Dems' new slogan -- "America Can Do Better" -- a soulless and vacuous phrase that sums up a party that's become pathologically risk-averse. The discussion also included the latest report from Democracy Corps, run by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, which is calling for an agenda focused on "heath care, education and energy, followed by a top end tax cut repeal and homeland security." In other words, let's party like it's 2004!
Have Democratic leaders completely forgotten that we are at war? A war that's going very badly? A war Plamegate has brought to the forefront of national consciousness? A war the majority of Americans now feel was a mistake?
Cindy Sheehan hasn't.
She's making it clear that "any candidate who supports the war should not receive our support." Including Hillary Clinton, about whom she blogged: "I would love to support Hillary for president if she would come out against the travesty in Iraq. But I don't think she can speak out against the occupation because she supports it."
Sheehan and Clinton met last month to discuss the war. "She said she has to make sure our sons didn't die in vain," Sheehan said this week. "That is a totally Republican talking point."
Indeed it is. During his speech at Bolling Air Force Base on Tuesday, President Bush said, "The best way to honor the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission."
So George Bush and the Democrats' leading contender for 2008 are reading from the same script. Tells you all you need to know about why the Democrats continue to flounder.
Maybe the Dems' message team is on to something after all. When it comes to having an opposition party willing to actually be in opposition, "America Can Do Better."