Why Were Democrats Applauding?

It's too easy to pound on the president's State of The Union address. I'll leave that to the red-meat crowd. What annoyed the crap out of me was watching the Democrats. I'm not referring to the perpetual suck-ups like Reps. Eliot Engel and Loretta Sanchez, two of the many Democrats I spotted jostling for position to shake the president's hand (what is it with the air in Washington, D.C. that makes people want to cozy up to a politician who two-thirds of the voters detest?). I'm talking about the vast numbers of Democrats, sometimes the entire caucus, who applauded, sometimes as part of standing ovations, for speech lines that deserved stony silence.

Let's look at just a few. "First, we must balance the federal budget. (Applause, including large numbers of Democrats going wild) We can do so without raising taxes (Applause, including large numbers of Democrats)." And, then, moments later: "In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. (Applause, including many Democrats)."

First of all, balancing the budget is not, and should not be, the first priority at a time when, for example, 48 million Americans have no health care. The trade deficit--as distinguished from the fiscal deficit--is a much bigger issue: and, yet, the president said zero, nada, nothing about the trade deficit and how to grapple with a growing threat (I would have said: let the dollar fall more...which would make it a bit more expensive for tourists but mostly agitate powerful corporations like Wal-Mart who depend on a strong dollar to make imports cheaper and keep labor costs abroad nice and low).

Second, even if you believed that balancing the federal budget was the first priority, it is incomprehensible that Democrats would loudly approve of a line about not raising taxes. That's simply a lie--if our party has any intention of pursuing a sane domestic agenda. When I wrote about a future Democratic agenda, I argued that it would be nothing short of criminal, given what we need to do in the country, if the Democrats did not push for hiking taxes on the top 1 percent of income earner--those who pull in at least $1.3 million a year--who will pocket more than $347 billion in the next four years if Bush's tax cuts are allowed to continue. To paraphrase Willie Sutton, if you want to close the deficit, go where the money is.

The Democratic Party I want, and I believe our country needs, is a party that has to stop pandering to people on the question of taxes. Taxes are a membership fee we pay for schools, roads, safe food, a clean environment and a whole host of things that make our daily lives so much better than many other people around the world. Yes, the average person fears that their taxes will go up simply because they are being squeezed from every direction. But, it's pretty simple to say: we want to pay for health care for every American by asking those who already have yachts, private planes and mansions to pay a little more to make sure our country stays strong.

And, of course, there is Iraq: "On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory. (Applause, with many Democrats going wild.)" There will be no victory in Iraq. We destroyed a country, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, Americans and Iraqis. We will have squandered at least one trillion dollars--perhaps as much as two trillions dollars.

But, our party, as on taxes, is still caught in a trap. Democrats cheer the words promising "victory" because they don't have the spine--and, frankly, the moral compass--to admit that Iraq is a defeat. Period. A defeat not just because of the human and economic losses but because what our government has done in Iraq is an obscene shredding of the very values that we would like the rest of the world to believe we stand for. Where is the courageous Democrat, not out of audacity or hope or some other empty sloganeering, who can stand before the country and call Iraq a defeat--and, thereby, start the healing, not just here but around the world?

As an amusing aside: When Bush congratulated the new majority party in Congress, he did so using the typical Republican reference to the opposition party: "Democrat majority." And the official White House transcript keeps that language. But, CBS and CNN's version of the transcript of the speech (I didn't check other sources because of time) changed the words to "Democratic majority,"--the correct name of the Democratic Party but not what the president said.

If the president won't even give you the respect to use the correct name of your party, why would you respect his office by clapping for him, particularly when he's dead wrong?