Tim Russert interviewed Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean this morning on Meet the Press. To put the kindest interpretation on it, Mr. Dean was unimpressive.
The theme that the Democrats are determined to plant in the public unconscious is that Bush is a liar and his administration is corrupt. This is itself mendacious, but for liberals truth is a virtue only when it suits one's purposes. If lying about an opponent's own truthfulness wins political battles then lie one must.
Bush lied, Mr. Dean tells us without actually using the word, because he withheld evidence that Saddam wasn't involved in the 9/11 attack. Never mind that Mr. Bush never claimed that he was involved, the fact is that he never said that he wasn't, Mr. Dean asserts, and that's the same as lying.
Bush lied, Mr. Dean insists, when he said last Friday that the Senate had access to the same evidence of Iraq's WMD that the White House had. Not only that, but the administration discounted evidence that contradicted their claim that Saddam possessed WMD. Mr. Dean's first assertion was dispelled by Chris Wallace today on Fox News Sunday when he reminded Senator Jay Rockefeller that, if anything, the intelligence the White House was given was more strongly slanted toward the conclusion that Saddam indeed had WMD than were the reports that the senators were given. This makes Democratic support of the war even less defensible than the administration's.
The second assertion, if true, is perfectly reasonable. You have evidence that a known killer is threatening your family. He's acting in a threatening manner. He shoots at your car and acts in every way as if what you've heard is true. He has a motive, revenge, and is cultivating friendships with the sorts of people who have done you harm in the past. Reports are that he's working on building weapons that will put your children at very serious risk should he obtain them. He's possessed and used such weapons in the past and has already made an attempt on your father's life.
Yet there are dissenting reports that cast some doubt on his intentions. If you have the responsibility of protecting your family what is the most prudent course of action? You ask him to open his home for inspection but, although he does, he clearly acts as if he's hiding something. You ask the police to enforce the law and restrain him, but they do nothing. You yourself must either act now or wait until you're 100% certain one way or the other.
Unfortunately, you can never be 100% certain that he's not out to get you, and by the time you're 100% certain that he is planning to kill you, it will, of course, be too late for your family. To act is to risk. Which risk should you take, especially given that it was clear that the world would be a safer place with this man's power to harm taken from him? Should you assume that he is a threat or should you wait when waiting could be disastrous?
It would have been irresponsible for the President to have done anything other than what he did do, given what he believed to be true at the time, and most Democrats felt exactly the same way.
Democrats tell the truth, Mr. Dean avers, Republicans lie. He says this with a straight face despite the prevarications of both President and Mrs. Clinton and many other Democrats since 1992, and despite the fact that the only real evidence of Republican lying is that a relatively minor figure, Lewis Libby, was indicted, not convicted, of lying to a special prosecutor about something that wasn't even a crime.
Mr. Russert asked Mr. Dean to tell us what the Democratic alternative is to Republican policy on Iraq, social security, the deficit, and health care. But the DNC chairman refused to answer. Democratic policy, he declared, is to obstruct whatever the president tries to do. "Our job," he announced, "is to stop the administration." No matter what the Republicans seek to do, no matter how right it may be for the country, it must be opposed. The Republicans cannot be allowed to get any credit in the eyes of the public for anything.
Is it enough, Russert asked, to just say "Trust us"? Mr. Dean replied by assuring us that when the time comes the Democrats will have a plan. The party will present their specific proposals after they have retaken the House and the Senate. Of course, this leaves unanswered the question why anyone should vote them into office without knowing what they plan to do once there.
Meanwhile, Mr. Dean intones, their policy is to be honest, which explains, we suppose, why they're increasingly trying to work religious language into their speeches. Perhaps they have just rediscovered that they have in fact been evangelical Christians all along but they had, until the results of the last election came in, forgotten it.
When asked about Samuel Alito, Mr. Dean replied that the judge is "well outside the mainstream," but he wouldn't say whether the Democrats should filibuster him. He wants to wait until after the hearings to decide whether he ought to be blocked, but then why not wait until after the hearings to conclude that he's out of the mainstream? If Mr. Dean already knows that Judge Alito is bad for America what does he need hearings for? Don't waffle, Mr. Dean, be honest.
Mr. Dean implied that the Republicans were hypocrites for insisting that Alito be given an up or down vote when they wouldn't allow such a vote for Harriet Miers. This is perhaps the most absurd thing the DNC chairman said in the entire interview. Harriet Miers would have been given a vote had she not withdrawn her nomination. The Senate didn't withdraw her, nor did the President, as far as we know. Even if he did, withdrawing one's own nomination is hardly the same as having one's nomination blocked by the opposing party's filibuster. The President has the constitutional right to make nominations and to withdraw them, the Senate minority has no similar right to deny the nominee a vote by filibustering the nomination.
Howard Dean is in an unenviable position. He cannot say what he really believes or thinks because it would be fatal to Democratic aspirations, so, since he can offer the nation no reason to vote for the Democrats, he must try to win by convincing people that they should vote against the Republicans. The only way he can do that is by relentlessly proclaiming that Republicans are evil incarnate. Perhaps he'll succeed, but if he does it will only be because he has embodied in himself the vices he unfairly imputes to his adversary.