Sunday, November 02, 2003

Down on the front the bullets and rockets continue to fly Rummy did the Sunday talk show circuit today, clearly an effort by the administration to defuse the controversy over the 'leaked' memo published last week in which Mr. Rumsfeld asks several pointed questions about the war on terrorism – one being, and I paraphrase, "are we doing enough to circumvent the cultivation of new terrorists in the cleric-run schools of the Middle East?"

I must admit, Rummy did a masterful job fielding the mostly-softball-questions tossed his way by Stephanopolous, Russert and Will, but then, that's his job isn't it.

Today, with the loss of 17 more soldiers in a single rocket attack against a transport helicopter, Rumsfeld defused any condemnation of those deaths by emphasizing the need for them. "They're important. They must happen because it's war. But the parents of those fine young men and women can be proud that their children, who volunteered to step up and protect the interests of the United States."

Who can argue with that?

But I believe that the Bush administration, the latest economic numbers notwithstanding, is nervous. The spectre of Bush '41's failure to win a second term looms large in the minds of the Bushmeister's cabal and unless the economic news begins to report an upturn in hiring and more jobs, (who cares if productivity went up by 7 percent if no one got a job?), Bush will have real reason to worry about his seemingly sure win in '04.

With the constant "low-level" warfare in Iraq and the problem with the warlords in Afghanistan, the administration is feeling the heat that comes when ineptitude becomes the mantra of the pundits and average citizens. And when American soldiers are dying daily, the president had better be able to make a damn-solid case to support those deaths, beyond the circular rationale of the war on terrorism. Bush will be able to get away with repeating "Americans would rather we fight terrorists in Iraq than in Baltimore" for only so long before people catch on and realize that there's something flaky going on.

And no, I don't believe we can simply pull out of Iraq now that we've done the deed, so to speak, but we can begin to assume a little humility in our dealings with the international community and simply ask for help without first smacking them in the face. Bush-O-Rama's habit of snubbing anyone who dares challenge his policies is creating a dangerous precedent that could leave the U.S. up to its proverbial neck in blood, debt and millions of outraged Muslims, and with little world sympathy to call upon. Bush seems to think that he can do whatever pops into his mind without regard for other world leaders' opinions and I find that, as stated by others, "arrogant."

But life goes on (for some of us), and we have to do what we can to make the world a better place, right?

The Democrats are blowing it big-time by attacking one another instead of presenting a united front against Bush (I'm sure the president is gleeful with every debate the Democrats conduct). And where are the viable alternative strategies for dealing with the economy AND terrorism.

I've yet to hear a proposal from any of the eight (it's eight isn't it?) presidential candidates on the donkey's side of the aisle, and I'm sure that ad hominum attacks won't convince the American electorate to change horses in the middle of an ongoing crisis, albeit one fueled by the Bush administration.

It's going to be tough to overcome the premise that the president got us into this war on terrorism and it might be best to let him carry through with whatever strategy he may have to win it. Frankly, I don't see even Howard Dean, the front-runner among the Dems, overcoming Bush's 'premption attacks' policy by suggesting we pull out of Iraq. I repeat, it's too late for that option.

So OK, Dean opposed the war from the beginning. I got that. But what now? If he suggests we pack up our toys and go home he'll sink like the Titanic, only faster! And what of John Kerry or Gephardt? Well, Kerry has the stigma of being stoic and seemingly unaccessible, his visit to "The Daily Show" notwithstanding. And Gephardt? Well, I don't even know what he's proposing. He's getting about as much ink in the media as a cat-in-a-tree story, which suggests to me that his campaign is an ill-conceived mess.

So what's or who's left? God only knows.

None of the Dems I've seen have sparked much more than the usual liberal cheerleading on issues like the war and the economy, but that's not going to get them over the hump. The continued siege on terrorism, the sagging job market, the dirty dealings on Wall Street and among the nation's bejeweled CEOs, the hugely over-priced healthcare industry that over-burdens its practitioners (I mean the hospitals and nurses and, yes, doctors) and that gouges the consumer at every turn; those are issues that the Democrats must address, clearly and decisively.

The Medicare prescription drug plan, if passed at all, will be little more than a GOP hat trick, with about as much substance, in my opinion.

Unless and until the Democrats present a clear, decisive message that addresses aging, warfare, jobs and fairness – a subject sorely lacking in the debate so far – we can forget about seeing a one-term presidency.