Richard Reeves

How the Democrats Can (Will?) Lose

NEW YORK -- This has been a rough week for Mets fans like me. The local boys making bad began with the best record in the National League and a seven-game lead in the NL East and proceeded to blow one game after another to end up just two games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies.

It reminds me a lot of the Democrats.

The party on the outs for most of the last seven years seems to have better candidates for the 2008 presidential election, and certainly those candidates could not ask for better issues, beginning with the old American favorite: "It's time for a change!" The ins, the Republicans, have taken the country into a deadly quagmire in an unwinnable war in Iraq, have been incompetent from Baghdad to New Orleans, are watching ordinary and decent people lose their homes in homage to unregulated markets, and still have time to wallow in cheesy and sleazy personal scandals large and small.

So how can the Democrats lose? In a word or three: "Bush-Cheney Light."

There is handwriting on the wall, or at least in The New York Times. Last Thursday the local paper here ran two relatively short stories inside, on Pages 7 and 9, that contradict each other and the conventional wisdom that next year will be a Democratic year.

The one on Page 9 is headlined "Congressional Body Finds Iraq Fails to Meet Most Benchmarks." All you need to know, and already do, is in the lead paragraph:

"WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 -- Congressional auditors (the Government Accountability Office) have determined that the Iraqi government has failed to meet the vast majority (13 of 18) of political and military goals laid out by lawmakers to assess President Bush's Iraq war strategy."

In three words: The surge failed.

On Page 7, though, we find this headline: "White House Is Gaining Confidence It Can Win Fight in Congress Over Iraq Policy." The first paragraph of this one reads:

"WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 -- The White House is growing more confident that it can beat back efforts by congressional Democrats to shift course in Iraq, a significant turnabout from two months ago, when a string of Republican defections had administration officials worried that President Bush's troop buildup was in serious danger on Capitol Hill."

In nine words: Democrats don't have the guts to end the war!

The deadly phrase "Bush-Cheney Light" was used a couple of weeks ago by Sen. Barack Obama to attack Sen. Hillary Clinton and other establishment Democrats for essentially endorsing the war more gracefully than "Bring 'em on!" Republicans such as the president and vice president. Obama may have been less than polite, but he was right.

So there it is. Why not vote for Republicans who, ignorantly or stupidly or evilly, or in some cases all three, actually believe in what they are saying and doing? In private, back there on Capitol Hill, Democrats are saying, "These people are destroying the country, and we have to do something about it."

Actually this administration, to the dismay of many Republicans on that same sheltered hill, are destroying two countries, Iraq and the United States. But Democrats are refusing to say that or really trying to do anything about it. The Democrats are also, not so incidentally, living in the future, spending their time and energy campaigning for 2008 rather than governing in 2007 -- which is one of the reasons the Republicans, whoever they nominate, may end up holding on to the White House for another four years.

I'm tempted to say that neither side knows what it is doing, but that is not actually true. The folks in the White House now are too dumb and too stubborn to know, and the Democrats are too chicken to say what they believe.

The two parties, though, do share one dirty little conviction: They both think the American people are uninformed morons. The Republicans think people are stupid enough to think we are winning this war. The Democrats think people are stupid enough to think they are actually against the war. In a just world, both parties would lose in 2008.

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