Give a Democratic politician a glint of daylight, and he'll run through it or get smacked down trying. Give a Republican a glint of daylight and he might run for the back porch.
This has not been a great week for the Democrats. MoveOn.org, the tail that wags the Democratic dog, accused Gen. David Petraeus, by everybody's account a soldier of unblemished reputation, of deceit, deception and maybe treason. None of the Democrats raised a voice in his defense or a word of condemnation of accusers who grow ever more vile.
From the Revolution through all our wars, sliming a soldier has never won arguments or made the man carrying the bucket of slime popular with Americans. This is something George Soros, the Hungarian immigrant who has put his millions at the service of MoveOn.org's politics of personal destruction, has not yet learned. When he is here among us for a while perhaps he will.
Mr. Soros told The Washington Post in 2003 that evicting George W. Bush from the White House is "the central focus of my life" and it's "a matter of life and death." He didn't say, but we must presume that he didn't mean the president's actual death, that he only wants to give life to every scurrilous accusation the haters can dream up. The politics of persuasion is not Mr. Soros' forte, obviously.
The antiwar Democrats in Congress are throwing tantrums because the war news is suddenly brighter and this might wreck their campaign strategy for next year. Tantrum becomes mild panic when they don't get exactly what they want. Any parent of a 3-year-old understands. This gives the Republicans the opening they should have been dreaming of.
George W. has just the Mack truck designed to drive through such an opening. The panicky Democrats are daring him to nominate Ted Olson to succeed Alberto Gonzales as the attorney general, and this should be all the reason he needs to send over Mr. Olson's name.
Naturally the hard-fighting Republicans in the Senate have warned the president not to provoke a fight with the nomination of someone the Democrats and George Soros and his MoveOn pals don't like. "It would be a dicey vote," says Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. "It would be unfortunate to nominate someone who can't be confirmed."
Actually, such a fight would be a priceless godsend to the Republicans. Such a fight over a qualified nominee, even if unsuccessful, would demonstrate the barn-burning, land-scorching instincts of the Democrats, who showed this week how determined they are to leave no reputation unscathed, no adversary left unsmeared.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah says he has talked to 10 Democrats about a prospective Olson nomination and some of them "made noises if not outright threats" to block the nomination. "If the White House thinks Olson would sail through the Senate, then they don't understand the people up here." Well, duh. Of course Democrats will try to block an Olson bid, and any other nomination they don't like and maybe even some they do, just to make noise.
"Democrats would love to be able to say they scared the White House out of nominating Olson," says Wendy Long, counsel for the Judicial Confirmation Network. "If Bush nominates anyone other than Olson, they will take credit for it."
The Democrats want a fight and settling scores with Mr. Olson would be a bit of lagniappe. He represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton — she was the first in the lengthening line of women who say Bubba just can't keep his hands and his mouth to himself — and as solicitor general, he represented George W. Bush in the famous lawsuit to prevent the theft of the 2000 election.
Some Republicans in the Senate now say the way to mollify the Democrats is for George W. to nominate a senator for attorney general. The senator they suggest — the surprises keep coming — is the same Orrin Hatch who's throwing cold water on Ted Olson. What a coincidence.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.