- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

You've got to hand it to the Democrats. In the game of creative political strategy they have no equal. With their cunning they can turn the worst imaginable predicament to their partisan advantage.

Their latest ploy is to feign outrage at Karl Rove's comments last week at a party luncheon. President Bush's top political strategist told the Republican-only audience (at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in Austin, Texas) that Republicans could use national defense as an issue in the upcoming political campaigns.

What Mr. Rove actually said was, "We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might, and thereby protecting America…. And we should be proud of the record of our party in doing just that."

Note that Mr. Rove did not say, "The un-American Democrats have been doing everything they can to thwart President Bush and his war effort." But from the hue and cry from the left you would think Mr. Rove had said something similar to that or worse.

House Minority Leader and Democratic presidential hopeful Dick Gephardt used Mr. Rove's remarks to incite the party faithful at the weekend meeting of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Gephardt called Mr. Rove's comments "shameful" and demanded that Mr. Bush rebuke him for politicizing the war. "It has no place in this time and place. I hope the president will set the record straight. This is not a partisan issue,"cried Mr. Gephardt.

Nice try, Mr. Gephardt, but I don't think you're going to intimidate this Republican president, like you have other Republicans in the past, into abandoning his good sense. Why should he take off the table the main policy issue that has dominated and will continue to dominate his administration?

Of course Mr. Bush should not reprimand Mr. Rove for saying exactly what he should have said: Republicans should tout Mr. Bush's handling of the war. Mr. Rove also said that they should run on the issues of tax cuts, trade, energy, tort reform, faith-based programs, the reauthorization of welfare reform, health care and education.

And Mr. Rove is unquestionably right that the people trust the Republican Party more to handle defense issues. Numerous polls have shown that Americans by and large shudder at the thought of Al Gore being president during these times.

What Mr. Gephardt and his colleagues are essentially advocating is that bipartisanship be elevated to sacrosanct status, as if it were an end in itself to be pursued even above the best interests of the nation. For if the Republicans would do a better job prosecuting this war and thereby protecting the United States and preserving our freedom and way of life, wouldn't they be irresponsible in staying mum about it?

Wouldn't it be wrong for Republicans to put the Democrats' sensitivity ahead of U.S. war efforts? It is absolute nonsense to argue that in a contested election neither party should discuss the issue that is the most important to the nation.

The Democrats always call for bipartisanship when they're losing a fair fight. To them, partisanship is only acceptable as to those issues on which Republicans are vulnerable, such as the economy, where Democrats have been particularly partisan. Besides, if partisanship is so improper, then why are Democrats not scolding themselves for employing it at every possible juncture save the war effort and only there because they have utterly no ammunition? (Does anyone truly think that the ends-justifies-the-means Democratic Party would not exploit the war issue if the war were going poorly?) And, to be consistent, I should add that in that case, they should.

But we need to be careful to make a distinction here. Contrary to what Mr. Gephardt is saying, Mr. Rove is not proposing that Republicans politicize the war. That would be acting in a way that puts partisan politics above the war effort and the best interests of the nation. The Democrats wrote the book on that tactic, as demonstrated by Majority Leader Tom Daschle's efforts to block the president's economic stimulus package so as to retard economic recovery and undercut Mr. Bush's popularity. And, in their haste falsely to cry partisanship in this case, it is the Democrats who are themselves indirectly politicizing the war issue.

Mr. Rove is not suggesting that Republicans place their political interests above the national interest or that Mr. Bush in any way alter or compromise his war policy for political reasons. Rather, Mr. Rove is urging that Republicans promote the national interest by getting the truth out that Mr. Bush is an extraordinary commander in chief. And that is the truth. But can Democrats handle the truth?

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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