- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

Can things get any worse for the Democrats in this election year?They are divided over going to war against Iraq at a time when polls show most Americans want to get rid of this evil man who is harboring terrorists and building weapons of mass destruction.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, tried to make some political hay out of President Bush's warmaking plans, but Mr. Daschle's ill-tempered attack has backfired against him.
While Mr. Daschle was trying to stir up opposition on the Senate's left, the White House did an end-run around the South Dakotan, negotiating a back-channel deal on the war resolution with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and other Democrats.
Mr. Daschle was not only quietly isolated from the deal making, his political leadership suffered. Mr. Gephardt, who wants to be president as badly as Mr. Daschle does, clearly led on this issue, knowing that his party could not afford to appear weak on the national security issue of our time.
And if all this was not bad enough, three House Democrats opposed to the war resolution were in Baghdad criticizing U.S. policies on Iraq. One of the three, Rep. Jim McDermott of California, outraged lawmakers in both parties last week when he said Mr. Bush would lie to the American people to get the United States into a war with Iraq.
Even some of the Democrats' longtime allies in the media have turned against them for not staking out a tough, clear policy on what to do about the threat from Iraq.
"The Democrats are a party of bystanders, a party without a position on the issue that matters most," the liberal New Republic magazine said in a bitter editorial broadside last week.
"Elections should be about the most urgent issues facing the country; and compared with war with Iraq, the Democrats' litany of poll-tested standbys is frankly trivial," the magazine said.
But Mr. Bush and his political adviser, Karl Rove, have put the Democrats in a political box from which there is no escape. If they talk about Iraq, they will be playing on Mr. Bush's terrain and helping to mute the domestic issues that are Democrats' bread and butter. If they talk just about domestic issues, they risk ignoring the top concerns of voters: national security and terrorism.
Even on one of the Democrats' central economic issues, the handling of corporate accounting abuses, the administration has been effectively nuking the issue. The picture of Enron's former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow the alleged mastermind of the accounting deals that led to the energy giant's collapse being taken away in handcuffs could not have come at a better time.
Who can argue now that Republicans are being soft on corporate crime, when more than a dozen top executives have been charged? My sources say other indictments are on their way in the weeks to come.
One of the Democrats' most persistent campaign attacks has been the return of the budget deficits and the economy's continued anemia.
In a recent speech, Mr. Daschle once again blamed Mr. Bush's tax cuts, which 12 of his Senate Democratic colleagues voted for, and Al Gore also sang the same refrain in a speech he gave last week.
But Mr. Daschle and Mr. Gore have neither called for repealing the tax cuts nor do they point to any spending cuts to shrink or eliminate the deficits. Indeed, both call for significant spending increases on farm subsidies, the environment and a half-trillion-dollar prescription drug plan that would send the deficits skyrocketing.
Can anyone concisely state the Democrats' plan for strengthening the economy, boosting capital investment, increasing new businesses and creating new jobs? Their agenda is a series of political complaints without solutions.
Last week, the Democrats' campaign plan to strengthen their hold on the Senate was struck a possibly fatal blow. New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli was forced to drop out of the race because of widespread voter anger over the substantial gifts and money he accepted from a now-imprisoned businessman who sought favors from him.
It is not an overstatement to say that Democratic campaign officials, as of the end of last week, were in a deeply pessimistic mood about their prospects on Nov. 5. Their hold on the Senate is now tenuous at best. Most analysts say the GOP will keep the House.
And it looks like things are only going to get worse for the Democrats. Terrorism and the economy top the list of voter worries. But a bill to create a Department of Homeland Security, which has already passed the House, remains stuck in the Senate.
When voters hear that the Democratic-run Senate can't get action on what is the most important national security legislation of the year, that's going to make a lot of them very angry.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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