- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Watching the Democratic presidential candidates as they try to fashion a coherent critique of President Bush’s policies can be a painful process these days. Take, for example, Sen. John Kerry, who is seeking to manufacture a case that President Bush misled the American people about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

“He misled every one of us,” Mr. Kerry said in a campaign speech last week. “That’s one reason why I am running to be president…because if he lied, he lied to me personally.”

Asked about Mr. Kerry’s charge on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, strongly suggested that his Massachusetts colleague’s remarks were not supported by the facts.

“The senator is running for president,” Mr. Rockefeller replied when asked about Mr. Kerry’s attack on Mr. Bush. “I make a distinction between people who are running for president and therefore need to capture attention, and what we on the Intelligence Committee have to do, which is to get the facts.”

Also, during an appearance that same day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (yet another harsh critic of Mr. Bush’s approach toward Iraq), ran into a buzzsaw of skeptical questioning from moderator Tim Russert. Mr. Russert quoted Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat, who likened Mr. Dean’s stance on national security issues to that of 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, who lost 49 states. In his reply, Mr. Dean said without explanation that Mr. Bush was exercising American power in a way that showed “contempt” for other nations, and that the president’s policies could somehow transform this country into a “secondary military power.”

Mr. Russert also noted that in April, Mr. Dean, referring to the fall of Saddam Hussein, stated that “I suppose that’s a good thing.” “Suppose?,” an incredulous Mr. Russert demanded. “The Iraqi people are not better off without Saddam Hussein?” Mr. Dean replied with several mini-filibusters suggesting that Mr. Bush told falsehoods about Iraqi WMDs.

But, when Mr. Russert pressed Mr. Dean — who criticized the administration for failing to send enough troops to police Iraq and Afghanistan following the military victories there — about how many American soldiers were already in the region, it turned out that Mr. Dean didn’t know the number. Asked how many troops the United States has on active duty, the former Vermont governor protested: “I don’t know the exact number, and I don’t think I need to know that in order to run in the Democratic Party primary.” Expecting him to know such things, Mr. Dean complained, is “like asking me who the ambassador to Rwanda is.”

And that was hardly Mr. Dean’s lone misstep: The candidate also displayed ignorance of the fiscal crisis facing Social Security, asserting that the trust fund would not run into trouble until 2040 (after many of the Baby Boomers will be dead). In truth, most actual studies suggest that the crisis will be upon us by 2020 at the latest.

Running for president is a serious business. Candidates for the highest office in the land show disdain for the voters when they fail to develop substantive knowledge of even the major issues and attempt to get by with one-liners and rehashed talking points that are factually incorrect. If Messrs. Kerry and Dean’s attacks on Mr. Bush are representative of the Democratic Party’s approach to next year’s presidential campaign, the party is in serious trouble.

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