- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Barbara Bush, the phrasemaker of the family, could have a great future as a pundit. Nobody has sized up this crop of Democratic presidential candidates quite as astutely as she has: “They’re a pretty sorry group.”

No one who watched the Sunday-night Democratic “debate” from Detroit could argue with this assessment from the wife of one president and the mother of another, who once famously described Geraldine Ferraro as “something that rhymes with rich.”

All the dwarfs scolded George W. for his conduct of the war against the slugs and thugs in Iraq, and in the cold light of Monday morning, with the news of the latest atrocity in Baghdad arriving with breakfast, the Democratic complaints looked more trivial than usual. To reprise the famous home-front argument-clincher from World War II: “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

By the end of the two hours, they all began to resemble the weirdy Dennis Kucinich, who wants to cut and run from Iraq, and the nerdy John Edwards, who just wants to cut (and find someone to sue). John Kerry reminded everyone again that he was the Sergeant York of the Vietnam war, Howard Dean reminded everyone of Mr. Magoo (without Mr. Magoo’s earnestness), Wesley Clark reminded everyone that the cut of his jib resembles Ike’s, and the Rev. Al Sharpton reminded everyone that he’s still the best hip-hop act in this bad imitation vaudeville. Joe Lieberman reminded everyone that he’s the most pathetic dwarf of them all. He provided the only moment of reality of the evening, as if he were standing unsteadily in Kansas while the others were running for mayor of Oz. Not until later did he slip into the panderer-in-chief routine.

When Mr. Kerry waved the bloody shirt, as he invariably does, Mr. Lieberman was unafraid to pull him back to earth. “This president has done it wrong every step of the way,” the senator from Massachusetts said, haughtily. “He promised that he would have a real coalition. He has a fraudulent coalition. He promised he would go through the United Nations and honor the inspections process. He did not. He promised he would go to war as a last resort, words that mean something to me as a veteran. He did not.”

Ah, retorted Mr. Lieberman, consistency is just the point. The hero of Vietnam was inconsistent. (Mr. Lieberman might have, but didn’t, observe that the “fraudulent coalition” assembled by George W. was approximately the same “fraudulent coalition” — the United States, Britain, Australia, Poland — that FDR assembled for the landing at Normandy.)

“Well, Joe,” replied the war hero who encouraged Vietnam veterans to throw their medals away while holding tightly to his own, “I have seared in me an experience which you don’t have, and that’s the experience of being one of those troops on the front lines when the policy has gone wrong.”

Mr. Lieberman applied the coup de grace: “What do we look back and wonder about our time in Vietnam? We didn’t support our troops.”

But standing up to a “seared” (or “sauteed,” in the French style) senator from Boston is not nearly so fearsome as standing up to a bigot from Brooklyn. When Al Sharpton, the hero of the Tawana Brawley campaign, who incited mobs in Harlem with vile taunts of Jews, went into his hip-hop rant about Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat, terrorism in Palestine (“today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s friend”), Gen. Jerry Boykin, the difference between right and wrong, and the evils of white Christians, Mr. Lieberman was rendered almost speechless. But not quite: “Anytime I come after the Reverend Sharpton,” he said, “I always want to say, ‘Amen, Brother.’” (But not, we hope, when “the Reverend Sharpton” rails about “Jew bloodsuckers.”)

The high point of Wesley Clark’s night was complimenting Edwards and Kerry, the party’s two Johns, for voting against appropriating $87 billion to continue to struggle in Iraq. He wanted to make it clear that he would have voted against it. Of course, he might have a different opinion by Thursday. Mr. Clark imagines that he resembles Dwight Eisenhower, but the general he resembles is George B. McClellan, the pretty, hesitant, vacillating commander who made Abraham Lincoln’s life miserable in the midst of the War Between the States.

The evening’s entertainment from Detroit resembled gong-show vaudeville, but tank-town vaudeville. None of these worthies will ever play the Palace. Hillary, the hour is getting late.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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