- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

The Democrats’ probable presidential nominee makes it as plain as day. “They’re extreme; we’re mainstream,” says John Kerry.

Umm-hmm. “Mainstream,” as in:

“This [the war in Iraq] was made up in Texas…. This whole thing was a fraud.” — Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy

“George Bush, a man who was AWOL…. ” — Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe

“He betrayed this country.” —Albert Gore Jr., sometime presidential candidate

“And what’s more, anybody who disagrees with us Democrats and our campaign to rescue America from Bush-ite extremism is a vile extremist.” Maybe it won’t have come to that by September or October, but the way things are going, it just might.

The 2004 presidential election is in some ways the bleakest many of us have known — and some of us (you can tell from the creaking of our joints) have known quite a few elections. The tone is not the entire problem. The problem is tone and context together.

Every presidential election sends out, far and wide, a message. The message the Democrats — as of now anyway — propose sending is a message of contempt for and rejection of the leader of the war on terrorism. We hear it over and over: He’s bad, he’s a liar, and we’re making sure he goes — without, as John Kerry likes to put it, the door hitting him.

Welcome to the Disunited States of America.

Maybe, provided you believe polls produced nine months before the election, the president is about to retire in disgrace: a political Bernie Ebbers. Whatever the case, we should brace for the possibility of a campaign in which the leader of the war on terrorism is daily called, by many of his own constituents, a fraud and a betrayer.

If you were an Iraqi Ba’athist or a Shi’ite ayatollah, an American infantry corporal or a potential Islamic suicide bomber, a French foreign secretary or a United Nations diplomatist, how would you receive the news Americans are fed up, potentially, with the president who started this war? Would this encourage or discourage you concerning prospects for the drip-drip of American hands being washed, Pontius Pilate-style, of a deadly and burdensome commitment?

Wartime elections are always problematical. It is the opposition’s constitutional right to dare voters to jettison a war leader. Mr. Kerry proposes to exercise that undoubted right, as George B. McClellan exercised it in 1864 and Tom Dewey in 1944 — both times unsuccessfully. Given the bitterness of the present moment, the potential consequences are immense.

For the next nine months, the strategy is clear for anyone wanting something Americans are presently unwilling to dispense. The strategy is to hunker down — to hold on just a little longer, what with the betrayer in chief maybe leaving. A landslide victory could ultimately enhance Mr. Bush’s authority in the war, but such a victory doesn’t seem exactly probable.

John Kerry — the sphinx who voted for the Iraq war and against the money to fund it — owes Americans, not to mention their allies and enemies, some explanations. What exactly would John Kerry do to secure the Free World against Islamic terror-bombers and those who seek to make weapons of mass destruction? We don’t find out much by cocking attentive ears. It’s all: Throw out the guy who got us into all this.

Really? Throw him out and then what?

The Kerrycrats seem on the verge of a great blunder, namely, convincing the world there really are, as Mr. Kerry keeps saying, two Americas: one subservient to Mr. Bush but about to be turned out of power; the other flexible, trustful, naive.

The Democrat who might as well wear his medals on his suit coat — Vietnam is the signature experience on his resume — is sending potentially disastrous signals about his grasp, and ours, of what it means to fight terrorism and hatred. We can imagine he doesn’t mean to do so. He is doing it anyhow, and there could be the devil to pay.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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