- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

Just when you thought politics had plunged to its down-and-dirty low-point, right here in Hate City things got downer and dirtier.

War policy debates degenerated into patriotism food-fights. And so, a warning shot must be fired, and the best way to do so is with two real firings. The Democratic and Republican parties need to hand their new national chairmen a gold watch and show them the door.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman must be replaced because they have become hopelessly caught up in the clamor for partisan gain at any price. But they are party animals who have run amok in very different ways.

Mr. Dean has been unable to decide whether he wants to run his party or run his mouth. He may be the one person in town who doesn’t realize he irreparably damages his party every time he speaks. It is as if he is in a bizarre bipartisan conspiracy because he sounds like his scripts were written by Karl Rove.

Take a recent San Antonio radio interview, for example. For seven minutes, Mr. Dean held his tongue relatively in check, advocating sensible Iraq policy alternatives such as ex-Reagan Pentagon official Lawrence Korb’s plan to pull some U.S. troops out of Iraqi cities and reposition some in Kuwait. But in the final seconds, Mr. Dean succumbed to one of his trademark blurtations: “The idea that we’re going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong.”

That may be a first from a party chair in wartime. It fosters only the old unpatriotic stereotype that helped make Democrats what they are today — America’s also-ran party.

That brings us to Mr. Mehlman. Since Mr. Dean’s blunder would be pedaled all over the 24/7 news cycle, you might think Republicans would gleefully low-key it, let Mr. Dean’s words resonate and cheer the spectacle of Americans Galluping away from the Democrats.

Well, you might think that except you probably know by now there’s no subtlety in Hate City. Mr. Mehlman had his Republican National Committee rush out a “Web ad,” a virtually cost-free message tool. It runs officially only on the GOP Web site. But the real bonanza comes because unthinking TV news gives the ad multimillion-dollars’ worth of free airtime, showing it on newscasts and news-talk shows, blah-blah.

Mr. Mehlman’s RNC Web ad was dirt cheap in every sense of every word — especially the dirt. Its mean-spirited message demeaned all who are decent in Grand Old Party, beginning with the first words that appear on the screen: “Democrats Have A Plan For Iraq: Retreat and Defeat.” Next came Mr. Dean’s talking head, across which is waved a white flag. (For surrender, get it?) Then snippets of Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts. Their words were not as offensive as Mr. Dean’s. But they too got Mr. Mehlman’s white flag treatment — shameful questioning of patriotism that is as wrongheaded in its way as Mr. Dean’s comment.

Now, the good news: Decent Republicans felt the same way about Mr. Mehlman’s Republican ad.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, on Sunday’s NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “Howard Dean is wrong when he says we can’t win. It doesn’t mean he’s not a patriot. [Rep. John] Murtha wants to leave the region and deploy outside of Iraq. I think he’s wrong, doesn’t mean he’s [not] a patriot. John Kerry wants to cut the force by two-thirds. I think he’s wrong, doesn’t mean he’s not a patriot. … There is no political consensus in this country. Democrats and Republicans are struggling. We’ve lost our national unity when it comes to Iraq. … I wish we would quit running ads against each other and try to find consensus.”

Moderator Tim Russert asked if Mr. Graham wanted the Republican National Committee to take its ad off the Web site.

“Yes,” Mr. Graham said. “I don’t want to have a campaign about who’s a patriot. I want to have a campaign that would unite the country, find consensus on Iraq and talk about our political differences in terms that make us stronger, not weaker. And we’re going to drive a wedge among ourselves that will make the world less safe, including ourselves.”

So there can be hope. Even here in Hate City.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.

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