- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Senior Democrats are conjuring up a specter to haunt Republicans this November. It is the specter of national security. The intent is to wrest the protective cloak of national security away from the Republican Party, and use it to win back at least one branch of Congress. John Kennedy won in 1960 in part by accusing Dwight Eisenhower of being soft on communism and running to the right of Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, Kennedy’s claims — along with a “missile gap” that did not exist — were inventions.

Given the plethora of this administration’s self-inflicted wounds from Iraq to Katrina, treatment of enemy combatants from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo and other undisclosed locales, and excessive executive overreach into American civil liberties, the Democrats would seem to be on firm footing in challenging the Republicans on their competence and capacity to guard the nation’s security. Democrats, however, still suffer from the Will Rogers’ syndrome that makes them largely incredible to the public when it comes to national security.

Rogers was a great American humorist in the late 1920s and the 1930s until he was lost in a plane crash in Alaska. Rogers proudly claimed that he was not a member of any organized political party. “After all,” he explained, “I am a Democrat.” Simply put, attacking and discrediting the policies of President Bush is easily done — as reported in daily newspapers and the evening news. However, fashioning alternative national security policies that are not only “marketable” but actually might work is a Sisyphean task. So far, no such clear-cut and well-organized policies have emerged from the Democratic Party.

Aside from urging a troop withdrawal from Iraq, with or without a set date, Democrats have been very critical but not very innovative in offering effective means to deal with critical issues such as North Korea and Iran beyond beginning diplomatic dialogue, though former Defense Secretary William Perry did call for pre-emptive strikes to destroy Kim Jong-il’s long-range missiles while on the launching pad, something the administration wisely rejected as being counterproductive. And after the two-week slugfest between Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas, Democrats have provided very little useful advice for meaningful policy.

But if Democrats seek an issue for electoral success in November, that issue is as obvious as the latest hearing or commission report to Congress on the state of government. From every direction, the message is clear: Government is broken. The public “gets it.” However, Republicans and Democrats are oblivious.

Rather than fixate on the illusive dream of becoming the national security party, Democrats would be wiser to focus on repairing a badly broken government. In 2006 and 2008, the mantra need not be “It’s the economy, stupid.” Instead, Democrats should become the party of governmental reform under the banner, “It’s the government, stupid.”

The ammunition and evidence are ubiquitous. Take Congress. Democrats in both houses should begin by asking their colleagues how many times they have read a bill before voting on it. The answer is close to never because bills are rarely published in advance. If you required serious surgery, would you go to a surgeon who did not look at your record, medical reports or X-rays before operating? Why is Congress different?

If members of the executive branch were required to testify under oath and not allowed to pull their punches on all the issues — why postwar Iraq has gone so badly; why we botched the Dubai Ports World bid to manage U.S. ports; why the Department of Homeland Security remains in a bureaucratic mess; and any other issue from health care to immigration — one conclusion would be unmistakable: Government is not working. And yet who is trying to repair it?

Under the mantle of fixing broken government, Democrats could then turn to national security as one of the many areas that require immediate attention and create and adopt proposals that could attract bipartisan support, such as fixing the interagency process of decision-making; putting all agencies on a wartime footing if we really are engaged in a global war on terror; demanding truth in accounting and in cost estimates and budgets; and requiring Congress to carry out its oversight responsibilities.

And if Democrats collectively were smart, fixing government would be a bipartisan task. If they win in November, Democrats would have to repress powerful desires to punish, humiliate or take revenge on Republicans for the way they have treated Democrats for the past decade or more.

American politics have descended to a low point where civil, yet probing, discourse and reason are missing in action. Instead, politics is about winning and discrediting the opposition and not about the pursuit of good governance. Government is broken and we the public are at risk. But will our politicians listen? And then, who will fix our government?

Democrats — over to you.

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