- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

Did you know Republicans called for troop withdrawals and demanded Democratic officials’ resignations when things were going poorly during World War II? Just like today — wasn’t it?

Of course not. With Democrats in charge, Republicans worked loyally during both World War II and the Korean conflict — criticizing Democratic leadership very little. Politicizing war policies, opposing critical funding or aiding and abetting the enemy would have been unthinkable.

Elections were different, too. In 1944, Republicans twitted Franklin D. Roosevelt about seeking a fourth term, but the GOP’s candidate Thomas Dewey never mentioned the war except to suggest smaller postwar government. Harry Truman replaced the leftist Henry Wallace on the Democratic ticket because — with FDR’s death imminent — party leaders thought a Wallace presidency imprudent. Republicans said little about it. (Imagine the uproar that would greet such a scenario today.)

Political disputes certainly occurred during the Roosevelt-Truman era, but Republicans worked with Democrats to inject fiscal responsibility into new legislation even when they did not agree with Democrats’ policies. Republicans respected the voters’ choices and regarded governing as a task in which both the majority and minority parties played constructive roles.

By contrast, politics are now polarized and contentious, and Democrats appear willing to sacrifice the nation’s interests just to destroy George W. Bush. They are playing “Russian roulette” with critical issues — obstructing progress in hopes that they will blow up on the GOP’s watch. Consider three important examples.

War, terrorism, and national security. Democrats got us into four 20th-century wars, but Vietnam lacked popular support. Bitter enmity with President Lyndon Johnson prompted Sen. Robert Kennedy to become the antiwar candidate in 1968. When Kennedy was killed (June 5), he was within reach of the Democratic nomination. Following his death Democrats became the antiwar party.

The antiwar wing dominates the modern Democratic Party. John F. Kennedy could not be a Democrat today, and no Republican president can be allowed to prosecute a war successfully. (Bipartisan war-fighting really is a vanished dream.) Many analysts believe America couldn’t have won earlier wars under the hail of media and political opposition Mr. Bush faces now. Democrats repeatedly spin the antiwar roulette cylinder, hoping war will blow up the GOP.

Entitlements. Social Security and Medicare will go bust unless changes are made. Both programs pay benefits from taxes on current workers. Present tax collections exceed payouts, so surpluses are supposedly saved in a “trust fund,” as IOUs for later use.

Social Security will start calling those IOUs around 2019 when payouts pass collections. By 2042, the Trust Fund will be empty and the program will register an annual deficit (illegal under current law). Medicare has a similar (but far worse) problem. While Social Security’s 75-year “unfunded liability” is $12.5 trillion, Medicare’s will exceed $24 trillion.

No serious politician disputes this. Both programs resemble overextended pyramid schemes. When they crash, the party that takes tough actions to reduce benefits and raise taxes will incur a political wound from which it may never recover.

For generations Democrats have basked in having founded these programs. They know reform is needed, but they want Republicans to be the “stuck” with it. If limited to reduced benefits and higher taxes, that reform could destroy the GOP permanently.

This is why Mr. Bush’s Social Security private accounts — designed to reduce the system’s unfunded liability and yield improved benefits for younger workers — had to be shouted down. They would not have produced the GOP-destroying blowup required by the roulette strategy.

Energy. Democrats have long advocated higher energy prices — ostensibly to promote conservation. But now that their campaign has succeeded, Democrats seem unhappy. They want to blame someone for $75-a-barrel oil and $3-a-gallon gas. Of course, they are merely demagoguing high prices to bash George Bush.

Toward the high-price goal, Democrats’ have worked assiduously since the 1970s to reduce oil supplies — preventing new refinery construction for 30 years and opposing extraction of large known oil reserves in Alaska and off the Florida and California coasts with fanatical zeal.

Democrats have also worked with environmental groups to block expanded nuclear power production — effectively scaring the country away from this valuable energy source. No new nuclear power plant has opened for a quarter-century. Coal — of which we have several thousand years’ supply — has been denounced as a “dirty” fuel, though new technology can scrub coal emissions. Vilification of these two plentiful energy sources has caused a natural gas crisis in the United States. With nuclear fuel and coal off-limits, power plants have been burning gas in tremendous quantities, causing prices to quadruple in recent months.

Fulfilling Democrats’ hopes, energy has “blown up” on the GOP’s watch. Mr. Bush is blamed for high prices, and some analysts say voters will put Democrats back in power in 2006 and 2008. Equivalent to making a robber president of the bank after his robbery ruined it, this will vindicate the roulette strategy completely.

Having mau-maued Mr. Bush’s attempt at constructive Social Security reform, Democrats expect Republicans to self-destruct fixing this New Deal relic. Younger voters — who stand to lose the most with the status quo — could raise enough political hell to get Mr. Bush’s reforms passed but seem oddly indifferent to the future risk the current system poses.

The roulette strategy could work with the war, too. Terrorists can strike unexpectedly and inflict great damage. Democrats know this, so they are trying to weaken Mr. Bush’s war leadership. If there is a major terrorist strike, Republicans will be politically ruined. Happy days will be here again for Democrats, even if the country is badly hurt. Oh well.

WOODY ZIMMERMAN

Author of a weekly column, “At Large,” in the Atlantic Highlands Herald, an Internet newspaper.

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