Let’s face it. The safest part of the Democratic primary journey just ended. We are now in for at least five solid weeks––until New York, California, and eight other states vote on March 2––of hand to hand internecine combat in the Democratic Party.
John Kerry will continue to make the case that he––and not Howard Dean––has the gravitas and experience to take on George W. Bush. Dean will respond that he has already proved that he is willing to stand up to the president when the chips are down. John Edwards will keep pointing out that he is the only one with a Southern accent. And Wesley Clark, if he’s smart, will find some better way to make the point that, in terms of foreign policy expertise, he was a general and Kerry was only a lieutenant.
That’s politics, and anyone committed to finding the best candidate to go up against Bush is simply going to have to grit their teeth and bear it.
But, amidst all the infighting, no one should lose sight of the need to keep pressing the case against Bush. Democratic primary voters and many in the LGBT community are committed to seeing a new president come January 2005, but that case has not yet been made with unmistakable certainty to the American people as a whole. Polls show that Bush has many potential vulnerabilities, but also that the public is willing to accord him a surprising level of good will and the benefit of many doubts.
The president’s outrageous comments during his State of the Union address about the need to protect the American family from same-sex marriage, and the cynical way he implicitly tied this issue to the risks youth in our society face, was widely condemned by gay leaders. But the Democratic presidential candidates largely missed the chance to nail Bush for his divisive ploy.
Several pressing issues that have recently emerged on the national security front also illustrate the potential, not yet fully exploited, for making the case for change.
David Kay, the widely respected chief weapons inspector in Iraq, resigned last week, saying that the claims of large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “were all wrong.” Though the Senate Armed Services Committee brought him in to testify by Wednesday of this week, the argument that the president bears responsibility for going to war based on bad intelligence, and the possibility that he did so knowingly, has not received the attention it deserves.
As the original rationales Bush presented for launching the Iraq invasion fall away, the administration has skillfully deflected attention by making emotional appeals about the success of ousting and now arresting a despotic dictator responsible for mass killings. Saddam Hussein is an evil man, but his overthrow does not go to the heart of the terrorism threat we face. In fact, it may well have enhanced it.
In a shocking story presented last Sunday on “60 Minutes,” New York City Comptroller William Thompson charged that Haliburton may well have broken U.S. law by establishing a sham subsidiary in the Cayman Islands in order to do business in Iran and Syria, two nations that the State Department has identified as state sponsors of terrorism.
In the wake of 9-11, the president spoke about the need for all nations of the world to decide whether they are with us or against us in the war on terror. A Thompson spokesperson, however, said that the Haliburton subsidiary was established during the tenure of Vice President Dick Cheney’s as the company’s CEO.
The Bush record is full of this kind of hypocrisy and cynicism and the American people can be persuaded to reject it. But the case must be made, again and again and again. For those eager to replace George Bush, it’s never too early to begin in earnest.