(3 of 9)
There are plenty of Democrats who nominally supported the war in Iraq--five of the six credible presidential candidates did, but only Joe Lieberman supported the President's policies without reservation. Most Democrats were dragged along on this adventure, carrying suspicions that it was, at bottom, equal parts political enterprise concocted by Rove, ideological enterprise concocted by utopian neoconservatives, and family psychodrama--young Bush avenging and one-upping his old man. There was, as always, a congenital distrust of all things martial among the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," as Howard Dean would say. And it was Dean who made himself into a semi-plausible contender by voicing these suspicions and by excoriating his fellow candidates for not standing up to Bush on Iraq.
Throughout the winter, Republicans could point to Dean's candid and bracing performances on the stump and say, This is what the Democrats are really all about. They are the party of peaceniks; they mistrust the military; they are not tough enough to protect America. This analysis was both right and wrong. In February, Dean did set the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting afire, but the reaction of the party faithful to Dean was no different from the Republican faithful's wild enthusiasm for red-meat orators like Alan Keyes and Pat Buchanan in years past. Most Democrats do not have a death wish. Ever since the George McGovern disaster in 1972, the party has routinely chosen technocratic moderates as standard-bearers. This doesn't bode well for Dean, especially now that the war is over. He has been making some real Iraq-related blunders in recent weeks, saying of the removal of Saddam, "I suppose that's a good thing," and raising the possibility that "we won't always have the strongest military."
The Democrats may never be able to outdo the Republicans on patriotism and national defense, but they do have to be credible in those areas. "This is the threshold question," says Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic Party activist. "We have to be able to close the leadership gap with Bush. We can't do that if we don't field a candidate who is strong on defense." In the South Carolina debate, Lieberman made good sense with this formulation: "I am the one Democrat who can match George Bush in the areas where many think he's strong--defense and moral values--and beat him where he is weak, on the economy and his divisive right-wing social agenda."