Then why is it cheap to see it as a metaphor? Because nothing should detract from the emotional truth of the moment, the magnitude of Norwood's loss, the exhilaration of al-Souhail's ballot. Yes, disentanglement will be difficult. And, yes, we shouldn't "overhype" the election, as John Kerry clumsily suggested. But this is not a moment for caveats. It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievementhowever it may turn outand for hope.
The Democrats are having trouble with graciousness these days.
Minutes after the President finished his speech, Ron Reagana de facto Dem since he spoke at the party's conventionwas opining on MSNBC that the al-Souhail- Norwood hug was exploitative and staged. Others soon expressed similarly mingy thoughts. This was a symptom of a larger disease: most Democrats seemed as reluctant as Kerry to express the slightest hint of optimism about the elections. Congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi diminished themselves by staging an unnecessary pre-buttal and a misleading rebuttal to the President's speech.
Reid's claim that George W. Bush would reduce Social Security benefits 40% was hogwash. The President has merely stated the obvious, that reductions will be necessary. Reid also made the absurd comparison between Bush's very conservative investment-account proposal and Las Vegas gaming tables. Finally, there was the boorish and possibly unprecedented hooting of the President by Democrats during the speech.
"No! No! No!" they shouted, inaccurately, when Bush asserted that the Social Security trust fund would, in a decade or so, start paying out more money than it takes in. If nothing is done, it surely will.
Bush's private investment accounts, combined with a reduction in benefits or higher taxes, is one way for baby boomers to lighten the burden of our retirement upon our children. There are other ways, but none without pain. A far more profitableand absolutely necessaryreform would be a market-oriented overhaul of Medicare, but Dems just say no to that too.
The day after the President's speech, the party's congressional leaders gathered at the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial to carp. How 70 years ago! "Progressive" Demsand I use the term advisedly, since liberals seem more interested in preserving the past than in discovering the futureare right to admire Roosevelt. But the Roosevelt they worship is a bronze sculpture, frozen in time. The real F.D.R. was a gutsy innovator. The current Democrats resemble nothing so much as the Republicans during the 25 years after Roosevelt's deathnegative, defensive, intellectually feeble, a permanent minority. There are reasons to oppose this President arrogance abroad, crony capitalism at homebut undifferentiated opposition is obtuse and most likely counterproductive. The Democrats' current crudeness is a function of their desperation, and the imminent ratification of Howard Dean, the least charming presidential candidate in recent memory, as their party chairman only serves to punctuate the problem.
All of which leaves Bush with a lot of room to lead. His speech last week was striking, and not just for that memorable hug. It could easily have been delivered by a New Democrat, with the exceptions of his empty call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriagea congressional nonstarter, but a sop to religious conservativesand his continued refusal to support federal funding for new stem-cell-research lines. No doubt, neither Bill Clinton nor Al Gore would have invaded Iraq unilaterally or lowered taxes on the rich, but this wasn't a speech about that. It celebrated democracy abroad and proposed a reformed bureaucracy at home. Clinton was moving, before Monica Lewinsky derailed him, toward significant changes in Social Security and Medicareespecially Medicare, for which he was ready to support a market-oriented approach but retreated at the behest of congressional liberals who supported him during the impeachment fiasco. Clinton or Gore might have talked, as Bush did, about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the African-American community, and the need to make defense lawyers more familiar with DNA testing, and might even have proposed that the First Lady lead an antigang initiative.
There is, then, a profitable discussion to be had between "ownership" Republicans and "third-way" Democrats about transforming the stagnant bureaucracies of the Industrial Age. Republicans refused to play during the Clinton presidency; the stunned and churlish Democrats are refusing now. It will be interesting to see whether Bush, at the height of his powers, actually tries to break the impasse.