Iraq and the Cardboard Democrats

Memo To: Gary Hart From: Jude Wanniski Re: The Leadership Vacuum.

As you know, Gary, I did publicly announce my vote for Sen. John Kerry in last year’s presidential election, even though I had earlier in the year characterized him as a “cardboard candidate.” Now and then, when he wasn’t programmed by his campaign consultants (mainly Bob Shrum), Kerry was not bad. Too often, though, I thought of him as a fellow who gathered his team around him every morning and asked them, “What do I think today?” I truly wasn’t unhappy to see him lose, because I never did trust him to get it right in the Oval Office. For President Bush to win narrowly was the best outcome, I reckoned, as he might make a mid-course correction in foreign policy and turn away from the Neo-Con Cabal that led him, and the nation, into this new Vietnam-like quagmire.

So I was delighted to read your Wednesday op-ed in the Washington Post, “Who Will Say ‘No More’?,” challenging your fellow Democrats to put aside their pollsters and focus groups and consultants and take on the war directly. My guess is that President Bush is still being snookered by the neo-cons who occupy key posts in the Vice President’s office and Pentagon, and in G.O.P. intellectual circles. As long as no serious Democrat is out there making enough noise that the President has to ask, “What’s this all about?,” he will go on kidding himself into thinking he’s on the right track. He still thinks he is promoting “democracy” when all he is promoting is more carnage. Once he announced last week that he thinks we have to “honor” the fallen dead by sending more young American men and women to their deaths, I concluded he has come to the end of the string of feeble justifications for the war.

Now Mr. Bush needs Republican leaders to come forward, singly or in groups, to tell him his public support is ebbing away and he must wrap things up in Iraq. But those GOP leaders are just as chicken as the Democrats, fearful of being accused of “cutting and running.” No, as you argue in your op-ed, it is the Loyal Opposition that has to take the lead. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, last week took the first step in calling for a hard timeline for withdrawal of all U.S. forces. But we all know it is Hillary Clinton who has to get out front – yet she seems already to have asked the pollsters, consultants and focus groups – and decided we must “stay the course.” We can’t expect any better from Sen. Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations, because he, too, is a victim of his own complicity in getting the nation into the war. Both Hillary and Joe are disserving the nation by urging the President to be more resolute in prosecuting the war – when they know full well, cynically well, that he cannot do that. They are cardboard politicians.

You know I have long admired your political instincts, and most certainly have never seen you as a “cardboard candidate” when you were either seeking the Democratic presidential nomination or making noises like you might enter the fray. Along with California’s Jerry Brown, you have been one of the few high-profile Democrats to take seriously the supply-side economics I’ve espoused and which elevated Ronald Reagan to his eight spectacular years in the White House. This is another way of saying that you should take on the role you have outlined in your op-ed for some unnamed Democrat. Throw your hat in the ring for 2008 without giving it another thought, or taking a poll. Go on the Sunday talk shows, write more op-eds, and make the case for an exit from Iraq, and see where it leads. As long as you don’t try to get yourself to the White House, but to stop the useless deaths of our fellow Americans, you can make the difference it will take to achieve that end. If, by happenstance, it also leads you to the presidency, that would be okay with me. But the primary goal is what you have described so eloquently in the op-ed that follows. Stick to it.

Who Will Say ‘No More’?