Win One Like the Gipper
By MAUREEN DOWD
NYTimes - 4 Dec:
Bill Clinton, the president who used to ape Ronald Reagan, told Democrats yesterday what they must do to take on George W. Bush, the president who now apes Ronald Reagan.
They've got to get the Gipper swagger.
"When people are feeling insecure," a ruddy Mr. Clinton instructed a Democratic Leadership Council meeting at New York University, "they'd rather have someone who is strong and wrong rather than somebody who is weak and right."
Democrats have been turned into eunuchs by the warlike Bushies. Some are skittering left. Some are skittering right. Most are just cowering behind the barn hiding from Sheriff Bush and his gimlet-eyed, sharp-shootin' sidekick, Karl Rove.
Mr. Clinton, who was always adept at purloining anything he fancied from Republicans, told Democrats flatly that they could not "wilt" on national security or whine about their identity crisis. (Though, being Bill Clinton, he laced his speech with whining about how his presidency was underappreciated.)
"I think you ought to be optimistic," he told the pessimistic Democrats, "and I think you ought to be strong. Of course it is hard."
He broke presidential club etiquette to say that Mr. Bush had things backward. "Al Qaeda should be our top priority," he said. "Iraq is important, but the terrorist network is more of a threat to our security."
He said that the Bush administration had missed 9/11 clues: "There are a couple of thousand flight schools in America. It wouldn't have been that hard to check them all." One of the men who flew an airplane into the World Trade Center had 30 credit cards and a quarter-million-dollar debt, he said, and Mohamed Atta had 12 addresses. Those were signs they were "up to no good."
(Though, being Bill Clinton, he didn't mention that his preoccupation with the Monica threat to his future might have diluted his focus on the Qaeda threat to our future.)
The D.L.C. was on board with him. Al From, the head of the group, and Bruce Reed, the former Clinton White House policy chief, put out a memo on Monday that pretty much suggested that Democrats become an annex of the Republican Party.
Running away from Nancy Pelosi and jumping into Lynne Cheney's lap, the memo warned that if Democrats continue to come across as counterculture wimps on terrorism, they are doomed.
"Close the cultural gap that, left unchecked, will give Republicans back a virtual lock on the Electoral College . . .," Mr. From and Mr. Reed exhorted. "Half that battle is simply respecting the values of mainstream America in the first place. We will never be the party that loves guns most, but we can respect law-abiding citizens' rights to own them. We will never be the pro-life party, but we can show that we want abortion to be rare as well as legal."
Why not push for Clarence Thomas as chief justice and declare global warming a hoax?
When Mr. Clinton was president, his attitude was "Le parti, c'est moi." And even though most of the Democrats he campaigned for in the midterms tanked, Democrats still expect Mr. Clinton to get them out of this horrible fix — his specialty.
The prince of Harlem is one of the few who can raise money — even though that role evokes his tatty past, renting out the Lincoln Bedroom, and his tabloid present, raking bucks and hanging with Hollywood stars.
Democrats continue to have an ambivalent relationship with Bill, missing his way with words and votes and the economy, but resentful that he put Terry McAuliffe in charge.
As the Democratic Ken doll John Edwards flew off to Europe to meet with NATO officials — the CliffsNotes version of foreign policy credentials — John Kerry tried to shed his Ken-doll skin with a big speech in Cleveland, following his announcement that he's running.
In the Q and A afterward, Mr. Kerry finally came out and said what the timid Democrats have been whispering for months: that the administration cooked up the Iraq crisis to distract everybody from a bad economy and an unpopular domestic agenda.
"They sat down in August and made a conscious decision to bring that up and to dominate the discussion with Iraq," Mr. Kerry said.
As Democratic swagger goes, it was a good start.