Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Nancy the Not-so-Great

Despite continuing reports that Speaker of the House-designate Nancy Pelosi intends to name Florida Rep. Alcee Hastings as chairman of the important House Intelligence Committee, I do not think she will do so.

Mr. Hastings, before winning his congressional seat, was a federal judge accused of bribery. He was acquitted of these charges in a trial, but the House of Representatives, based on these accusations, then impeached him, and the Senate removed him from office by convicting him. Both the House and Senate at that time were controlled by the Democrats.

Mr. Hastings subsequently won a Florida congressional seat, and has been acquiring seniority on the intelligence committee since then. He is not the ranking Democratic member, however. Rep. Jane Harmon of California is. Mrs. Harmon, however, does not get along with Mrs. Pelosi, and it is no secret in the Capitol that the speaker-designate does not plan to make her the committee chairman.

In a move that is still reverberating, Mrs. Pelosi endorsed Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania over Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland for House majority leader. Mr. Hoyer, like Mrs. Harmon, was an old opponent of Mrs. Pelosi from the days when the Democrats were in the minority. But when the Democratic caucus met last week, it voted by a very wide margin to make Mr. Hoyer the majority leader. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer have had to spend most of the last week and this week making nice and trying to gloss over their former antipathy. No doubt the controversy will soon fade when the Democrats take control of the House in January, and have to get down to business.

But making Mr. Hastings the House Intelligence Committee chairman would be a controversy that is unlikely to go away any time soon. It is a public-relations nightmare for the Democrats, who will have to explain again and again why a man who was impeached and removed from office as a federal judge should become the chairman of so sensitive a committee. (Indeed, serious questions could be raised as to why he is on the committee at all.) It could even raise a minor constitutional crisis if President Bush and his administration balked at working with the chairman, citing the fact that we are currently at war with terrorists all over the world. Most Americans might sympathize with the view that only men and women of the highest integrity should have access to the nation’s most important secret intelligence.

Mrs. Pelosi’s decision is complicated by the fact that Mr. Hastings, who is black, has the support of the liberal Congressional Black Caucus, which apparently wants to make this an issue of political correctness.

The bottom line, however, is that Mrs. Pelosi’s challenge now is not to continually settle old scores, but to get her party off to productive leadership of the House. The presidential election is now the political focus of the media and the political class, and those who clamor for a Democratic president in 2008, especially if that person is to be the first female president, do not need chronic self-caused controversy and pettiness to surround the Democrats’ attempt to restore their credibility to lead the nation.

Of course, any speaker has the right to have persons working for and with her or him who are sympathetic and like-minded as much as possible. Mrs. Pelosi, however, has already been forced to face the reality of working with Mr. Hoyer. In addition to the Intelligence Committee, she must also name the other committee chairs, and if her track record so far continues, she could arrive at her swearing-in in January in a veritable quagmire of intraparty hostility so intense that she could not effectively preside over the House.

Republicans have been observing this spectacle with no small pleasure. They were decisively beaten in the midterm elections and lost many members, not to mention control of the Congress. The prospect that Democrats would botch their victory, and do it so soon, has helped Republicans through some of the trauma of their wounds. They lost many seats in traditional Republican and swing districts, and would like nothing better than to have the current Democratic takeover be the shortest in history.

I suspect that, in spite of initial emotions, the Democratic leadership does or will soon realize how very large its task is, and how vital it is to the longer-term goal of winning back the White House (which they will have held only 12 years in the past 40).

I don’t think the country voted the Democrats in so they could settle a few small scores. The country wants the Democrats to demonstrate they can take charge of our many big problems.


-This article originally appeared in The Washington Times on November 22nd, 2006.

Monday, January 2, 2006

The Jaws of Defeat

The Democratic Party today reminds me of the hunter who carefully laid a trap for a bear, and when he came back the next day he forgot where he put it, stepped wrong and got caught in it, and then was himself eaten by the bear.

The game trophies of this year’s midterm elections and the 2008 presidential elections, both now appearing to favor the Democrats, could end up in the jaws of Democratic defeat.

There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party now underway, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008.

At the center of this has been party Chairman Howard Dean, now increasingly joined by the two other party spokesmen — Senate Minority leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

A string of bad news from the Middle East had emboldened this trio into calling for premature retreat from Iraq and thus defeat for the United States, hoping of course that the blame for the defeat would fall on President Bush and the Republican Party, which also controls both houses of Congress. Until recently, Mr. Bush remained silent to most of the criticism of the war and the repetitive allegations of deception that many Democrats have claimed got us into that war.

This combination, coupled with sudden rising gasoline prices, provoked a precipitous fall in the president’s support in the opinion polls, and only further induced the three horsemen of the Middle East apocalypse — Mr. Dean, Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi — to expound their denunciation and defeatism only louder.

We already knew that Mr. Dean was a screamer, and I warned on these pages less than a year ago that naming him chairman of the party was institutionalizing a political disaster to come. I do not doubt that Mr. Dean is sincere. This only makes his presence as the Democratic spokesman more perilous for the party’s prospects. Party liberals and moderates said he would mind his fundraising and not get into trouble. Now they may have to fire him or face losing excellent electoral opportunities this year and in 2008.

Calmer heads such as Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (House assistant minority leader and congressional campaign chair), Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and others have tried to steer public interest away from the volatile issue of the Iraq war and toward much more fertile political ground in domestic policy issues. But none of them has the natural podia that the three apoplectic horsemen have, and a party civil war is resulting.

Now that Mr. Bush is finally acknowledging mistakes that were made, is beginning to explain his policy in Iraq and the Middle East and is asserting that our goal is victory and not stalemate, the hot air in the Dean-Reid-Pelosi balloons has brought them back to the political earth where shrill rhetoric, empty of an alternative other than defeat, is a losing argument.

The war in Iraq and the prospects for a genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors are not, of course, yet resolved. There may not be, in the near future, a neat and exact conclusion to them. Wars and long-brewing conflicts are always messy, and in our present age, when the violence of war and hate are broadcast simultaneously for all to see, resolution is even harder to realize.

But there should be no ambiguity that American foreign policy today is consistent with what it has been for almost 100 years, beginning with World War I, when we emerged as a superpower, and continuing through World War II and the Cold War. Yes, we are always pursuing our self-interests, as every nation must, but uniquely in history the United States is also using its “super” power to improve the conditions of the whole world and to protect it from predators.

The predators, alas, seem always with us, whether they be the kaiser, Hitler and Mussolini, Japanese militarists, Stalin and Marxist totalitarians, Balkan thugs, Saddam Hussein or small groups of Islamic fascist terrorists.

The Democratic Party was in control of the government at the outset of the Cold War. President Truman, Hubert Humphrey, Henry “Scoop” Jackson and other Democrats then heroically led and defined the defense of the free world against totalitarian Marxism. At the end of the Cold War, however, the Democrats for the most part abandoned the fight, and allowed President Reagan to claim (rightfully) the victory. Subsequently, the Republican Party has become, for the time being, the majority party in America.

If the Democrats want to recover the majority, they cannot do it with Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. They cannot do it by advocating American defeat.


-This article originally appeared in The Washington Times on January 2nd, 2006.