The Republican tortoise is gaining on the Democratic hares

September 22, 2006|By Victor Davis Hanson

Despite their dreams of recapturing one or both houses of Congress this November, the Democrats seem determined to reprise their poor showings in 2002 and 2004. Now, as then, they are dozing in the campaign's homestretch, like Aesop's hare, lulled by rosy predictions and the premature applause of Hollywood and the mainstream press. Soon, however, they may wake up to discover that while they snoozed before the finish line, President Bush hunkered down in his tough shell, kept his slow legs moving, and inched them out.

The president has had a rough time since his re-election. But the furor is subsiding, and once again, turtle-like, his poll numbers are creeping forward. The economy continues to grow. Interest rates, unemployment and inflation remain manageable. Gas may fall to $2 a gallon. It matters little whether the president is as responsible for the price decline as he was for its rise - the public feels better all the same.

In hindsight, Hurricane Katrina is increasingly seen as the singular natural disaster it was - made worse by lapses in government at all levels. And too much federal largess, rather than too little, is the new worry.

The line between the supposedly good "multilateral" war in Afghanistan to remove the Taliban and the bad "unilateral" one that ousted Saddam Hussein is blurring. Suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices are the terrorism of choice in both theaters. In some weeks, more are killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq. And al-Qaida, unlike the American media, sees both as integrated struggles against the infidel.

When the smoke cleared in Lebanon, Israel had not lost to Hezbollah, but gained even more support from the American people, according to most recent polls. Nor did the elected Lebanese government collapse. And Iran appears to be backing down somewhat from its nuclear agenda.

America has not been hit again since 9/11. And most Americans, perhaps preferring to err on the side of safety, continue to back interrogations and detentions at Guantanamo. For now, most still believe it is jihadists - not their own president - who pose the real threat to their way of life.

The Europeans are no longer smug in the belief that the Islamists are incited only by the cowboy Mr. Bush. They are weary and increasingly angry over the Danish cartoon hysteria, Dutch murders, French riots, London and Madrid bombings, foiled plots in Britain and Germany, and the most recent threats to the pope.

Despite their troubles, the Republicans remain more unified and pragmatic than their opponents. The party establishment stood behind the often anti-Bush Sen. Lincoln Chafee in a tough but successful re-election fight in Rhode Island. In contrast, the establishment Democrats watched in horror as the party's activist wing drummed out their own moderate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, as a turncoat.

In the past, leftist shrillness - whether it was Michael Moore calling Iraqi terrorists "Minutemen" or Cindy Sheehan pronouncing an American president "the world's greatest terrorist" - hurt the Democrats.

Once again, such rhetorical craziness is turning off moderates. A film has just been released imagining the assassination of a sitting American president. On the Democratic side, only Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has denounced such creepiness.

Democrats fault the conduct of the war against terror. All well and good - but they also must explain how they would snatch Osama bin Laden from his friendly tribes in Islamic and nuclear Pakistan. They rail against the Iraq war, but they cannot agree on when - not to mention whether - to depart.

The Democrats claim that Mr. Bush is not protecting us at home and is battling the wrong enemies abroad. But even of those sympathetic to such a message, how many believe that Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy are better suited to fight a war against terror? And where the president is vulnerable - illegal immigration, continual energy dependence, spiraling debt and profligate federal spending - the Democrats' solutions are even more at odds with public opinion.

The result is that Mr. Bush, tucked into his shell, keeps lumbering forward, grim-faced - resisting withdrawal from Iraq and warning against Islamic fascism. And the more the Democratic hares yawn and snore, the more this unfazed turtle keeps moving toward the November elections.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears in The Sun on Fridays. His e-mail is

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