The Democrats are smelling blood. They believe they have finally found a way to bring George Bush down in the next election. Time magazine has already announced the campaign theme -- Untruth and Consequences: How Flawed was the case for going to war against Saddam?
Very flawed, it would appear -- so flawed that the only possible explanation is that Bush deliberately deceived the American people. He misled them into thinking that the removal of Saddam Hussein would be a good thing, when in fact there was absolutely no reason Saddam should not have been permitted to stay in power indefinitely. If he possessed no weapons of mass destruction, then what possible danger could he pose to the American people?
This is the argument that is currently being espoused by the various Democratic candidates for the Presidency. But the question is, Will it do the job that is expected of it? Will it defeat Bush in 2004?
Let us suppose for the sake of argument that Bush had only the lowest and meanest motives for overthrowing Saddam Hussein -- personal spite, family vendetta, partisan political advantage; and, furthermore, let us assume that the President was prepared to manufacture evidence to bolster his bogus claims about WMD's, simply in order to gain popular support for his wholly self-serving foreign policy. Will this be enough to persuade the American electorate that it is time for what Senator Kerry has called a "regime change" in Washington?
The evidence is slender. After all, President Clinton, when caught in a boldfaced lie, continued to sport 60% popularity ratings among the American people -- much to the disgust of Republicans. Indeed, there is every reason to think that, had Clinton been permitted to run for a third term, he would have won it handily.
Of course, the Democrats will argue that Bush's lies were far worse than Clinton's; but will the American people accept this? Bush's hypothetical lies were designed to smear the reputation of a man who had tried to murder his father; Clinton's less hypothetical lies were designed to smear the reputation of a young Whitehouse intern with whom he had had an affair.
But the problem facing the Democrats is more than simply the question of whose lie is worse. The problem, rather, is that the American people have historically tended to be forward looking in their politics, so that attempts to dredge up the past have traditionally met with little enthusiasm, except for a coterie of partisan fanatics. This was why no one ever cared terribly much about the Whitewater scandal -- whatever happened, it was over and done with by the time President Clinton became President. It was all "ancient history," to use the telling phrase so beloved of our future-oriented nation. And that is the danger of the current Democratic strategy. It wishes to focus the interest of the American people on something that is rapidly becoming ancient history, in which case the electorate is all too apt to say, as it said about Lewinsky, Whitewater or Iran-Contra: "That was then, this is now."
Which is why it is not enough for the Democrats to tell the American people what they would have done differently in the past; they must tell the electorate what they will do differently in the future. And this is where their current approach is sadly lacking.
There is, however, a solution -- and it is so perfect a solution to the Democrats' problem that it is hard to imagine why it has not yet been offered to the public, at least in the form of a trial balloon.
Bluntly stated, the central plank of the Democrats' platform in 2004 needs to be: "Bring back Saddam Hussein!"
Now before you object, I want you to reflect a moment. After all, let us review the logic of the situation.
Bush misled the American people, arguing that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power because he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. But it turns out that this was all a pack of self-serving lies. From which it follows that we should never have fought the Iraq war, and, furthermore, that Saddam Hussein should never have been removed from his position at the head of the Iraqi government.
But if we did wrong in removing Saddam, then our duty is clear. We must undo the wrong we have done, and restore Saddam Hussein to the rightful place of authority at the head of the Iraqi government -- with reparations, of course, paid him for the damages done to his palaces.
Indeed, since it seems that Saddam Hussein may in fact be alive, what a brilliant stroke it would be to have him appear as the keynote speaker at the Democratic convention. A moving documentary film of his life and struggles could be shown before his speech, and afterwards Senators Dean and Kerry, along with Al Sharpton, could rush to the podium to show their support for the former leader with a big hug, while hosts of Democrats assembled from across the land roared out in unison: "Bring back Saddam! Bring back Saddam!"
Time magazine argues that untruths have consequences, which they surely do. But so, too, do bad ideas -- and "Bring Back Saddam!" is the logical consequence of the bad idea that is at the heart of the Democrats' current campaign strategy. That they should have adopted this strategy without seeing the ultimate conclusion to which it leads is perhaps the best indication of both the desperation of the Democratic Party and its utter lack of intellectual coherency.