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The Democrats' Non-Response By: Byron York
The Hill | Monday, February 06, 2006


Some critics have suggested that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine did not exactly wow ’em in his role as presenter of the Democratic response to the president’s State of the Union address.

It’s true, he didn’t. But the real problem wasn’t Kaine. It was the Democratic response.

And — as usual — the problem with the Democratic response was national security.

Kaine started out promisingly enough, citing the president’s commitment to win the war on terrorism and support the troops.

“Every American embraces those goals,” Kaine said. “We can — we must — defeat those who attack and kill innocent people.”

Then Kaine did something a bit unusual. Unlike others in his party who sometimes can’t bring themselves to discuss the unhappy events of Sept. 11, 2001 — and become angry when the president brings them up — Kaine actually mentioned the terrorist attacks in New York and the Washington area.

“While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of all Americans,” Kaine said, “so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground here in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon.”

So far, so good. But then Kaine started to lose steam. “Our commitment to winning the war on terror compels us to ask this question,” he said. “Are the president’s policies the best way to win this war?”

Apparently not, according to Kaine’s bill of particulars. Bush included “inaccurate information” in his case for war in Iraq. Some of the troops were not given the best body armor or the best intelligence. The administration wants to downsize the Army Reserve and reduce military and veterans’ benefits.

All bad things, Kaine said. But fortunately, he assured us, there is a better way.

And what is that better way?

Well, we should all be “working together” to “give our troops the tools they need to win the war on terror.”

And how do we do that? Why, we do what Kaine has done in Virginia. “We ... have reformed an enhanced our Department of Veterans Services to help our veterans and their family members access the federal benefits that they’ve earned,” Kaine said. “And we’re working to provide state re-enlistment bonuses to honor those Virginians who stay in service to commonwealth and country.”

And that was it.

Now, giving the troops what they need, helping veterans and their families with benefits and promoting re-enlistment are all worthy enterprises. The federal government should be doing all of them — in times of war or peace.

But since there is a war going on in Iraq, and a broader war going on against worldwide terrorism, what, specifically, would Kaine and his fellow Democrats do actually to win? To, you know, kill the bad guys?

The answer is — well, Kaine didn’t say.

Democrats often wonder why they are viewed — unfairly, they believe — as being soft on national security. Kaine’s speech Tuesday night would be a good place to start looking for an answer.

Of course Democrats like Kaine and the party’s leadership on Capitol Hill do what they do for a reason. First, they have real differences with Republicans over how to pursue the fight against terrorism. But they also represent a constituency that is simply not as concerned about the threat of terrorism as Republicans are.

In a recent poll, the Los Angeles Times asked respondents which issue Congress and the president should make their top priority in the coming year. Should it be Iraq? Healthcare? The deficit? Fighting terrorism? Something else?

Thirty-two percent of Republicans answered “fighting terrorism.” It was the No. 1 concern among GOP voters. Just 9 percent of Democrats named “fighting terrorism” as their top priority. It was the No. 5 concern among Democratic voters.

The Times poll results are in line with similar surveys taken over the years. And they point to a profound difference between the parties.

Last month, some Democrats were outraged when Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, said in a speech to the Republican National Committee, “At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views of the world and fundamentally different views on national security. Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world, and Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic, not at all, but it does make them wrong — wrong deeply and profoundly and consistently.”

Not fair, some Democrats said. But what other conclusion can one reach from the Los Angeles Times poll and others that have found similar answers?

After recent statements from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, what does it say when one party ranks terrorism as only the fifth highest concern facing Americans?

It says that party has a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world.

And Tim Kaine’s is only the most recent statement of it.

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