Posturing, pandering politicos
By DAVID S. BRODER Washington Posat Writers Group
Published June 8, 2007
GOFFSTOWN, N.H. - The 18 presidential candidates - eight Democrats and 10 Republicans - who came to Saint Anselm College here for a pair of debates this week displayed a remarkable ability to ignore the real-world consequences of many of the policies they were advocating.
Democrats brushed aside concerns over the impact of their votes to cut off funding for the troops in Iraq or the larger implications of a precipitous withdrawal from that country. Republicans were casual about contemplating the use of nuclear weapons against Iran or the effects of foreclosing a path to citizenship for millions of Hispanics living illegally in the United States.
Both parties are blessed with a multitude of contenders with attractive personalities and impressive resumes - people easy to imagine filling the Oval Office.
But the dynamic on both sides is trending toward extreme positions that would open the door to an independent or third-party challenge in 2008 aimed at the millions of voters in the center.
The danger may be greatest for the Democrats, despite the fact that President Bush's failings have put them in a favored position to win the next election. Prodded by four long shots with little chance of winning the nomination and threatened by the rhetoric of former Sen. John Edwards, a serious contender, the two front-runners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have abandoned their cautious advocacy of a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces and now are defending their votes to cut off support for troops fighting insurgents in Iraq.
They are able to escape the charge of abandoning U.S. combat troops only because they knew when they voted that their Republican colleagues in Congress, joined by a few Democrats, would keep the funds flowing at least for another few months. But if Clinton or Obama is nominated, that vote is certain to loom large in the next campaign.
The broader question of Persian Gulf policy in the likely event of the drawdown of American forces in the coming year is also a blind spot for the Democrats. Beyond exhortations to the weak Maliki government in Baghdad and a vague hope of convening an international conference on Iraq, the leading Democrats have little to suggest that could mitigate a possible foreign policy disaster.
The leading Republicans, for their part, see the risks of failing militarily in Iraq clearly but offer no ideas other than a continuation of Bush policies. Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney all endorse what is in effect the status quo - even when asked to suggest a possible alternative.
Meantime, they see nothing wrong in raising the possibility of using a nuclear weapon as a bargaining tool in dealing with the ticklish situation in Iran. It is hard to imagine a policy more likely to shift international pressure away from sanctions on Iran and against the United States than talk of using the nuclear weapons in our arsenal against targets in that part of the world. Sure, they say nukes would be a last resort, but they seem remarkably sanguine about brandishing them.
But then these are people who, unlike the Democrats, seem oblivious to the reality of 12-million illegal immigrants living permanently in our society, with no hope of attaining citizenship and stepping up to the promise - and responsibility - it entails. They find fault with the patiently negotiated congressional compromises in legislation supported by President Bush - even Romney and Giuliani, who have previously supported such bills.
The catering to the know-nothing wing of their party by so many of these men is a stunning indictment of their readiness to lead 21st-century America, a more diverse and dynamic country than their perspective seems to embrace.
In this dispiriting display of pandering and groupthink, two notable contrary examples stand out.
On the Democratic side, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, alone on the stage in voting for the temporary funding bill, declared his determination not to deny arms and protective equipment for the troops his 2002 vote had helped send to Iraq - even, he said, if it costs him the nomination.
And on the Republican side, Sen. John McCain of Arizona defended his and the president's comprehensive and humanitarian approach to immigration - a grace note in what was otherwise a rather discordant pair of ensemble performances.
David Broder's e-mail address is davidbroder@ washpost.com.