Are the Democrats messing up again?

This is a piece I wrote back in November 2006 after Pelosi and Reid took control of Congress.  Since then, their performance has been lackluster, having little influence over Iraq policy, little influence over the Bush budget, and grandstanding to their constituencies by bashing China and free trade.  A poor record.  Squandering an opportunity to use power to both help the nation and deepen the Democratic Party’s support across the nation.  Read on… 

As a long-time Democrat (I worked on Al Gore’s first presidential bid in the eighties), I am concerned about what the Democratic Party will do with its victory last week.  There are many issues of interest to the new leadership and the country, not least is how to handle the Iraq conflict.  Yet as someone who is pro-Israel and deeply concerned about threats to the survival and wellbeing of the Jewish state, allow me to alert you to signs that the current Democratic leadership might be edging ever so subtly away from our country’s current staunch support of Israel.  And this is in spite of the 70% support the Dems enjoy among American Jewish voters.

I admire Nancy Pelosi.  What a story!  Mother of five reenters the workforce in her late forties and becomes the most powerful woman (arguably) on the planet!  What does she eat for breakfast?  Her husband makes investments in the Bay area that are now worth $25 million.  What does he eat for breakfast?  Great success story.  And she is also an articulate partisan and comes from a political family with deep concern about the less fortunate.  And, when it comes to Israel, Pelosi is a supporter and she even addressed an Aipac conference in 2005.

Yet the new Speaker of the House backs John Murtha (“withdraw the troops”) for House Majority Leader, as he has been her loyal ally for years.  But he also does not have a very pro-Israel voting record.  Okay, it’s not all about Israel, but let’s examine this issue a little further.  Murtha is being opposed by Steny Hoyer, who has one of the most pro-Israel voting records in Congress. Likewise Pelosi is backing Alcee Hastings, a Congressman under an ethical cloud, to head the House Intelligence Committee, instead of fellow California Congresswoman, Jane Harman, also one of Israel’s strongest advocates on the Hill.  For those of us who care deeply about Israel and feel that this a crucial time as Israel’s opponents are gaining strength, these subtle shifts in power that Nancy Pelosi is engineering are not unimportant. 

Pelosi is motivated by two things in her appointments:  one, rewarding her allies, and two, punishing those moderate Dems who have not been sufficiently anti-Bush, like Harman and Hoyer.  She has, unfortunately, learned the wrong lesson from last week’s election.  The right lesson is that, when America’s political parties move too far to the left or too far to the right (as the Republican Party did this time around), they do so at their own peril. Karl Rove’s play-to-the-base strategy is now, at a minimum, under review.  Don’t be surprised if Giuliani’s star in the Republican Party begins to rise. 

Yet Pelosi and Harry Reid and Co. are ignoring the victories of moderate Dems like Senator-elect Webb in Virginia and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut and rewarding staunch liberal Dems whose rhetoric is as un –bipartisan as has been the president’s.  This direction could hurt chances for the Democratic party to take back the White House in 2008, which it has controlled in only 12 of the last 40 years.  

Moving to the Senate, the signs are ominous.  If Democratic claims that they desire bipartisanship on foreign policy were genuine, the first thing they would do would be to confirm John Bolton as UN Ambassador.  Bush slid him into that post through a loophole, hoping he would do such a bang-up job that the Senate would confirm him in the 15 months or so since his nomination.  Well, he has done a great job.  He even repaired his reputation for unilateralism by engineering a unanimous vote of the Security Council for sanctions against Iran (albeit, not so robust of sanctions).  What’s more?  Ambassador Bolton is one of Israel’s best friends in the foreign policy establishment.  He was one of the prime movers of the effort, under Bush I, to get the UN General Assembly to reverse its stain of a Resolution equating Zionism with Racism.  Yet Chuck Schumer, the Douglas MacArthur of last week’s Democratic conquest of the Senate, said on the Sunday morning news shows that Bolton is history.  And, Joe Biden, soon to be the Democratic Party’s leading spokesman on foreign policy as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also ruled out Bolton. 

A word on Joe Biden.  I almost worked for him in 1988.  Good thing the interview didn’t go too well.  The Gore campaign hired me instead.  Biden had to quit the presidential race that year because he got ‘Cs’ at Syracuse Law School and plagiarized a paper.  Let’s just say he’s not the sharpest tool in the tool shed.  Those Democrats who like to bemoan Dubya’s lack of smarts shouldn’t throw stones, lest they smash Joe Biden’s glass house.  True, foreign policy isn’t all about smarts, but, you have to admit, it’s at least some about smarts!

Anyway, are the Democrats messing up again?  Are they going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as the popular joke goes?  Israel is only one issue, but support for Israel is one of the hallmarks of being at the center of American politics.  The early signs on this issue from the Democratic leadership are not great.  Time will tell.  There is still bipartisan support for Israel.  But with Walt and Mearsheimer (the guys from Harvard and Chicago who wrote that anti-Israel paper) running around the country, Zionists must be vigilant.  And, those 70% of Jews who vote Democrat shouldn’t necessarily give their votes to Republicans, but at least don’t just give your vote so easily away to a candidate who might not be a strong supporter of the security, viability and success of the State of Israel.

One last word on foreign policy.  Gone are the Patrick Moynihans, Scoop Jacksons, and Sam Nunns of the Democratic Party.  But there is still Al Gore and other moderates.  Leading foreign policy thinkers in the party such as Holbrooke, Albright and Richardson are lightweights, not to mention former National Security Advisor Zbig Brzcinski (spelling) who is highly critical of Israel.  I like the current Under Secretary of State for political affairs Nicholas Burns.  Not because he is a SAIS graduate, but because he is a thoughtful strategic thinker and a calm, cool, but tough diplomat.  Though he now works for a Republican administration, he is a career foreign service officer and had  worked under Secretary of State Albright and was a Special Assistant to President Clinton.  He is 50 years old, but looks younger than me.  The Democratic Party should start talking to him.  Ken Pollack, a former Clinton NSC aide and Iran expert, is also pretty good.

Postscript: Nick Burns retired from public service in January 2007.

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