Kaine's Weak Response
February 1, 2006 - 12:13pm ET
Americans' top concerns right now are Iraq and terrorism, according to a recent Washington Post /ABC News poll. Yet the Democratic leadership, represented last night by Tim Kaine, doesn't have a clear answer to either. As David Corn warns in today's column on TomPaine.com, "<!--StartFragment -->without a clear position on the war, the Democrats, as a party, will have a hard time using the war to argue that [Bush's] cowboy's posse in Congress ought to be chased out of town."
Fortunately, by the time Tim Kaine came on TV last night to deliver the Democrats' official response to the president's speech, most Americans were flipping channels. Good thing, because on the issues that rile Americans most, Kaine had nothing concrete to offer. The mantra Kaine repeated throughout the speech—there is "a better way"—was a sad reminder that, on many topics, mainstream Democrats actually do lack a better alternative.
On terrorism, Kaine reinforced the Bush administration message that the "war on terror" is our primary national security challenge. But then Kaine weakly suggested that Democrats still aren't sure whether the Bush administration approach is working:
The president called again tonight for our commitment to win the war on terror and to support our troops. Every American embraces those goals. We can—we must—defeat those who attack and kill innocent people.
While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of all Americans, so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground here in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon.
Our commitment to winning the war on terror compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?
Okay. While I disagree entirely, I can accept that many Democrats share the White House view that the "war on terror" is an existential threat to the U.S. But what I cannot fathom is why the Democrats—in the person of Kaine—can't at least decisively attack the Bush administration's prosecution of this so-called war. You don't know whether the president's policies are the "best way"? Maybe Dems ran out of time to hold the focus groups they need to define their position?
Compare Kaine's speech to the SOTU response released last night by progressive Democrat Russ Feingold. He started off by slamming the president's failure to address the question vexing Americans most: When and how are we getting out of Iraq? In the process, Feingold pushed his view that we need a "flexible timetable" for bringing troops home:
The President failed tonight to present to the American people a flexible timetable for bringing our troops home from Iraq. By focusing too much on Iraq, the President has taken his eye off the emerging threats around the world. Without a plan to finish the military mission in Iraq and focus on those threats our national security will only be further jeopardized.
The President also asked Congress to pass a flawed Patriot Act reauthorization without the much-needed, bipartisan changes that every single member of the Senate supported. And he failed to justify his warrantless domestic spying program, but instead continued down the road of trying to defend a program that is clearly illegal. We need to fight a successful war on terrorism without compromising our rights and freedoms.
Health care is the issue most people in Wisconsin have mentioned to me at the over 900 Listening Sessions I've held around the state. But while the President spoke about health care, he did not acknowledge the need for all Americans to be guaranteed the health care they deserve, and his proposal does not assist those who need help the most.
Finally, I was deeply disappointed that the President continues to ignore the flawed economic and trade policies that have helped ship thousands of American businesses and jobs overseas. The legacy of lost firms and lost jobs can be seen in communities around Wisconsin and the entire country, and we will only see more of the same if those reckless policies aren't turned around.
By not adequately addressing the issues people are facing across America, the President missed an opportunity to provide needed leadership at one of the most critical times in our history.
Short. Simple. Hits the issues that polls show Americans care about most. Offers a "better way," at least where Iraq is concerned, which is where the Democratic Party has been most notably MIA of late. For Democratic alternatives on other issues, like health care and jobs, the Democrats' Progressive Caucus offers a multitude of answers in their Alternative State of the Union, posted on The Nation.
Democrats: There is a better way to exploit the Bush administration's failures while offering voters a compelling alternative. You just have to figure it out quick. The clock is ticking.
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