Watching George Bush deliver his State of the Union message last night, one could almost feel the bewilderment and pain of his Democrat opponents. How many members of the loyal opposition were silently asking themselves “how did our party end up on the losing side of this many issues?” Both literally and figuratively, they seemed squeezed into less space within the chamber. Nothing spoke more eloquently to this dilemma than the ink-stained finger held aloft by the Iraqi guest seated next to the President’s wife, unless it was the blue inked finger raised in reply by a new Indian-American congressman from Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, a Republican.
The successful Iraqi election combined with Bush’s record of dogged insistence that it take place, allowed him to cast his war policy as part of a global movement toward democracy that began when the Soviet empire began to crumble. He clearly stated his goal to extend the adoption of democracy as a remedy for the chronic malady of hatred in the Middle East and for Islamo-fascist terrorism. In so doing he positions his own administration as the ideological successor not to his father’s but rather to Ronald Reagan. Some pundits called his strategy “double-or-nothing”. Wrong. Texas Hold ’em is the card game of this decade, and the President has just called “all in”. The play of the hand will take 4 years, however, and during that time will require skill-sets of his administration more suited to duplicate bridge.
The congressional Democrats, still picking through the wreckage of their recent defeat at the polls, must choose which pieces of ideological baggage they keep or discard. Senator Clinton has proposed that the party’s abortion policies become more inclusive. Others have suggested that support for gay marriage is a needless losing proposition. These issues are cultural hot buttons, but on many public policy fronts the Democrats have few new proposals. This lack of new ideas leaves them at risk being seriously outflanked on domestic reforms such as education, social security, and tort law.