The BBC, CBC and most of the European media have constructed an alternative universe and are content to frolic on its wilder shores. Time stands still in this world: Even though the confidently predicted civilian death tolls and humanitarian catastrophes never arrive, nobody minds. There’s no reason why reality should ever intrude.
Unfortunately, Dean, Gephardt and about half the other Democratic candidates still live in the real world–or, more to the point, their would-be constituents do. These candidates are obliged to be, in Bill Clinton’s words, ”politically viable.” At the BBC and Le Monde and the Sydney Morning Herald, anti-Americanism is the New Universal Theory: It explains everything; it’s the prism through which every event is viewed. But it’s an unlikely strategy for American electioneering. One anti-Bush Democrat at a protest the other day carried a sign reading ”FRANCE WAS RIGHT!” That’s not a winning slogan, even in Vermont.
What happened this week is a foretaste of what the party can expect in the next 15 months: Reality will keep intruding, and if the Dems keep moving the goalposts ever more frantically, pretty soon they’ll be campaigning from Planet Zongo. This week, Tom Daschle insisted that Odai and Qusai were all very well, but where was the Big Guy? Why hadn’t that slacker Bush caught him yet?
Well, yes, Saddam’s gone the Osama route, releasing audio cassettes every couple of weeks. Why is that? These days, a compact camcorder’s as easy to smuggle in as a Walkman, and video would have far more impact. Could it be that Saddam isn’t in such great shape for the cameras? Not quite ready for his close-up? Wherever he is, he’s dependent on a dwindling band of aides and, after the way his sons were sold out, he’s gonna be a bit twitchy if Ahmed’s trip to the 7-Eleven seems to be taking a little too long.
So suppose there’s another firefight and they pull his mustache from the rubble? What’s Tom Daschle going to say then? Right now, of the 55 faces on the Iraq’s Most Wanted playing cards, the Americans have killed or captured 37. Democrats, by contrast, have yoked their fate to bad news. So they need to ask themselves, realistically, how much is likely to show up.
As Orrin Judd recently wrote, “on the day the Dow tops 10,000 again, the Democratic cloakrooms on the Hill are going to look like the compound at Jonestown.”