Will Democrats back war effort?

The Baltimore Sun

The Democratic Party stands on the brink of defining its mark in this tumultuous chapter of political history. It can either continue to fight for itself, or it can fight for America.

For those of us who long for the return of the party built by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, we hope with great anticipation that the 110th Congress will work with the president to emerge victorious in Iraq and begin healing a nation polarized by political turmoil.

"Democrats aren't about getting even," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a White House press conference Wednesday. "Democrats are about helping the American people to get ahead."

If that's true, the Democratic Party will make great strides toward building a bridge with the White House that will surely benefit both parties and all Americans. Democrats face a difficult challenge, however, since some of their most outspoken leaders have drifted toward the far left and vowed revenge against the president.

Intolerance for dissent and disdain for the war in Iraq have been a trademark of the party ever since the primaries of the last presidential election. Former war hero turned protester Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts was a fitting candidate for the kind of anti-American sentiment echoed by Democrats throughout that election.

Problems in Iraq somehow inspired the far left to rile up the anti-patriotic spirit that once flooded the streets with protests during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Half-truths from documentaries such as Fahrenheit 9/11 were readily embraced, while liberals continued to fuel their fury instead of considering the difficult position the president was in when he neutralized the Baathist regime in Iraq.

Perhaps that's why so many moderate Democrats left the party that year and voted for the opposition, or abstained. Defectors adopted the slogan, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party - the Democratic Party left me." The result was disastrous for the party, causing a stunning reversal of fortune when Mr. Kerry lost by more than 3 million votes nationwide.

Although the anti-Bush, anti-war strategy worked for the Democrats in this election, they now face immense pressure to end the war in Iraq from the very base of support that helped maneuver them to victory. In time, they may realize that finding a solution to the extreme anti-Americanism that has been developing in the Middle East the past few decades isn't as easy as it seems.

The Democrats must now prove they are worthy of staying in control of Congress; otherwise, they will face the same fate met by the Republicans in this election. The best chance for them to succeed is to abandon their uncompromising anti-war platform, return to the center and make a sincere effort to work with the president - if he is willing.

Proof that Americans are looking for centrist leadership came this election in Connecticut, where voters rejected Democratic candidate Ned Lamont and his unilateral anti-war platform. Although his far-left views were enough to win the hearts of liberal Democrats to secure his nomination, they weren't enough to win the general election against Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who was exiled for making a nonpartisan effort to reach across the aisle. Mr. Lieberman has always put his country before his party, and that's exactly the kind of leadership Americans are looking for and the kind of sentiment the Democratic Party must now embrace.

Democrats are capable of diplomatic leadership, but they must have the right people standing up for them.

Virulently criticizing the president, John Kerry and his supporters are no longer the right people. The last thing the party needs is a repeat of 2004 in 2008, which, in its own way, was a repeat of the anti-war McGovern platform in 1972. To no surprise, Mr. Kerry met the same fate as George McGovern, and the Democratic Party is no better for it.

It's time for Mr. Kerry and those liberals stuck in the Vietnam era to wake up and view the world in the post-9/11 era. If they can't, then, as Mr. Kerry once said, "It's time for a regime change."

There must be a bipartisan solution for Iraq other than a quick withdrawal that amounts to surrender and compromises American and Iraqi security.

It cannot come by merely blaming the president for everything that goes wrong, especially when some of it is beyond his control. Victory must come from a desire for Congress and the president to work together, and, most important, the patience and resolve of the American people.

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a Florida-based attorney who served as a legal intern for the Democratic National Committee during the presidential election of 2004. His e-mail is jshapiro@ufl.edu.

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