Memo To: Gary Hart
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Leadership Vacuum.
As you know, Gary, I did publicly announce my
vote for Sen. John Kerry in last year's presidential election, even though I
had earlier in the year characterized him as a "cardboard candidate."
Now and then, when he wasn't programmed by his campaign consultants (mainly
Bob Shrum), Kerry was not bad. Too often, though, I thought of him as a fellow
who gathered his team around him every morning and asked them, "What do
I think today?" I truly wasn't unhappy to see him lose, because I never
did trust him to get it right in the Oval Office. For President Bush to win
narrowly was the best outcome, I reckoned, as he might make a mid-course correction
in foreign policy and turn away from the Neo-Con Cabal that led him, and the
nation, into this new Vietnam-like quagmire.
So I was delighted to read your Wednesday op-ed in the Washington Post, "Who
Will Say 'No More'?", challenging your fellow Democrats to put aside their
pollsters and focus groups and consultants and take on the war directly. My
guess is that President Bush is still being snookered by the neo-cons who occupy
key posts in the Vice President's office and Pentagon, and in G.O.P. intellectual
circles. As long as no serious Democrat is out there making enough noise that
the President has to ask, "What's this all about?," he will go on
kidding himself into thinking he's on the right track. He still thinks he is
promoting "democracy" when all he is promoting is more carnage. Once
he announced last week that he thinks we have to "honor" the fallen
dead by sending more young American men and women to their deaths, I concluded
he has come to the end of the string of feeble justifications for the war.
Now Mr. Bush needs Republican leaders to come forward, singly or in groups,
to tell him his public support is ebbing away and he must wrap things up in
Iraq. But those GOP leaders are just as chicken as the Democrats, fearful of
being accused of "cutting and running." No, as you argue in your op-ed,
it is the Loyal Opposition that has to take the lead. Sen. Russ Feingold, a
Democrat, last week took the first step in calling for a hard timeline for withdrawal
of all U.S. forces. But we all know it is Hillary Clinton who has to get out
front yet she seems already to have asked the pollsters, consultants and
focus groups and decided we must "stay the course." We can't expect
any better from Sen. Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations,
because he, too, is a victim of his own complicity in getting the nation into
the war. Both Hillary and Joe are disserving the nation by urging the President
to be more resolute in prosecuting the war when they know full well, cynically
well, that he cannot do that. They are cardboard politicians.
You know I have long admired your political instincts, and most certainly have
never seen you as a "cardboard candidate" when you were either seeking
the Democratic presidential nomination or making noises like you might enter
the fray. Along with California's Jerry Brown, you have been one of the few
high-profile Democrats to take seriously the supply-side economics I've espoused
and which elevated Ronald Reagan to his eight spectacular years in the White
House. This is another way of saying that you should take on the role you have
outlined in your op-ed for some unnamed Democrat. Throw your hat in the ring
for 2008 without giving it another thought, or taking a poll. Go on the Sunday
talk shows, write more op-eds, and make the case for an exit from Iraq, and
see where it leads. As long as you don't try to get yourself to the White House,
but to stop the useless deaths of our fellow Americans, you can make the difference
it will take to achieve that end. If, by happenstance, it also leads you to
the presidency, that would be okay with me. But the primary goal is what you
have described so elequently in the op-ed that follows. Stick to it.
Who Will Say 'No More'?
By Gary Hart
Wednesday, August 24, 2005; A15
"Waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool said to push on," warned
an anti-Vietnam war song those many years ago. The McGovern presidential campaign,
in those days, which I know something about, is widely viewed as a cause for
the decline of the Democratic Party, a gateway through which a new conservative
Like the cat that jumped on a hot stove and thereafter wouldn't jump on any
stove, hot or cold, today's Democratic leaders didn't want to make that mistake
again. Many supported the Iraq war resolution and as the Big Muddy is rising
yet again now find themselves tongue-tied or trying to trump a war president
by calling for deployment of more troops. Thus does good money follow bad and
bad politics get even worse.
History will deal with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a
mighty nation into a flawed war that is draining the finest military in the
world, diverting Guard and reserve forces that should be on the front line of
homeland defense, shredding international alliances that prevailed in two world
wars and the Cold War, accumulating staggering deficits, misdirecting revenue
from education to rebuilding Iraqi buildings we've blown up, and weakening America's
But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while
all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam
and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping
on any political stove. In their leaders, the American people look for strength,
determination and self-confidence, but they also look for courage, wisdom, judgment
and, in times of moral crisis, the willingness to say: "I was wrong."
To stay silent during such a crisis, and particularly to harbor the thought
that the administration's misfortune is the Democrats' fortune, is cowardly.
In 2008 I want a leader who is willing now to say: "I made a mistake, and
for my mistake I am going to Iraq and accompanying the next planeload of flag-draped
coffins back to Dover Air Force Base. And I am going to ask forgiveness for
my mistake from every parent who will talk to me."
Further, this leader should say: "I am now going to give a series of speeches
across the country documenting how the administration did not tell the American
people the truth, why this war is making our country more vulnerable and less
secure, how we can drive a wedge between Iraqi insurgents and outside jihadists
and leave Iraq for the Iraqis to govern, how we can repair the damage done to
our military, what we and our allies can do to dry up the jihadists' swamp,
and what dramatic steps we must take to become energy-secure and prevent Gulf
Wars III, IV and so on."
At stake is not just the leadership of the Democratic Party and the nation
but our nation's honor, our nobility and our principles. Franklin D. Roosevelt
established a national community based on social justice. Harry Truman created
international networks that repaired the damage of World War II and defeated
communism. John F. Kennedy recaptured the ideal of the republic and the sense
of civic duty. To expect to enter this pantheon, the next Democratic leader
must now undertake all three tasks.
But this cannot be done while the water is rising in the Big Muddy of the Middle
East. No Democrat, especially one now silent, should expect election by default.
The public trust must be earned, and speaking clearly, candidly and forcefully
now about the mess in Iraq is the place to begin.
The real defeatists today are not those protesting the war. The real defeatists
are those in power and their silent supporters in the opposition party who are
reduced to repeating "Stay the course" even when the course, whatever
it now is, is light years away from the one originally undertaken. The truth
is we're way off course. We've stumbled into a hornet's nest. We've weakened
ourselves at home and in the world. We are less secure today than before this
Who now has the courage to say this?
The writer is a former Democratic senator from Colorado.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company