President Bush’s defeat of John Kerry last week is a victory for those, like me, who consider international terrorism the greatest threat faced by our country, trumping all other issues.
The terrorists, most of whom are Islamic Jihadists, hate the U.S. most because of our open culture, our economic success and our military power. For years now, terrorist attacks on America have been mounting, beginning with the 1979 seizure of our Embassy in Tehran and culminating in 9/11 with the dual attack on New York and Washington. Western Europe has suffered too, as have our allies among moderate Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
President Bush has changed the way we are dealing with the threat. Instead of treating terrorism as a criminal nuisance, the Bush doctrine includes preemption: hit the terrorists and their host countries before they can strike again. Applying the new policy, the President waged war directly on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, as well as the Taliban regime who harbored them in Afghanistan, and its neighbor, Iraq, long a haven of other terrorists and a major aggressor toward its neighbors like Kuwait and its own people, like the Kurds and the Swamp Shiites.
Given a choice between John Kerry and George Bush, the people chose a President who would not waver in the face of terrorism. The candidates’ major difference Ý leadership vs. retreat Ý was summed up in The New York Times.
Senator Kerry revealingly told The Times, “Well, on Tuesday you have a chance to give those young fighting forces of ours who have fought with courage and with the greatest skill ever, you have a chance to give them the leadership and the hope that they need and to get them home. Just as revealingly, President Bush said, “A president must lead this country with consistency and strength. In a war, sometimes your tactics change, but never your principles. Americans have seen how I do my job. On good days and on bad days, when the polls are up or the polls are down, I am determined to protect this country.”
It was “Bring the troops home” vs. “Finish the job we started.” The Democratic party is now, regrettably, in the hands of the radical left. It must be retaken and reshaped by the moderates in the party, e.g., Senator Joe Biden (D-De), Richard Gephardt (D-Mo), Senator Joe Lieberman D-Ct), former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, and former President Bill Clinton, just to cite a few, who I believe represented the heart and soul of the party before it fell under the spell of the Michael Moores.
Senator Kerry voted against authorizing war on Iraq in 1991, even after it had invaded and occupied Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia would be next. He voted no even though the United Nations had declared war on Iraq, and every one of the 15 countries making up the Security Council had joined the military coalition to liberate Kuwait. Kerry with 44 other Democratic Senators voted against the congressional resolution authorizing war in 1991, and his ambivalence with respect to the current war in Iraq caused concern in the minds of many voters, and affected their vote last Tuesday.
Polls have shown that moral values were an important issue for many voters. They did not welcome the Hollywood sleaze and obscenities applauded by many Democratic leaders, including Kerry who, at a major fund raiser in New York City, after Whoopi Goldberg’s vulgar play on Bush’s name, said the performers represented the heart and soul of America. Voices in the arts should be heard and appreciated, but there should be no place for the exultation of filth and obscenities in a presidential election, or elsewhere at functions of any party.
On election night I watched the TV commentators offer their election forecasts, and I became more anxious with each passing minute. We were told by the talking heads that Kerry was winning, with many of the journalists making it clear how happy they would be with that outcome. To their chagrin, the opposite occurred.
I believe the Democratic Party is in need of a major self-appraisal, similar to what took place in Baltimore about twenty-four years ago after voters repudiated our party by electing Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter. Some thought that the party had become too liberal or too radical. Others believed that the party was not liberal or radical enough. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton revitalized the party when he became president and brought it back to the center philosophically. When his term ended, the voice of the party became that of the hardliners.
To cite one example, we have been tone deaf as a party on the issue of abortion. While the right to choose is fundamental and not to be traded away, partial-birth abortion, considered by most people to be horrifying, should not be sacrosanct. So why does the Democratic Party saddle itself with its defense? The U.S. Supreme Court has said with respect to legislation outlawing partial-birth abortion that a woman’s life and health must be protected, allowing a physician to employ the medical procedure if he decides it is required under those circumstances. However, health should be defined in a way that relates to the future capability of the woman to bear children and we should not allow a truck to be driven through the exception. Why haven’t the Democrats proposed legislation to do that?
As an alternative to same-sex marriage, why haven’t Democrats proposed civil unions providing nationally all the federal economic, tax and other benefits that marriage now provides to couples of opposite sex. Why, in order to make us more self sufficient in producing energy haven’t the Democrats proposed greater oil exploration in Alaska and elsewhere subject to tough regulations protecting the environment, along with every other responsible proposal to increase supply, e.g., mandatory higher miles per gallon, alternative engines, and alternative fuels: even proposing a special tax on gasoline to be used only for energy research?
There are many other areas of major concern where Democrats should be offering responsible proposals, e.g., offering comprehensive health insurance to all recognizing that may require rationing of care, while at the same time allowing those who want to spend their own money for even greater medical coverage to do so;, upgrading Social Security, to take into consideration increased longevity requiring changes in the eligibility age and benefits. Obviously, this is only the start of a national statement of purpose. Taking a leaf from Newt Gingrich’s notebook, Contract with America ought to be considered, using of course our Democratic values.
This country, based on the election outcome, is now almost evenly divided, with a majority that is moderate-conservative. We in the Democratic Party should stake out the moderate-liberal position.
Our internal battle is with those who prefer we be the party of the radical left. If the moderates do not prevail, we are doomed to continued election losses.
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.