I promised myself that on my vacation this week, I would try to block out politics, but in even briefly reading the newspapers from my vacation outpost, it becomes painfully clear why the Democratic Party is perceived so poorly throughout America: because for every courageous, stand-on-convictions Democrat out there, there are other wimpy empty suit Democrats running around undermining the party for their own personal gain - no matter how stupid, pathetic, hypocritical and weak they make themselves look in the process.
The case in point this week is Democratic Senator Evan Bayh (D). You remember Bayh - he's the stiff, corpse-impersonating guy from Indiana who likes to tell everyone what a great, strong, macho national security leader he is and what a supposedly "tough and smart" national security strategy he has. Every morning this week I have opened a new paper - USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times - and there is the smug, smiling Bayh making headlines running around the country with this "tough and smart" mantra, creating straw men in his own party that he says are "afraid" of national security, and essentially regurgitating Fox News talking points about Democrats supposedly being "weak" on security. Adding insult to injury, this sententious, chest-thumping, just-bomb-em-all-back-to-the-stone-ages lecture aimed at courageous war critics like Marine veteran Jack Murtha comes from the privileged son of a Senator who has never had to serve in a combat area and who unapologetically voted for the Iraq War - a war which Americans believe has severely weakened U.S. national security.
The pathetic nature of Bayh's behavior is two-pronged. First, from a political perspective, Bayh thinks he is making himself look "tough." In fact, he is making himself - and the party he claims to care about - look like a cowering, wimpy, whiney, gutless coward. He is behaving like a kid who was beaten up on the schoolyard, and now is so emotionally damaged by that treatment, he feels the need to run around as an adult telling everyone what a wimp he and his party is - when in fact its just not true.
"If even Democratic lawmakers are telling the media that Democrats don't appear strong, they're helping to perpetuate that narrative...Representatives from Procter & Gamble don't go on CNBC and talk about the fact that the perception exists that Tide could do a better job of removing stains. They just show evidence to the contrary. This kind of message craft, starting from a negative assumption, is unheard of in the corporate world. It's a lesson Democrats need to learn if they're serious about winning the hearts and minds here at home."
But beyond just the sheer wimp-reinforcing disloyalty of it all is just how much of an empty suit Bayh has now shown himself to be. In all his self-aggrandizing talk about him being "tough and smart" on national security, he basically offers up no concrete proposal for what a "tough and smart" national security strategy is beyond strict sanctions on Iran, and a litany of things most other Democrats have been saying for months. On almost every other concrete national security issue, its criticism of Bush, and vague blather about "benchmarks for success" and a "comprehensive strategy for Iraqi political progress" - nothing else (sounds really "tough and smart"). Then to follow up on Charlie Rose's show, he once again regurgitated Fox News talking points to about the NSA spying scandal, ignoring that its all about lawbreaking, and instead attacking his fellow Democrats and ramrodding it into a dishonest debate about whether to perform surveillance on Al Qaeda or not - even though no one is arguing we shouldn't do that.
Clearly, Bayh's behavior comes from his own personal presidential ambitions. He is desperate to create a neoconservative image for himself on national security, because in the cloistered halls of power that he has frolicked in since he was a fetus, "tough" on national security means being a elitist politician with a willingness to sit in a well-guarded office and call in carpet bombing raids on whatever group of impoverished, far away non-English speaking innocents that are easier to kill/maim than targeting actual legitimate threats to America's security.
The truth is, any idiot outside Bayh's insulated Beltway world can see the last three years have once again reiterated what being "tough and smart" on national security really is. As images of a fiery chaos in Iraq are juxtaposed next to the laughing, still-at-large Osama bin Laden taunting the West, it is clear that national security "toughness" and "smartness" is much different than the Bayh-Bush-neocon consensus that got us to the present post-9/11 vulnerabilities we now face.
Toughness is not bombing whoever we feel like, regardless of whether they are actually an imminent threat to America, and it is not simply asserting our right to unilateral action while thumbing our noses at long-standing international security organizations. It is building international coalitions to face down real threats to the civilized world like Al Qaeda.
Toughness is not - as Bayh seemed to suggest - deploying more troops to the ill-advised invasion of Iraq; It is going out on a limb like former Reagan Defense Secretary Larry Korb did by putting forward a detailed plan to withdraw troops and redeploy them to the global hotspots that really do threaten our country.
Toughness is not basing international cases for war on lies so that when those lies are exposed, the entire Islamic world can portray our country as an aggressor; It is actually trying to win hearts and minds all over the world through serious funding of international aid, Western outreach programs, and programs that help developing nations stand on their own economic feet.
And toughness is not running around claiming we support democracy while holding photo ops with Saudi, Egyptian, Chinese and other dictators; it is actually taking the risks through diplomacy, sanctions and multilateral actions to actually help spread democracy.
Frankly, I hope Bayh keeps running around America inadvertently reinforcing what a weak-kneed wimp he is. Because in order for us to really get political leaders to be "tough and smart," the weak and stupid often must first embarrass themselves off the stage.