THE BLOG
10/09/2006 02:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

More People Believe in 9/11 Conspiracies Than Approve of President Bush; But the Wound is Self-Inflicted

The latest Newsweek poll bears grim tidings for the Republicans. The president's approval ratings are at new low for the poll, just 33 percent. That's less than the 36 percent of Americans who, according to a Scripps Howard poll, believe that "it is 'very likely' or 'somewhat likely' that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them."

Even more troubling for the GOP is the fact that, for the first time, most Americans - 58 percent - believe that the Bush administration intentionally misled the country in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and 53 percent believe it was a mistake for Rumsfeld to load Baghdad into his GPS in the first place.

When someone asks Mike Campbell in "The Sun Also Rises" how he went bankrupt, he responds "Gradually and then suddenly." Such is the way presidents lose their grip on the confidence of nation. In this climate, one need not be a self-appointed or media-anointed guru to recognize that the Democrats have a better chance to win the House, if not the Senate, than anyone imagined even a month ago.

But we must, must, must keep in mind that this possibility has neither been nurtured nor created by the brilliance of the Democrats, or their ability to make a galvanizing argument that voters can attach themselves to with passionate intensity. On the contrary, the Democrats have been delivered this opportunity on a silver splatter of violence, torture and emails.

And they haven't come close to making the most of it. It's clear that there's a vast restlessness in the land; even the evangelicals are despondent over the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. So we can only imagine the desperate straits the Republicans would be in if the Democrats were able to seize the opportunity and articulate a unifying vision with clarity and directness.

The party has been unable to weave the largest harvest of low-hanging issues they've ever had to reap into a unifying clarion call for change. And a remarkable harvest it is: the Iraqi disaster; the dangerous power grab by the Executive Branch; the lack of an energy policy; stem cell research and the Terry Shiavo case; the evisceration of environmental regulations. And on and on.

Even today, the DNC's response to North Korea's nuclear test continued this pattern. It included this statement from Howard Dean. "First, President Bush aided and abetted the outsourcing of American jobs, and now he's outsourced our diplomacy as well." This is just sloppy politics. Why de-focus the moment, and link the obvious failure to engage North Korea to a protectionist zinger, simply because someone fell in love with the wordplay.

Without a powerful new construct, rather than a reactive crouch, Democratic candidates are reduced to mushy platitudes. I took a quick tour of the websites of Senatorial candidates in some key races, and was disheartened by the pabulum I found.

In his race against the newly vulnerable George Allen in Virginia, Jim Webb's site (a candidate named for the internet) marshals this ringing language:

"For more than two years, Jim Webb has been proposing a formula that might lead to the end of our occupation of Iraq."

Here's Bob Menendez's provocative position on civil liberties in a time of "war":

"Bob realizes we must strike the correct balance between fighting terrorism and safeguarding the basic tenets of freedom and democracy upon which America was founded."

I thought that perhaps Ned Lamont would have something courageous to say about Darfur. After the usual hand wringing over the horrors there, he wraps up his position with the meaningless utterance that America needs to "demonstrate that {we} are capable of direct, specific action." Huh? Does that mean we should commit troops there? Now? What's the difference between "demonstrating" that we are capable of direct action, and taking it? Tell us what we should do, Ned. Are corporate lawyers drafting weasely, self-insulating position statements like this one:

"The United States should join with Prime Minister Blair and provide leadership. We cannot tolerate continuing genocide and deteriorating security to expand this enormous human tragedy. We should support the efforts of international relief agencies to enter and start their work and see that they can operate safely. We should demonstrate that the United States is capable of direct, specific action to save lives and stop the killing."

I know that Tennessee is a religious state, but how much does Harold Ford Jr. need to pander? In the section entitled "My faith as my guide" (below) Ford goes beyond celebrating the importance of religion to him; he passes judgment on those who don't agree, and appears to take pride in his parents dragging his unwilling friends off the church. This is intolerant and odious. And by the way, less than half of all Americans attend church regularly by their own reporting; other data suggests the actual number is around twenty percent.

"From the time that I was a little boy in Memphis, church and faith have always been central to who I am as a person. So I am sometimes bewildered when parents tell me they cannot get their children to go to church or attend Sunday school. I confess that I did not realize children had those choices."

Growing up, we had a simple rule in my house: if you woke up on Sunday, you went to church. Even my friends who spent Saturday night with us would have to go to church. Christian, Jewish or Muslim, it did not matter; my parents took them all to Sunday service."

In Pennsylvania, where Rick Santorum is reeling, Bob Casey's web site pulls no punches when it comes to the toothless; this is a statement that President Bush could well make:

"Bob Casey will push for a clear exit strategy and real plans for the Iraqi forces to take care of their own security, and development of a government structure that is widely seen as legitimate among Iraq's various ethnic groups."

I fully concede that these quotes were lifted out of context. But it was a context of other platitudes and clichés, a bog of boredom that sounded more like corporate annual report language than a party seeking real change built around real principles.

Until real, visionary leadership emerges from the Democratic Party, it will only succeed when the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot, feet, or, as they're doing now, their entire ambulatory mechanism. But don't ever mistake the weakness of your adversary for your own strength.