02/13/2006 12:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dems: Take Off the Gloves and Fight For National Security

They're at it again, saying the Democrats can't keep the country safe. How's this for a response: "We never had a 9/11 on the Democrats' watch." Or this: "9/11 was Hurricane Katrina with terrorists instead of flooding."

Simple. Direct. Truthful. I doubt any Democrat will say it, though. It's too blunt, too tough - which raises the question: How can you convince people you'll be tough in protecting our country, when you let Ken Mehlman - Ken Mehlman! - slap you around like you're a bikers' bitch in San Quentin?

The Dick Cheney shooting incident just goes to show what insiders have known for years: These guys ran away from combat, and they can't be trusted with weaponry.

Tough is as tough does. America sees John Murtha as a strong human being who'll be strong in protecting our country. They don't just feel that way because of his pro-military record. They see him that way because he acts strong - he embodies strength. When they come out to attack him he laughs and swats them off like flies.

Contrast Murtha's words and demeanor with those of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or any of the other Democratic Presidential wannabes trying to posture themselves as strong on national security. Their plan for showing the country that they're 'strong on defense' is to never defend themselves or their true beliefs. Bush wants to invade Iraq? OK. The war turns out badly? Well, we didn't really mean to say 'yes' to the invasion. It just looked that way. Is the prognosis poor? Well, we'd be better managers of the war ...

Weak responses on the issue of strength just don't cut it. It reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Homer's supersalesman brother tries to make a leader out of him. "I don't know," is Homer's timorous answer to a business question. "Let's see some conviction," the brother snaps. "I DON'T KNOW!" shouts Homer.

Democrats who continue to let themselves be kicked on the national security issues, perhaps in some lingering belief in bipartisanship, ought to keep a photo of Tom Daschle on their desk. The rest ought to keep reminding the country of the following:

- Edward Markey proposed a strong law to protect our ports, which was shot down by Republican Committee head Don Young. Why? Because Young vowed to kill any bill proposed by Markey out of personal animosity. As a result, a dirty bomb could be slipping into your town as you read this.

- Pres. Clinton and his senior staff met every morning to discuss antiterrorism efforts - a fact that was personally confirmed to me by his Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. During the transition, Panetta was amazed to learn that these meetings were discontinued by Bush.

- The Commission's weaselly political compromises put in a few minor issues from the Clinton years, but all the substantive mistakes leading to 9/11 - all of them - can be laid at the feet of Republicans in the Bush Administration.

- World terrorist activity has skyrocketed under the Bush Administration.

- Several independent reports show that our airports are no safer from a 9/11-style attack than they were in 2001, despite billions of wasted dollars.

- Reports have since proved that John Kerry was right: They did let Bin Ladin get away at Tora Bora.

- A poorly designed formula for allocated anti-terror funds eliminated major vulnerable cities like Phoenix and San Diego from funding.

- A list of potential terror targets due from the Administration in 2004 is now over one year late.

- More than 600 pounds of plutonium have gone missing at Los Alamos under the Republicans' watch.

- The Republican-led DoD left radiological material lying around in easy reach of terrorists.

- The Republican DoD also mishandled base closings and left our military less efficient as a result.

Listen, Democrats: You tried to be bipartisan in the defense of our country. I admire you for that. It was the right thing to do, and if the Republicans had a shred of decency they would have met you halfway. But they don't - they proved that in the 2002 elections. Since then, your timidity has had nothing to do with bipartisanship, and everything to do with fear and calculation.

Will they fight back? Sure. It will touch a nerve, and there will be a vehement response. Democratic Presidential candidates have to show they have what it takes, that they can withstand the heat.

Murtha is a profile in courage. Are there any more out there? Mehlman's comments this weekend were just the latest jab below the belt. It's time to come out swinging.

A Night Light