WASHINGTON – The head of the Republican Party, launching a broad indictment of the Democratic Party six months before midterm elections, charged Friday that the opposition can't even find an election-year slogan, let alone agree on a broad agenda.
In an address to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Tennessee, Ken Mehlman singled out party leaders and two potential 2008 presidential candidates — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry — for criticism on a range of issues, from national security to the economy to judicial nominees.
"Not only can they not settle on an agenda, they can't even agree on a slogan," Mehlman said in remarks prepared for delivery. He then offered some suggestions, albeit critical ones.
"If they really want the American people to know what they are going to do, then how about, 'Together, Americans can pay more in taxes,' " he said. "Or, 'Together, we can retreat from the central front in the War on Terror.' "
Mehlman assailed some Democrats for calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, for challenging President Bush's warrantless terrorism surveillance program and for pushing for greater attention to civil liberties in a revision of the Patriot Act.
Citing a list of achievements in the war on terror, Mehlman said, "it is amazing that some of the other party's leaders seem to want to take away the tools making us safer."
The speech comes amid growing concerns in the Republican ranks over Bush's diminishing standing with the American people and the GOP's fears about maintaining its majority control in the House and Senate this November.
The three-day conference in Memphis, Tenn., is attracting not only the party faithful but several potential Republican presidential candidates in 2008.
Mehlman criticized House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean for their complaints about the surveillance program, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for challenging the Patriot Act.
He argued that Clinton's solution to support U.S. troops in Iraq was higher taxes and poked fun at Kerry for joining in the unsuccessful challenge to Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito's nomination from a conference in Davos, Switzerland.
In the 2004 campaign, presidential nominee Kerry was widely criticized for his Senate-speak comment about voting for $87 billion for U.S. forces and then voting against it. Mehlman parodied that line in his speech.
"They say one thing come election time, but their records show that they mean — and will do — another," he said. "They were for the Iraq war before they were against it. They were for the Patriot Act, until the far-left came out against it. ... I've bought used cars and I know a bait-and-switch when I see it."