LOS ANGELES –
Excuse me, but what is the Democratic-lead Senate doing wasting its time, and ours, debating and voting about the wording of a newspaper ad?
Tell me, at a time when a war most people don’t support is dragging on without any meaningful action by Congress, at a time when millions of Americans don’t have health insurance-- at a time when the Republicans have successfully blocked the ability of Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription prices for seniors in order to protect the pharmaceutical companies’ "right" to profit at the expense of sick people-- tell me what failure of leadership and total gutlessness would allow the Senate to spend its time playing a stupid political game that makes every one of them look like fools?
And I’m including not just the 22 Democratic senators who joined the Republicans in voting to denounce a MoveOn.Org newspaper ad, but also my liberal friends who, fearing the wrath of the electorate, crafted an alternative which dug out of the grave the old Swift Boat attack on John Kerry and figured that if you waste your time attacking both sides, that makes it OK.
No wonder approval for Congress has reached an all-time low. This crowd doesn’t deserve better.
Was the title of the MoveOn ad, playing on the rhyme between Petraeus and Betray Us, over the top? Sure. So is much of the political debate in this country, on every side, with pundits and political organizations endlessly one-upping each other in an effort to get attention in a world where knowing what you’re talking about and saying it clearly is not enough to win you your 30 seconds of fame.
The Republican National Committee was over the top last year when they did an attack ad on then-Congressman Harold Ford, which suggested that the African-American candidate for Senate in Tennessee had been out cavorting with blonde Playgirls at the Playboy Mansion.
So were the right-to-lifers who screamed “baby killer” at me at the Houston Airport on the eve of the 1992 Republican Convention, and the protestors who regularly taunt young women who are seeking abortions at the doors of clinics, and harass and even threaten the doctors who dare to perform abortion procedures.
Ann Coulter is over the top almost every time she appears on television, whether attacking the 9/11 widows or throwing around gay slurs.
So are all the news organizations which, as I write, are jumping on Hillary’s answer to a gay magazine, out next week, to run headlines entitled "Hillary: I am Not a Lesbian."
But are you going to pass a law about it? Hold a Senate debate to discuss it? Have we really sunk so low? Do these folks really have nothing else they can agree on, nothing else to work on, nothing more important to debate?
As my old friend Mike Dukakis, who refused to play that game and so spends his days teaching politics rather than doing it, once wisely pointed out to me: Today’s paper wraps tomorrow’s fish. If you don’t like the MoveOn ad, don’t even wait until tomorrow. Ignore it, and use it for today’s fish.
I understand why some individuals went out of their way to condemn the ad. Republicans would much rather discuss what’s wrong with MoveOn’s attack on Gen. Petraeus than what’s wrong with George Bush’s war. And Democrats, at least some of them, want to make sure that whatever else is said of them, no one can accuse them of the venal sin from the Vietnam era of not supporting the troops.
But when it comes to passing bills, complete with debate on the Senate floor, things have gone too far. This was a Republican diversionary tactic, and the crime here is that Democrats think so little of the American people that they were afraid, again, to label it for what it was, and refuse to play along.
Remember Terry Schiavo. The Democrats all went home and hid rather than stand up and say that the Republicans and their president were out-of-bounds in their grandstanding efforts to usurp the roles of the family, the doctors, and the courts in ending the life of a long brain-dead woman.
They were afraid the people would hold it against them. But as every poll showed, the people were disgusted with the Republicans and disappointed in the Democrats, which is to say that they, we, are a whole lot smarter than we’re given credit for.
If Democrats want to support the troops, and of course they should, the way to do it is by addressing the interminable tours of duty, the inadequate equipment with which they have been forced to fight, and the shameful quality of the medical treatment afforded to so many when they give so much for their country.
Attacking newspaper ads doesn’t save a single soldier from burn-out, from injury, or from poor quality medical care, and it isn’t meant to. It’s only purpose is to save the rear ends of the people who join in. And they think we’re too dumb to realize that? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.