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The Democrats' Response - Welcome to Weenie World

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WEENIE: A person, especially a man, who is regarded as being weak and ineffectual.

If you've had the misfortune to be a registered Democrat the last few years, to stubbornly cling to the belief that one day the Dems would stand up to the Republicans, you're all too familiar with the "weenie" effect. This is the dramatic transformation that happens when Senators, Representatives, or Governors get tapped to represent the entire Party. They may have exhibited great strength of character in their home territory, but once they step onto center stage, they turn into weenies. Their backbone disintegrates and rather than speaking plainly, they fall into political gibberish.

Tuesday night brought us another example of the weenie effect. George Bush gave his State-of-the-Union Address. Newly elected Virginia Governor, Tim Kaine, followed with the Democratic response. Kaine may be a dynamo as Governor of Virginia, but as the national spokesman for the Democratic Party he was instant weenie.

Having observed this phenomenon for the past five years - it reached its nadir with John Kerry - it appears that Democratic speakers are obligated to follow four rules of weenie world.

The first is Never, never reveal what the Democratic Party stands for. Apparently, since the end of the Clinton Administration, Party insiders have decided that speakers should under no circumstance say what the Dems stand for. They believe that it is sufficient to state, "We're not Republicans."

Governor Kaine followed in this tradition with the theme of his response. "As Americans, we do great things when we work together. Some of our leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten that." Which leaders? Was Kaine talking about President Bush or someone else? What great things do the Dems propose?

The second rule is Pick a wimpy slogan and say it over and over until everyone knows that it sucks. On Tuesday night, Kaine repeated "There is a better way." In doing so, Kaine implied he actually knows this better way, that managing the US is just like managing the State of Virginia. "In Virginia" we're moving ahead by focusing on service, competent management and results" That's how we in Virginia earned the ranking of America's 'Best Managed State.'" Hmm, I haven't been in Virginia recently, but I don't believe that managing it is like running the US. Virginia doesn't have to worry about little things like an imminent Al Qaeda attack.

The third rule in weenie world is Don't push back. Apparently, Democrats feel that it hurts their public image to go after President Bush when he goes on the offensive. They seem to believe that the public expects Dems to be passive, intellectual, even effete. (That's why John Kerry won the hearts of Americans.)

If you watched Bush's State-of-the-Union address, you'll recall that he spoke passionately about two subjects: Iraq and eavesdropping. The President went on the offensive about Iraq: "We are in this fight to win, and we are winning"the road of victory is the road that will take our troops home. As we make progress on the ground, and Iraqi forces increasingly take the lead, we should be able to further decrease our troop levels -- but those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C." Of course, this is a familiar theme and the Dems could have pushed back by saying, "we are not winning" and "all the decisions in Iraq are being made by politicians in the White House." But then the respondent was the Governor of Virginia. All he could say was - you guessed it - "There's a better way." And, "Working together, we have to give our troops the tools they need to win the war on terror."

Bush also strongly defended his eavesdropping initiative, "To prevent another attack -- based on authority given to me by the Constitution and by statute -- I have authorized a terrorist surveillance program to aggressively pursue the international communications of suspected al Qaeda operatives and affiliates to and from America. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have, and federal courts have approved the use of that authority. Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America." Dems might have pushed back by saying "None of this is true: the President doesn't have the authority and the courts haven't approved it. Congress hasn't been informed and the program hasn't helped prevent attacks." Governor Kaine chose not to respond at all.

The fourth rule in weenie world is When in doubt, imitate the Republicans. Tim Kaine was selected to give this response because he's an outspoken Christian; the Dem "brain trust" thought that he'd convince the electorate that Democrats actually have values.

Kaine began his speech by reminding Americans that he worked as a missionary when he was young. He ended it with, "Tonight we pray"for the day when service returns again as the better way to a new national politics." In between, he didn't talk about values. More specifically, he didn't respond to any of the coded messages in Bush's speech; the key phrases that were inserted to assure the Religious Right that Bush is looking out for their interests: "Wise policies, such as" support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country;" "Activist courts that try to redefine marriage;" and "prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments Kaine ignored these.

Tuesday night, Democrats blew another chance to define their Party positively. Instead, they took what they thought was the safe course. The course no doubt recommended by the herd of D.C. consultants who hang around the Democratic leadership. Those who ordered Governor Kaine to deliver a vapid response to the President's State-of-the-Union address.

Why should Democratic loyalists expect otherwise? It's D.C. business as usual. Welcome to weenie world.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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