February 22, 2003
Democrats' split on Iraq is unmistakable
They're on same side for domestic issues
By GEORGE E. CONDON JR.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Democratic fissures over Bush administration policy on Iraq were vividly on display yesterday when four of the party's presidential candidates clashed over the impending war, agreeing only on domestic issues where they all condemned President Bush's economic record.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the fourth candidate to address the annual meeting of the Democratic National Committee, wasted no time in criticizing the candidates who have in any way backed the president in his drive to disarm Saddam Hussein.
"What I want to know is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president's unilateral attack on Iraq," Dean said in the opening statement of his speech.
Dean is trying to appeal to the most liberal voters in the party and his message was well received by members of the DNC, many of whom stood and wildly cheered his condemnation of Bush's war preparations.
In contrast, two earlier speakers – candidates Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut – received distinctly chilly responses when they declared their support for aspects of the Bush policy.
One man in the audience loudly shouted "Shame!" at Gephardt when the longtime Democratic leader said, "I believe we must disarm Saddam Hussein, and I'm proud that I wrote the resolution that helped lead the president to finally make his case to the United Nations."
Gephardt tried to temper his support for Bush by criticizing the president for not assembling a truly international coalition to take on Hussein.
"For all our military might, there are too many threats to our security, too many global challenges for America simply to go it alone," he said.
"We need the friendship, and we need the cooperation of our time-honored allies. We need a president who will lead the world toward that consensus and will lead by real leadership and not merely trying to bully other nations into doing that."
There was no applause. Nor was there anything but stony silence when Lieberman urged Democrats to recognize the threat posed by the Iraqi leader.
"I know that some in our party and our nation and many around the world are against the use of force in Iraq, but the history of the last century teaches us the consequences of unchecked power and unconventional weapons in the hands of an inhumane tyrant," he said.
"Iraq must disarm," he added, "peacefully, if possible; by force, if necessary."
He also criticized Bush's approach, but in a more nuanced way than the others.
"It is a shame that the Bush administration's one-sided, go-it-alone foreign policy has made it so hard for the president to form an international coalition to achieve the worthy international security objective of disarming Saddam," he said. "But nonetheless I believe as a matter of personal conscience that the objective is correct and critical to America's security."
But the Democratic leaders were much happier when Dean and a fourth candidate – Carol Moseley-Braun, the former Illinois senator – assailed the war preparations.
"I'm Howard Dean and I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," said the Vermonter to loud cheers and sustained applause.
Braun blasted Bush for a "mad rush to pre-emptive, unilateral military action" and accused him of isolating the United States from the rest of the world and being inept diplomatically.
"Duct tape," she said sarcastically, "is no substitute for diplomacy. And the saber rattling that has made us all hostages to fear must stop."
The four candidates were in general agreement on domestic issues, all pressing for improved health care, the defeat of Bush's proposed tax cuts, and greater sensitivity to the environment. But, here again, Dean staked out the most liberal position.
"Why are Democratic Party leaders supporting tax cuts?" asked Dean, deriding Democrats who support smaller or targeted cuts. "The question is not how big the tax cut should be; the question should be, can we afford a tax cut at all, with the largest deficit in the history of this country?"
Today, the DNC will hear from candidates Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.
An eighth candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, will not speak because he is recovering from surgery.