Politics & Policy

Free Bulgaria

Department of Embarrassment

So I was giving a book talk yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, and I was repeating a funny story about the clunkiness of government-issued equipment. At least I thought it was a funny story. I had expected the White House to be replete with the most up-to-the-minute technology. Instead, I was issued a pager about the size of a small steak and a laptop computer that weighed about 14 pounds and a computer case that could comfortably have held the telephone directory for greater New York. The punchline of the story was: “Who knew that the U.S. government bought its computer equipment in Bulgaria?”

The story got a good laugh – but the real punchline was heading straight for my own jaw.

At the question period, a very elegant woman in a beautifully tailored suit raised her hand.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“David, I am the ambassador from Bulgaria – your newest NATO ally and a staunch partner in the war against terror.”

Uh oh.

Then she reminded us all of Bulgaria’s strides toward democracy, a market economy, and – yes – advanced technology. I found myself staring at the caps of my shoes. All I could think to say was: “Sorry, Bulgaria!”

Joe Lieberman: Too Good for the Rest of Us

E.J. Dionne has a lively column in the Washington Post this morning questioning whether Joe Lieberman may not be just too good, decent, and bipartisan to be president. After finishing the piece, I quietly resolved to lead a better life so as to be worthy of the hypothetical leadership of the saintly senator.

The column is however more than a call to personal reform. It sheds valuable, unintentional light on the reasons that the Dems are doomed to lose the 2004 presidential election: “The current anti-Bush anger is especially pronounced among the fierce partisans most likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primaries. Having run on a promise to heal Washington’s partisan wounds, Bush has become a deeply polarizing figure, winning near-universal support within his own party while sowing deep resentment in the opposition.”

Here’s the Dems’ problem – Bush is not in fact a polarizing president, the way Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were. Any political strategy based on the assumption that he is, is bound to fail. And the willingness of many Dems to build their strategy on that assumption indicates just how isolated and out-of-touch they are becoming.

Their blindness reminds me of the battle over the 1986 tax reform. Some genius in the Democratic party thought that the best way to mobilize public opinion against Ronald Reagan was to urge voters to write letters of support to Dan Rostenkowski, then the chairman of the House Ways & Means committee. They printed up thousands of “Write Rosty” buttons and distributed them all over Washington, entirely unaware that nobody outside of Rostenkowski’s committee room and his home district back in Chicago had the faintest idea of who he was.

This time, the Dems’ mistake looks likely to have even more disastrous consequences – for them at least.

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