Democrats On Offense

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 21, 2005; 8:57 AM

John Kerry and John Edwards rip Bush over Katrina. Bill Clinton blasts the tax cuts. Harry Reid says he'll vote against Roberts.

Do you detect something of a pattern here?

A more aggressive Democratic opposition, washed in by the hurricane, appears to be finding its voice.

Whether it's a winning message or not remains to be seen. But liberals who feel the Beltway Dems have been way too timid for the last four years must be pouring the champagne.

In the case of Kerry and Edwards, the '08 positioning by the '04 boys couldn't be more obvious.

With Bush's poll ratings at record lows, the thought crossed my mind: What if Katrina had struck a year ago? Could it have changed the outcome of the election?

In my humble opinion, the Democrats need to do more than just criticize the bungling of the past. They need to lay out a compelling vision for the reconstruction of New Orleans. There's an important debate to be had here, but my sense is that voters don't have much patience for the usual partisan bickering.

It's similar, in a way, to the Democratic dilemma over Iraq: Yes, we know it's a mess, but what would you do differently in the future?

The disparate paths taken by the two Johns speak volumes about their approaches. Kerry, sounding very much in 2004 form, unleashed a litany that attempted to tie the hurricane debacle to other perceived Bush failures:

"Brownie is to Katrina what Paul Bremer is to peace in Iraq, what George Tenet is to slam-dunk intelligence, what Paul Wolfowitz is to parades paved with flowers in Baghdad, what Dick Cheney is to visionary energy policy, what Donald Rumsfeld is to basic war planning, what Tom DeLay is to ethics and what George Bush is to 'Mission Accomplished' and 'Wanted Dead or Alive.' "

Edwards, one of the few politicians who talks frequently about poverty--as in his signature "Two Americas" speech last year--offered policy prescriptions while hitting the White House for suspending prevailing (read: union) wages on Katrina projects:

"I might have missed something, but I don't think the president ever talked about putting a cap on the salaries of the CEOs of Halliburton and the other companies . . . who are getting all these contracts. This president, who never met an earmark he wouldn't approve or a millionaire's tax cut he wouldn't promote, decided to slash wages for the least of us and the most vulnerable."

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