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Democrats have been pummeling President Bush so hard, you’d think it was 2004 already. After the State of the Union, they ought to let up a bit on Iraq policy — at least until the administration delivers an intelligence report to the United Nations next week. [IMGCAP(1)]

Bush delivered a forceful argument that Iraq has systematically violated U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 — he silenced the House chamber in doing so — but his critics likely won’t be satisfied unless Secretary of State Colin Powell serves up a “smoking gun” in his Feb. 5 report.

Despite — or maybe because of — Bush’s historic midterm election victory Nov. 5, Democrats have given him no quarter on domestic or foreign policy.

Most notably on the attack is formerly mild-mannered Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (S.D.), who applied an old Lyndon Johnson term, “credibility gap,” to Bush and made it clear it means “liar.”

“This is a White House,” Daschle said on Monday, “that promises one thing knowing full well it is delivering another.”

He ticked off a list — promising relief to the middle class while rewarding wealthy investors, promising to protect the homeland but blocking funds to do so — and said Bush’s credibility gap is “growing with each new broken promise, each new misleading claim and each new case of bait and switch.”

The level of partisanship running through Washington is at record highs for a non-election year — possibly because Democrats sense from recent polling that Bush’s support is waning, possibly because Democrats are still mad that they got beat in November.


Bush’s overall approval rating is down only 3 percent since the election — from 63 percent to 60 percent, according to Gallup — but his ratings on the economy and foreign policy have sunk to 49 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Even the Democrats’ official State of the Union response, normally a bland critique, was sharp. “In too many ways, our country is headed in the wrong direction,” said Washington Gov. Gary Locke.

Bush’s economic plan “does too little to stimulate the economy now and does too much to weaken our economic future.” He added that it was “wrong” and “irresponsible” to eliminate taxes on stock dividends, primarily benefiting the top 1 percent of taxpayers.

Democratic presidential candidates took similar whacks. Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) said that Bush “failed to ease the nation’s anxiety over his economic plan and fell short of addressing the nation’s increasing concern about the future.”

Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) said, “The president just doesn’t get it. … Gutting Medicare by forcing seniors into HMOs will not give them access to better health or make prescription drugs more affordable.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) declared that on the economy, “Bush has offered no leadership — just a one-note strategy of tax cuts we can’t afford. … His approach is unfair, unaffordable and totally ineffective.”

Even on Iraq, where Lieberman supports Bush, the Senator felt compelled to join the Democratic claque in accusing him of “undermining America’s standing when it resorts to unilateralist, often arrogant treatment of our friends.”

Other Democrats, notably Daschle and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), are so consistently critical of Bush’s Iraq policy that they seem to be against going to war, even though they voted in favor of it last fall.

On Monday, Daschle demanded to know whether the threat presented by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is “so imminent that it justifies putting American lives at risk to get rid of him.” And, he accused Bush of “short-circuiting an inspections process we demanded in the first place.”

He said that Bush lacked “a guiding principle” for his war policy and suggested Bush give “proof to the world” that Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Kerry, who seems to be arguing both ways on the war, said that “we don’t have to go to war … until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people — absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.”

With exceptions like Lieberman and Gephardt, Democratic leaders seem to be back in the position they were in 1991, when they voted against waging the first Persian Gulf War, insisting more time was needed for sanctions to work.

They’d certainly deny it, but Democrats seem to be handing a veto on U.S. policy to France, Germany, Russia and China — or to Iraq, which can keep U.N. weapons inspectors on what Bush called “a scavenger hunt” indefinitely.

Bush’s case Tuesday night was that the United Nations gave Iraq a “final opportunity” to disarm. “But he is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving.”

He cited a litany of examples: 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of chemical weapons and 30,000 chemical munitions unaccounted for; scientists forbidden to talk to inspectors; U.N. surveillance planes forbidden to fly.

Bush promised that on Feb. 5, Powell would present “information and intelligence about Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its links to terrorist groups.”

Let’s hope the administration can present “smoking guns” that even Democrats and the French respect, so that the United States and its allies can unite around the war — and the 2004 election can be fought out on domestic policy.

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