The comment on American politics I hear most often lately, phrased as a question but actually an assertion, goes like this: "The Democrats are going to blow it, aren't they?"
"It" seems to be a comprehensive reference encompassing the existing congressional majority and the prospective regaining of the White House in 2008.
Half the premise is that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic presidential nomination but prove too polarizing to win the presidency. I assess that as possible, but not inevitable. It depends on the opponent and Florida, matters entirely too volatile for credible speculation at this time.
The other half is that the Democratic congressional leadership appears less than scintillating in terms of savvy message-delivery, not as much with Nancy Pelosi as with Harry Reid.
Reid seems neither to exude warmth nor exhibit galvanizing command.
Reid's worst failing as yet was to declare the Iraq war "lost" already, and do so without establishing context. That had him practically begging President Bush to attack him as defeatist, and Bush, of course, obliged. Then the Nevadan declined to respond forcefully or much at all.
Here's a short speech that Reid might have given.
"The president attacks me for declaring the war in Iraq lost already, saying this makes me defeatist and betrays our brave troops. That is an uncommonly serious personal accusation and one I deny with a level of vigor, even resentment, that I find challenging to express adequately.
"Let me begin by recalling that Mark Twain said we should be loyal to our country all the time and its political leadership when it deserves it. I concur. That is to say I am loyal to our great country all the time and it is that patriotism that won't allow me to support the current failed political leadership.
"The tragic fact is that our great country loses a war already when its failed president starts that war without provocation and on bogus reasoning.
"Our great country loses a war already when its failed president responds to Osama bin Laden's evil attack by invading a totally irrelevant third party to settle an old score or flex macho muscle.
"Our great county loses a war already when its failed president, costumed as the warrior that neither he nor his vice president ever was, preens 'mission accomplished' while its brave soldiers continue to face great peril -- on his, not my, command.
"A war is lost already when America's moral high ground has been eroded in the eyes of the world and when its political leadership has managed, somehow, to destabilize even further what already was, by far, the most dangerous region in the world.
"All I want to do is get our brave troops out of this quagmire wholly of this failed president's making and put them hot on the trail of the man who leads the terrorists who intend to destroy our great country and glorious way of life.
"Our troops certainly didn't lose this war in Iraq. If anyone in the world could stand up bravely and effectively to the powder keg that this failed president has fomented, it's America's brave and able soldiers. And it's not lost if you're scoring on points or by fatality count, or by any terms reflecting on our military, the very envy of the world. It's lost solely by inadequate political foundation, ongoing political misjudgment and the absence of any real prospect for a firm and positive political resolution.
"The defeatist is the president who arrogantly and stubbornly compounds America's losses at the expense of more lives, not the senator from the loyal opposition who makes the perfectly sane and reasonable observation that it's time to cut those losses."
John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.