Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Democrats `Frozen' by Gulf Crisis

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Democrats `Frozen' by Gulf Crisis

Article excerpt

THE Gulf crisis might have caused potential presidential candidates to spring into action. Instead, it's had the effect of a freeze.

This time four years ago, Dick Gephardt and Bruce Babbitt were already out in Iowa, bidding for votes in a primary that was two years away. And other Democrats were letting it be known that their intentions to run were serious.

Other than Jesse Jackson, a perpetual candidate, the likely aspirants remain on the sidelines, waiting for the president to shape either a highly unpopular Gulf policy or one that fails.

They, of course, want the US to succeed. But they know that the political realities dictate that Bush must look bad in this Mideast endeavor if they are going to be able to stake out clear positions as challengers.

At this point, the outcome of the Gulf confrontation is too blurry for a "safe" challenge. Mario Cuomo made the mistake of venturing out into the fog and, in the process, may have damaged his prospects irreparably.

Governor Cuomo gave a talk in which he suggested that a way out of the standoff in the Gulf was to let Saddam Hussein keep a toehold in Kuwait, including a water outlet. This idea met with public disdain; few Americans are ready for such concessions.

Cuomo has since said his remarks were taken out of context, that he had only been theorizing. But if he decides to "go" this time around (and this is not at all certain), the New York governor may find it difficult to run away from charges by opponents that he would have been "soft" on Saddam.

There are, of course, issues other than the "war issue." Indeed, Democrats seemed to make some headway in the recent elections by picturing the president as weak and wavering in his efforts to deal with the budget deficit. Mr. Bush's turnaround on taxes certainly gave Democrats cause for glee.

But in recent weeks the Gulf confrontation has become a preoccupation of the American public. Nothing else is very important except how the troops are doing and how Mr. …

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